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Feature:Why ideas should not be property

CmdrTaco posted more than 15 years ago | from the stuff-to-think-about dept.

News 393

Kevin S. Van Horn has written an interesting piece describing why he thinks ideas should not be property. I think that this is something that a lot of us agree with, but he presents it well. Check it out.The following was written by Slashdot Reader Kevin S. Van Horn

Why Ideas Should Not Be Property

Here's an interesting essay by Benjamin Tucker, that's very relevant to the free / open-source software movement. It predates Richard Stallman and the FSF by a good 85 years, and gives better arguments against the whole notion of ideas as property than I have ever seen expressed elsewhere. I've excerpted the relevant parts below.

  • For the fourth of these monopolies, however, - the patent and copyright monopoly, - a more plausible case can be presented, for the question of property in ideas is a very subtle one. The defenders of such property set up an analogy between the production of material things and the production of abstractions, and on the strength of it declare that the manufacturer of mental products, no less than the manufacturer of material products, is a laborer worthy of his hire. So far, so good. But, to make out their case, they are obliged to go further, and to claim, in violation of their own analogy, that the laborer who creates mental products, unlike the laborer who creates material products, is entitled to exemption from competition.

I take it that, if it were possible, and if it had always been possible, for an unlimited number of individuals to use to an unlimited extent and in an unlimited number of places the same concrete things at the same time, there never would have been any such thing as the institution of property. Under those circumstances the idea of property would never have entered the human mind, or, at any rate, if - it had, would have been summarily dismissed as too gross an absurdity to be seriously entertained for a moment. Had it been possible for the concrete creation or adaptation resulting from the efforts of a single individual to be used contemporaneously by all individuals, including the creator or adapter, the realization, or impending realization, of this possibility, far from being seized upon as an excuse for a law to prevent the use of this concrete thing without the consent of its creator or adapter, and far from being guarded against as an injury to one, would have been welcomed as a blessing to all, - in short, would have been viewed as a most fortunate element in the nature of things. The raison d'etre of property is found in the very fact that there is no such possibility, - in the fact that it is impossible in the nature of things for concrete objects to be used in different places at the same time. This fact existing, no person can remove from another's possession and take to his own use another's concrete creation without thereby depriving that other of all opportunity to use that which he created, and for this reason it became socially necessary, since successful society rests on individual initiative, to protect the individual creator in the use of his concrete creations by forbidding others to use them without his consent. In other words, it became necessary to institute property in concrete things.

But all this happened so long ago that we of today have entirely forgotten why it happened. [...] And so it has come about that [...] most of us are not only doing what we can to strengthen and perpetuate his [property's] reign within the proper and original limits of his sovereignty, but also are mistakenly endeavoring to extend his dominion over things and under circumstances which, in their pivotal characteristic, are precisely the opposite of those out of which his power developed.

All of which is to say in briefer compass, that from the justice and social necessity of property in concrete things we have erroneously assumed the justice and social necessity of property in abstract things, - that is, of property in ideas, - with the result of nullifying to a large and lamentable extent that fortunate element in the nature of things, in this case not hypothetical, but real, - namely, the immeasurably fruitful possibility of the use of abstract things by any number of individuals in any number of places at precisely the same time, without in the slightest degree impairing the use thereof by any single individual. Thus we have hastily and stupidly jumped to the conclusion that property in concrete things logically implies property in abstract things, whereas, if we had had the care and the keenness to accurately analyze, we should have found that the very reason which dictates the advisability of property in concrete things denies the advisability of property in abstract things. We see here a curious instance of that frequent mental phenomenon, - the precise inversion of the truth by a superficial view.

