06 June 2009

Fashion Industry Repeats Software's Mistakes

Software patents are stupid on both theoretical and practical grounds. Since software is just algorithms - that is, maths - software patents are intellectual monopolies on pure knowledge. Practically, they make coding almost impossible, since software patents have been given for so many trivial and common programming techniques.

Unbelievably, it looks like the fashion industry is going to allow big business to impose something similar there:

Let’s say we help you produce this line, you sell it and make your pile crumbs. Then -thanks to the influence of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA, membership by invitation only) and Congress- somebody can come out of the woodwork and claim it is their design, they own it and now you owe them. If they registered the design and you didn’t know it, this could be perfectly legal. Of course you didn’t copy them but it won’t matter. The fact that society designers have been copying nameless unknown independent designers for years doesn’t even register. Even Diane Von Furstenberg, the leading champion of this bill recently got caught doing it. Because you don’t have any money, this party will sue everyone in your production and retail chain. That means pattern makers, contractors and the stores who bought your stuff. So in the interests of avoiding law suits, any service provider is going to require you prove you own it. It’s even worse for retail buyers who face potential criminal prosecution for dealing in pirated goods. Everybody who helps you or buys from you is going to require you to prove ownership of your concept before they’ll have anything to do with it. If wealthy society designers like Diane Von Furstenberg have their way, this could become an unfortunate reality. Paradoxically, CFDA is telling Congress they’re protecting you.

The parallels with software are clear: the use of lawyers to bully smaller companies who employ software coding techniques that are obvious but have been wrongly granted patents in some jurisdictions.

The only consolation is that if this legislation is passed, and the fashion industry goes into meltdown, the obvious difficulties there will help legislators understand why software patents are such a stupid idea at all levels.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.


Crosbie Fitch said...

What do most people do when smooth talking lawyers come up to them and say "Thou art naked and feeble, and deserving of the protection I shall provide to you as a gift. With this armour and this sword you shall make all your enemies submit to your will. From this subjugation shall come wealth beyond your dreams"?

"Gee thanks. I'll take 'em!"

Who profits? The lawyer.
Who thinks they're better off? The fashion designer.
Who loses? Everyone.

The 'protection' provided to all is at the cost of liberty withheld from all. Copyright and patent are inefficient market intereferences that provide no net gain except to lawyers and those who amass the transferable privileges.

How can you tell a fashion designer that laws that magically prevent competition are actually snake oil? That all that ends up happening is that all fashion designers suddenly find balls and chains on their ankles, i.e. far less artistic freedom.

This is not new. Monopolies that pretend to confer exclusive rights out of thin air have been recognised as bunkum for centuries:

From WikiPedia - Rights of Man:
Human rights originate in Nature, thus, rights cannot be granted via political charter, because that implies that rights are legally revocable, hence, would be privileges:
It is a perversion of terms to say that a charter gives rights. It operates by a contrary effect — that of taking rights away. Rights are inherently in all the inhabitants; but charters, by annulling those rights, in the majority, leave the right, by exclusion, in the hands of a few . . . They . . . consequently are instruments of injustice.
The fact, therefore, must be that the individuals, themselves, each, in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a compact with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist.

Nature imbues us with rights. Governments may attempt to grant them, but they cannot. They can only grant privileges at the expense of annulling the complementary rights in the majority.

Glyn Moody said...

Yes, strange how the lawyers always seem to benefit....