20 July 2009

British Library Turns Traitor

I knew the British Library was losing its way, but this is ridiculous:

The British Library Business & IP Centre at St Pancras, London can help you start, run and grow your business.

And how might it do that?

Intellectual property can help you protect your ideas and make money from them.

Our resources and workshops will guide you through the four types of intellectual property: patents, trade marks, registered designs and copyright.

This once-great institution used to be about opening up the world's knowledge for the benefit and enjoyment of all: today, it's about closing it down so that only those who can afford to pay get to see it.

What an utter disgrace.

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Crosbie Fitch said...

Are you now ready to make a decision as to whether it is forgiveable to suspend the people's liberty to share and build upon mankind's published art and knowledge?

Would you still privilege printers eager for monopoly? Even as a means of enabling the state to control the press?

Are you still joined to those excusing such illiberal laws as being for the public's own good?

Or have you always been an abolitionist of copyright and patent?

glyn moody said...

Certainly not "always", but as this blog shows, I've been banging on about it for some time...

geeklawyer said...

This is an excessive contention: 'IP' isn't exactly the problem but rather its scope and abuse by vested interests.

For example the GPL would be nowhere without copyright law and a company is being perfectly reasonable in seeking to protect its trademark from blatant copying.

Yes of course abuses occur but IP is a, broadly, justifiable fact of industrial life. Protecting industrial assets requires researching and this is something the British Library is well equipped to do. Given that it is beneficial to businesses it doesn't seem unreasonable to make it a revenue stream (& thereby increase resources for the general public's services).

glyn moody said...

you're right, of course: the GNU GPL dpepends on copyright; but it doesn't have to. I asked RMS about this specifically, and he doesn't have a problem with abolishing copyright...

I just don't think there's any evidence that granting state monopolies on this stuff actually encourages creativity: it's nearly all disbenefit.

For example, it's been shown the the costs of litigating software patents outweigh the total licensing revenue: so why do it?

Crosbie Fitch said...


IP isn't quite the problem, no, but unnatural monopolies over copies/reproductions of intellectual works are a very big problem.

The privilege of a monopoly is by its very essence abusive - of the individual's natural liberty (to share and build upon public knowledge).

Anti-slavery organisations would be nowhere without slavery, anti-prohibition campaigners would have been nowhere without alcohol prohibition, Amnesty International would be nowhere without torture, and yes, the GPL would never have needed to have been created were it not for copyright and patent suspending the freedoms Richard Stallman realised had been taken away. I worry about the mental faculty of anyone who suggests that copyright and patent should remain on the statute books in order that the GPL can neutralise them, restoring the freedoms they suspend.

A corporation may well be behaving logically in taking advantages of monopolies granted to it, but if the monopolies aren't reasonable in the first place then their exploitation by corporations doesn't make them so.

Trademark is a somewhat different kettle of fish and protects the natural monopoly of truth in authorship, i.e. if a product/brand/label has a one to one relationship with a single manufacturer then there can only be one manufacturer able to declare itself as having that one to one relationship. If I write a book, then no producer of copies of that book can claim their copy has a different author (without constituting a falsehood). This is a natural law, not an unnatural monopoly. Trademark legislation may well need reform, given frequent abuse, but that's a matter for another day.

That the last vestiges of a less liberal era, the privileges of copyright and patent, are still with us, and still being used/abused does not justify their continued existence. Tradition may well indicate inertia and resistance to change, but it doesn't warrant instransigence, nor does it constitute a good argument to retain unethical legislation. Fortunately, the fundamental nature of information and communicability of ideas is being revealed to us by the Internet and digital technology in general.

Mankind does not progress more quickly by enacting laws to prohibit the free exchange of published art and knowledge.

In a few years time there will be very few who will ever admit to thinking it was justifiable to prosecute Jammie Thomas for $2m for sharing music. Similarly, people will recognise how foolish universities became in locking up their knowledge, along with the follies of the British Library and the National Portrait Gallery. At some point copyrights and patent portfolios will disappear into the dustbin of mankind's embarassing history along with Golliwogs and the Black and White Minstrel show.

Let's not forget: It is not inanimate art and knowledge that is being abused, but living, breathing people whose rights are being violated (by immortal, psychopathic corporations). It is not that information wants to be free, but that people want to be free to communicate it, to share and build upon it. Free as in speech, not as in beer.