Furthermore, were the conditions the same in both cases, and concrete things capable of use by different persons in different places at the same time, even then, I say, the institution of property in concrete things, though under those conditions manifestly absurd, would be.' infinitely less destructive of individual opportunities, and therefore infinitely less dangerous and detrimental to human welfare, than is the institution of property in abstract things. For it is easy to see that, even should we accept the rather startling hypothesis that a single ear of corn is continually and permanently consumable, or rather inconsumable, by an indefinite number of persons scattered over the surface of the earth, still the legal institution of property in concrete things that would secure to the sower of a grain of corn the exclusive use of the resultant ear would not, in so doing, deprive other persons of the right to sow other grains of corn and become exclusive users of their respective harvests; whereas the legal institution of property in abstract things not only secures to the inventor, say, of the steam engine the exclusive use of the engines which he actually makes, but at the same time deprives all other persons of the right to make for themselves other engines involving any of the same ideas. Perpetual property in ideas, then, which is the logical outcome of any theory of property in abstract things, would, had it been in force in the lifetime of James Watt, have made his direct heirs the owners of at least nine-tenths of the now existing wealth of the world; and, had it been in force in the lifetime of the inventor of the Roman alphabet, nearly all the highly civilized peoples of the earth would be today the virtual slaves of that inventor's heirs, which is but another way of saying that, instead of becoming highly civilized, they would have remained in the state of semi-barbarism. It seems to me that these two statements, which in my view are incontrovertible, are in themselves sufficient to condemn property in ideas forever.

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get a pay structure in place (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1967172)

If you want to encourage the copyright law to be changed to allow free copying, there are two barriers to this:

1) there must be a technology infrastructure to enable creators of works to receive due compensation upon deriving use out of their works: i.e. copying a song or a book. This is a requirement imposed by our modern economy - without it, there is no economic incentive for authors/artists to continue what they are doing.

2) there must be a change in the widespread believe that protecting "information" is as important as protecting "knowledge. Information is noisy and has a short shelf-life. Knowledge, on the other hand, is ever-changing and growing, and IS ONLY IN THE HEADS of PEOPLE.

It is knowledge, and the ability to learn that is the real competitive advantage. If people en masse start to belive that, then we'll see change.

Should genes be considered IP? (1)

davie (191) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967173)

If these are the seeds I've heard about recently, they won't germinate anyway -- they're engineered not to.

Perhaps FSF should start a Free Seeds movement. After all, aren't the gene wizards twiddling with the most important software of all?

Are you all morons? (0)

Acy James Stapp (1005) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967190)

This was written in 1926. That explains the language and phrasing.

I can't believe that NOONE bothered to read the entire post in enough detail to figure this out.

Should genes be considered IP? (1)

Danse (1026) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967193)

I doubt the farmer is allowed by the contract to resell the seed. If he is, then it will probably be under the same conditions that he agreed to.

RE: I don't own my ideas? (1)

Danse (1026) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967194)

"If Microsoft is to fail, let it be because we failed to innovate, not because our innovations were outlawed."

Hmm.. yeah. The only problem is that he can never come up with anything that Microsoft "innovated." They bought all their innovative stuff. I don't think we ever have to fear Microsoft failing because they failed to innovate. We've already seen that their monopoly is much too strong for that to happen.

Bigger problems... (3)

Danse (1026) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967198)

I heard about this on NPR the other day. I didn't like it either. It's perfectly legal right now though.. maybe that's what I didn't like. Genes should not be considered IP. They were not invented. Procedures for manipulating genes are another matter. However, Monsanto didn't patent the procedure, they patented the result of the procedure. I don't agree with that. I do believe that companies who invent such things as new strains of corn, or whatever other crop, should receive some kind of return on their investment. If they had to sink millions into the research, they should be compensated and be able to profit from the research. If they can't receive some benefit from doing research to create new products, then what incentive would they have had to create the product in the first place? Would I want to put myself in debt for life just to invent a new type of corn to give to the world? I doubt it. Of course, research costs could be dramatically lowered if they were free to use other people's research instead of reinventing the wheel all the time. But that opens the door to all kinds of unscrupulous people who will take advantage of such a system. Perhaps when something such as this comes along it should be bought outright by the government and given to the country. That probably has capitalists everywhere shouting and spitting at their monitors, but so far, I can't come up with a fair way of doing things that won't be exploited.

What was it that Gordon Gecko said in Wall Street? "Greed is good. Greed works." I believe that was it. Greed seems to be the entire incentive for doing anything worthwhile in this (or most any other) country. (Not necessarily the greed of the scientists that are doing the work, but the greed of the stockholders who are expecting to make money by funding the research.) Maybe that's the real problem. Since there is no way to live a comfortable life without money, we have to make as much as we can to allow ourselves to live at the standard we desire as well as to have something to ensure our future comfort and pass on to our children. I don't see this changing anytime soon.. or indeed anytime at all. Money is a necessity for life in this country. (Unless you want to live in a cabin on a mountain.) People need it to survive, so it's human nature to want to have as much of it as possible so that you can not only survive, but prosper. Much like squirrels hoarding nuts for the winter.

Since our entire economy depends on the ownership of ideas, I don't know how (especially with the world economy in its present condition) we could move away from the current system. Anyone else have any thoughts on this?

Guns, Germs and Steel (1)

Stu Charlton (1311) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967201)

For a good historical account of how different nations of the world have evolved into the economic beings they are today, and a very good account of how "property-driven" society has proven to be very successful, read _Guns, Germs, and Steel_ by Jared Diamond.

In my own opinion, property over intellectual works, i.e. the words, source code, etc. is logical. The ideas behind them are another matter, and it is difficult to justify "ownership" over ideas.

The "Neww Economy" and IP (1)

Stu Charlton (1311) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967202)

Actually, that's the biggest reason why copyright/IP protection exists: to ensure compensation.

If an infrastructure was created to enable free copying BUT also compensation for the creators, I think things could work.

I don't own my ideas? (1)

Stu Charlton (1311) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967203)

Our modern economy is largely based upon the "illogical" property scheme that forces the public to pay for copyrighted works. This economy has allowed the developed world to reach to the highest standards of living in history. Yes, it has a long way to go, as much of the world (and the developed world) is still in poverty. But please, don't detract from its success unless you can offer an alternative.

If people are allowed to freely copy paintings, music, software, etc. this has the potential to erode the economic incentive of artists to produce the works in the first place. This means fewer works, and this means a less successful economy, which is bad for society.

If you can work out an alternative system to free enterprise capitalism that works AS WELL, please state it. Otherwise, understand that "freeing" one's property, under THIS economic system MUST BE A CHOICE, not a law.

(unless there is in an infrastructure IN PLACE to ensure the compensation of creators WHILE allowing freedom to copy)

no misunderstanding (1)

Stu Charlton (1311) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967204)

Copyright is an economic incentive FOR those authors and artists to create the works that we enjoy. As RMS points out in his essay on copyright, it is a "bargain" with society: trade in the right to copy for increased access to these works.

Of course, NOW that its much easier to copy material, RMS says the law is a "bad deal". Well, I'm a little skeptical about that. My view is that the problem with copyright is the changed INTENT of the law; instead of preventing competition, which was the original intent, copyright now is used to ensure due compensation to the artists/authors/publishers.

Free copying cannot work under our economic system unless we have a compensation system in place that enables both free copying and compensation for every one of those copies.

Copyright to supercede the GPL (1)

Stu Charlton (1311) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967205)

After reading RMS' essays on copyright, it seems that he would prefer if copyright law were to make the GPL irrelevant - i.e. the spirit of the GPL: enabling free redistribution - is embodied in copyright law.

In other words, the creators can not restrict copying under law.

Is this a good thing? It's questionable.

Mis-aimed Crtique (1)

Stu Charlton (1311) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967206)

Well said. I agree with you.

Note that the GPL is at best RMS' temporary measure to promote freedom. The end result, for him, is a change in the copyright LAWS that embody the spirit of the GPL.

Myself, I like the GPL and free software, but am not quite sure I agree with the end situation, unless of course we can find a way to pay these creators $$$ while we do our copying.