Make the paradigm shift. Do not accept the enslavement of your fellow man, nor any imposition upon his liberty, as reward for the publication of your art. Abolish copyright and patent.

glyn moody said...

@Crosbie: thanks for that explanation.

phayes said...

RMS might not have a probem with abolishing copyright (and with it, copyleft) but surely a lot of GPL users would?

Anyway... There is good (i.e. plausible) theoretical economic justification for some forms of copyright, patent etc. I believe there's some empirical evidence in favour too. The trouble, as geeklawyer and many others have pointed out, is that the forms have followed the crackpot designs of special interest groups working with an apparent complete disregard for both theory and evidence. The parallels with quackery and pseudoscience are striking but I don't think an equally evidence and theory-free antithetical position is justifiable - or a good way to fight it either.

glyn moody said...

@phayes@ why would it be a problem for GPL users - provided RMS comes up with an alternative?

As for "evidence-free", try this:


phayes said...

What possible alternatives would there be in the absence of copyright? If some company(ies) took a project's code and 'proprietarised' it without giving credit or feeding their improvements back, what could anyone do if there was no copyright? Perhaps I'm wrong but isn't the reason many people choose the GPL over BSD (or even PD) exactly because they don't want that sort of thing to happen?

As I'm sure you're aware, AIM is “highly controversial”. Its arguments are of varying quality and accompanied by varying amounts and quality of relevant empirical support. It's an excellent counter and provocation to the IP zealots and quacks - especially effectively wielding the appalling mess they've made of copyright and patent law in practise against them - but I don't think it is backed up by good enough theory and evidence yet that we can conclude that copyright and patent law cannot be made to work and should be abolished. The patent system is in a particularly weak position, but that's been understood for a long time. It might well be best to abolish it but that would be difficult to achieve now even if we had much stronger evidence. The abolition of software patents is justifiable and a realistic goal but even that's going to be very difficult (remember 2005?) and we clearly do have the intellectual advantage there.

glyn moody said...

Here's what RMS said when I asked how free sw might work in the absence of copyright:

"It would be necessary to eliminate copyright on software, declare
EULAs legally void, and adopt consumer protection measures that
require distribution of source code to the user and forbid

What's interesting about AIM is that it's just part of a growing body of work that is undermining the specious justifications behind intellectual monopolies. Sure, we need more research on the subject, but it's an important start in reframing the debate.

phayes said...

“Sure, we need more research on the subject, but it's an important start in reframing the debate.”

The fact that it's not a start is part of what's so frustrating about all this. Politicians, administrators, business pundits etc. have been ignoring the evidence and the economics - sometimes deliberately - for years.

glyn moody said...

Any suggestions?

phayes said...

Not really. Just keep banging on about it in blogs and elsewhere I suppose. I've always tried to make clear (following the FFII's example) that it's not all about FOSS and that if any side deserves to be regarded as extremist, economically illiterate, crackpot etc. - it's the “mainstream” and “conservative” strong IP proponents.

Getting rid of software patents, crazy copyright term extensions and the like will be a lot harder than e.g. getting rid of BSc courses in quackery and pseudoscience, but pushing for abolition of copyright or patents entirely - even if doing so happened to be rationally justifiable - is a non-starter.

glyn moody said...

Well, look on it as a two-tail distribution: you need the extremes to define the middle ground that has a chance of doing something.

I'm just sacrificing myself here....

Crosbie Fitch said...

Sounds like the logical fallacy of 'appeal to moderation' - "The traditionalists and abolitionists are both intransigent, so let's compromise". Ahem. A monopoly is like slavery, either it's ethical or it's not. There is no compromise available. Do you think anyone would have tolerated a reform, e.g. 'Slavery may not exceed a year in duration'?

There are a few ways of working toward the abolition of monopolies:

1) Ethical argument
2) Erosion (copyleft)
3) Economic disadvantage
4) Civil disobedience
5) Revolution

I'm primarily working on 3 (finding a superior revenue mechanism), but cannot avoid 1 (which has been going on since kings first granted them).

The FSF is doing well on 2.

File-sharers, Pirate Bay, et al, are busy on 4.

Hopefully, no country will escalate to 5, but if police states develop and too many people are persecuted/martyred in the cause of protecting corporations' monopolies against public infringement then many governments risk becoming exemplary.

glyn moody said...

good points, as ever.