Copyright always has been about trading personal freedom for increased access to creative works (ensuring copy protection is an artist's or publisher's primary economic incentive to do what they do).... RMS belives that freedom takes precedence overall... but if economic incentive is removed from the creators of copyrighted works, then I fear there will be dire concequences in our economy and standard of living, unless an alternative incentive is created.


Standard of living (1)

Stu Charlton (1311) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967207)

There always HAS been different levels of lifestyle. What is important is that those living in poverty in the developed world are STILL better off than those living in poverty during the dark ages.

Same thing applies to the number of people that HAVE to live in poverty. Right now, there are a lot less than there were several centuries ago.
Our work to improve quality of life for all is not done, but there has been an observable improvement in lifestyle as our economic systems have evolved.

Should genes be considered IP? (1)

Jon Peterson (1443) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967211)

Yup, contracts are fine.

But if I am a miller and I buy some of that seed to mill into flour, and decide "aww, hell, I'll have a go at this farming lark too", and so I plant that seed - well, what does that make me?

Or do the people who buy from the farmer also sign contracts saying what they can't do with their seed?

It all sounds like a house of cards to me.

Literacy (1)

Jon Peterson (1443) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967212)

Errr yeah. I thought that was the whole point of slashdot :-)

I don't own my ideas? - patent protection (1)

Rene S. Hollan (1943) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967216)

Until someone can read my mind without my intervention, my thoughts are mine, I'm afraid, as it would harm me (in terms of the time and effort it would take) to communicate them.

But the issue here really is about patent protection: should it be possible to make an idea public knowledge and simultaneously forbid others from using it without license?

Contractarians would say no: you can't restrict me without my consent, though, in practice. Your recourse is to not make the idea known to me. In practice of course, we accept all sorts of restrictions upon ourselves in exchange for others accepting similar restrictions upon THEMselves. We generally don't kill others because we don't want to be killed ourselves, to put it bluntly: killing is "wrong" because we think that "being killed" is wrong.

There are two counter arguments: First, that without protection against copying an idea, there is no incentive to innovate since the opportunity to profit is lost. Second, some ideas can't be exploited while keeping them secret (i.e. once shown, the idea is obvious).

But the key here is "copying". Patent protection not only provides recourse against unauthorized copying, it also prohibits indepedenendent reinvention. And, once the idea has been applied, reverse engineering may be trivial. This argument applies strongly in the pharmeceutical trade, where a new drug can cost millions to develop, but be copied easily.

Yes, the inventor is entitled to profit from his invention, and yes, he may require users to agree to indemnify him against their unauthorized copying. A life-saving invention that is arbitrarly expensive and reserved for the very rich is still better than it not being invented.

However, that's not what patents do. They restrict independent rediscovery, made all the more desirable when a solution to a problem is demonstrated to exist (by the first inventor), but kept secret and expensive.

Again, the argument is, "but we can't profit AND keep it secret". Tough noogies, I say.

So, restrictions against COPYING are fine, since ideas are properly the property of the thinker, however, restrictions against reinvention are not. Furthermore, the burden of proof should rest on the accuser, instead of the defendant, in such a dispute.

Ideas and expressions are not without investment (3)

peter hoffman (2017) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967217)

There are a couple of points to cover here.

The first is that ideas do not spring into the world from nowhere. At the very least there is a lost opportunity cost to the thinker as the time spent generating the idea could have been spent elsewhere. Therefore, ideas are not "free" as in "free beer". The fact that ideas can be reproduced at no cost must not overshadow the fact that they cannot be produced at no cost.

Second, ideas are often of very little use without a considerable amount of effort being put into the expression of that idea. For example, Hero demonstrated the idea of a steam engine but it took a lot more effort to make something useful from it.

I find myself in the peculiar and uncomfortable position of defending those who support the concepts of patents and copyrights. Perhaps those institutions are not completely bankrupt but can be salvaged through modification.

I suspect that the first place to seek to modify these systems is in the length of time that the protection is in place. My understanding is that the purpose of these systems is to provide reasonable compensation to those who produce the work. The issues then become "What is 'reasonable compensation'?", "How can 'reasonable compensation' be determined?", and "How can 'reasonable compensation' be delivered to the creator?".

The second place to consider modifying these systems is to be more rigorous in the care taken in defining what is being protected. The protection is to enable the creator to collect compensation on his production, not on the production of others.

On the other hand, while I think the statements above are true, it may be that the greatest compensation to the thinkers and developers of ideas is perhaps in the more abstract concept of making the world a better place for all. I.e., the "stone soup" model.

Never thought I'd see Tucker on /. (1)

Chris Mikkelson (2363) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967219)

He is, after all, a rather obscure(d) figure, and
I've only seen him selectively (very selectively) quoted in Libertarian evangelistic literature.

I suppose the fact that he was a libertarian socialist (dirty word!) will tick off a few people on /. -- he exposes property (both physical and intellectual) as government-granted monopoly, rather than an indivudal, fundamental, undebatable right.

You *seriously* misunderstand, friend.... (1)

Chris Mikkelson (2363) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967220)

>>There is a difference between VOLUNTARILY sharing ideas and being FORCED to share ideas.

Strawman.

I am against intellectual property. That does not mean that I want to force others to disclose all that they know. However, when somebody has *voluntarily* shared information (be it a book, software, whatever) to me, I do not believe he has the right to restrict what I can do with that information. That is, he should not *force* me to keep the information from my friends, or *force* me not to make a copy or two.

There is force involved in property, and it is usually on the behalf of the owner, if not directly by the owner. In most cases, it is the squatters who are "defending."

The USSR (1)

Chris Mikkelson (2363) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967221)

Stood for the "Union" of "Soviet" "Socialist" "Republics."

The USSR was as much socialist as it was a republic. As a matter of fact, a few years after Lenin took power, he forcibly abolished all of the socialist associations (like worker-controlled factories) that had developed during the revolution(s).

Statist socialism is a misnomer. It still retains the distinction between "non-using owners" and "non-owning users" that exists in capitalism. Under capitalism, the tribute that users pay to owners is called "rent," "interest," or "profit." Under state socialism, all of these are rolled up into "taxes." This is why I usually refer to soviet-style systems as "state-monopoly capitalism."

Re: socialism vs. capatilism (1)

Chris Mikkelson (2363) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967222)

Why should I work my ass off to make a living when my landlord (who is too lazy to get a job) takes a far larger percentage of that?

I have no problem paying money to productive (or disabled) people, but people who sit at home and leach off the tenants are another story.

Capitalism appealed to me as a testosterone-soaked teenage boy, but I soon grew out of it.

Well said... (1)

moonboy (2512) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967223)

...I have long felt the same way. People raised a huge stink when Eric Allman wanted to - OHMIGOSH!!! have people pay for Sendmail!!! I'm so tired of all of the Socialistic/Communistic crap that is spewed concerning giving EVERYTHING away and treating those that don't with a large amount of disdain. We're all individuals. If you want to give something away for free that you created, excellent. That is incredibly noble and selfless, but don't get down on people who want a some monetary compensation for their efforts. By the way, I'm not at all a fan of how M$ does business as well, so don't even go there.

----------------

"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." - Albert Einstein

RE: I don't own my ideas? (1)

Hober (2536) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967224)

Damn right!

This actually reminds me of a Bill Gates quote:

"If Microsoft is to fail, let it be because we failed to innovate, not because our innovations were outlawed."

Nit-picking note (1)

furball (2853) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967226)

does the benefit of slavery only benefited a few or did the impact of it affect the entire economy of the south? if the latter is true, doesn't that increase the effect beyond a few? i'm not disagreeing. just looking for a clarification.

Literacy (1)

furball (2853) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967227)

we prefer the short direct route.

"IP sucks and stuff." works well.

IP is not a natural right! (1)

Digital Commando (2881) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967228)

Why do so many people believe that IP is some right that exists in Nature? The framers of the US Constitution knew this, that is why IP is in there to promote social good. When it ceases to promote social good it should be revised, restricted, or eliminated. The US courts have fallen into the exact trap pointed out in this editorial. As a conservative/libertarian, I'm remiss to state that this is mostly the result of Republican-appointed judges who fail to make these distinctions.

I think it is perfectly reasonable for Monsanto to receive compensation for their research -- that is why genetically-engineered material should be copyrighted for a short period (say five years to ten years). In fact, seeds have one of the the best watermarking systems available! What the lawyers need to figure out is what constitutes a work and what is fair use.

Patents simply do not benefit the social good of more and better software production. It doesn't benefit hardware production uniformly, either. Why not recognize the purpose of patents and then adapt them to the technology that they are meant to protect?

there you go again... (3)

slew (2918) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967238)

Once again, somebody has decided to spread the rumor that patents and copyrights imply property
when in fact exactly the opposite is true (at least in the US).

In the US, if you apply for a patent on something, you explicitly are donating it to the public
domain. Yes you read that correctly, the public domain. The catch is that the US govt (the keeper
of the public domain) pays you for your largesse by granting you exclusive use of your invention
for 17 years. After that time, your idea is truly in the public domain. Nobody can reclaim that
idea into private property.

Students of history will recall that the patent and copyright protection was not originally in
the US constitution, they were added because of a perceived flaw in the legal system (which was
pretty much borrowed from england) where people could pretty much own ideas forever.

In fact the US can be proud in being one of the first modern states to engage in government
sponsored industrial espionage when they stole the plans for a assembly line from a company in
England around the US revolutionary times (1700s).

It was in this spirit that the original patent and copyrights idea was born. The philosophy is that
everything belongs in the public domain (eventually) and short time exclusivity is the way
they thought of to get people who come up with ideas compensated. Otherwise it was thought that
people would keep their ideas hidden where they do nothing to advance society.

WAKE UP!!! all you people who say "only if we had a way to leave everything in the public domain
while compensating people for their ideas"... WE ALREADY HAVE SUCH A SYSTEM!!!

You may argue with 17 years or 20 years (or whatever) is too long a time, but you guys are 250
years too late. Can't you admit that somebody already came up with a pretty good system? or does
your youthful ignorance get in the way???

Even the hallowed GPL code will eventually fall into the public domain (copyrights expire 75 years
after the authors death). After that nobody will be able to enforce the GPL/NPL/APL/XPL/etc/etc
provisions... My decendents will be able to copy all the code into a private bundle and never
have to distribute any source code ;^)

Such a contract undermines our food supply (1)

maynard (3337) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967239)

Nigri Wrote:
The farmers who bought that seed signed a contract with Monstanto agreeing not to save any seed corn. They did this for the economic advantage of not having to worry about where they spray their noxious chemicals around. The fact that they'd like to break that contract should earn them no sympathy from anyone. If they had refrused en masse to sign that contract, Monsanto would have had to find another way to sell that seed.

That's right. Roundup Ready seeds are genetically engineered to handle mass saturation of Roundup pesticide. This is dangerous to our groundwater and food supply.

Monsanto plans to soon release Roundup Ready seeds with terminator genes which will prevent second generation seeds from germinating. Many environmentalists and geneticists have stated concerns that such terminator genes could be passed into the general crop population via pollen and potentially kill off our original crops leaving only corporate produced seeds available to farmers. Such a move is insanity if we consider survival a worthy goal for humanity.

It's one thing to support intellectual property laws for books and other creations. But to interpret IP laws in such a way that allows such basic survival needs as our food supply to fall in the hands of only a few corporations is asking for human extinction. We will go the way of the dinasours like this, or at the very least risk losing critical crops by genetic blunder.

I note that the European Union is fighting United States through the Word Trade Organization demanding that the EU stop labeling genetically engineered foods as such. In other words the United States is demanding that Europe ban labeling their food supply (which they consider a national health concern). Europe doesn't want to ban the sale of these foods, just label them like we do with our nutritional content labels. How is that trade restraint? It's not, what it shows is that companies like ADM and Monsanto have our congress and executive branches at their mercy. If this continues soon the worlds peoples will be at their mercy as well.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Someone previously asked if I prefer food production be monopolized by the government instead of international corporations.

I respond with:

a) This is not the case today, nor has it ever been in the US. Most food prduction used to be handled by small farmers, this changed over the eighties as banks over-lent to indivudal farms and then collected the land from all the mortgage defaults during Paul Volker's (former head of the Federal Reserve board, see: "Secrets of the Temple," by William Greider) planned 'recession.' Guess who wound up with all that land? It wasn't other small time farmers.

b) Even if the government did nationalize all the farming land (which would be patently unconstitutional) at least we would have some power via our voting rights. All those idiots claiming the private sector provides better efficiency and more freedom forget that we citizens have _no say_ over how private industry manages these properties.

I'm not advocating communism, just pointing out that the private sector gives citizens far less freedoms than what is constitutionally protected by our government. The only people with power in the private sector are large scale corporate share holders, and they're such a nice small club, now aren't they?

Let them eat cake my ass... if this continues we may have no more grain producing crops left. What happens then?

Government food monopoly? Pass the crack, please. (1)

maynard (3337) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967240)

mcelrath wrote:
And the government monopoly currently controlling our food supply is any better? Are you arguing against monopoly (which doesn't make sense -- government) or corporate food production (which also doesn't make sense...unless you want to live in a communist state).

I respond to this at the tail end of my comment Such a contract undermines our food supply. I look forward to your response.

Should genes be considered IP? (5)

maynard (3337) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967242)

Should Monsanto (and other Agri business and genetic engineering firms) be allowed to own genes as intellectual property? Monsanto calls saving seed from Roundup Ready(tm) crops and replanting in the next season "Seed Piracy." (*) Do you want a corporate monoploy controlling our food supply?

This is not just about software, the intellectual property laws are so broken that we're about to hand over something as critical to our survival as food production to huge international agri-businesses like ADM and Monsanto without even thinking of the long term consequences to our survival. This could get BAD....

* See April '99 issue of Harpers for an important article on this issue.

Literacy (1)

nowan (4075) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967245)

Frankly, I prefer writing like that to a lot of modern stuff where you have to plow through loads of fluf to get to the point. You can accuse some philosophical texts of being written in a difficult-to-read way, but this wasn't one of them.

Breaks analogy between ideas and physical things (1)

Scott McGuire (4080) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967246)

I think what Tucker clearly demonstrates is that ideas are not like physical things. That being the case, we should not base our laws regarding ideas and such on analogy with laws about ownership of physical things. It may be that some form of copyright/patent etc. is justified by utilitarian arguments of the type we've seen like encouraging invention, but they can't be justified by saying that an idea is like a car. We have to weigh the benefits of accelerated innovation stemming from IP law against the benefits of wider spread use and lower prices of innovations which would come from abolishing IP law. The later is usally missing from the arguments in favor of IP law. I'm not sure where I come down on this yet.

Also, eliminating IP would not force anyone to reveal anything that they want to keep private. If you want to keep your source code a secret and release only binaries, you can. What you lose is the legal right to prevent people from copying the software and possibly reseling it. Though I suppose you could use license agreements: "I will sell you this if you agree ... ".

And I think the article was very well written, people just no longer appreciate good writing.

IP and the common law (1)

Rubinstien (6077) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967256)

This is interesting. Never knew that. I did know that altruistic authors used to assign copyrights to orphanages, but never knew why. For instance, 'Peter Pan' was assigned copyright to some orphanage.

Hmmm. Learn something every day.

Nit-picking note (2)

Bocephus (6835) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967257)

After all, many struggling farmers and widows and orphans depended upon slavery for their daily bread.

You have a very shaky understanding of American history. Slavery benefited a tiny minority of the population (at least in the South), while the 80% or so who didn't own any slaves ended up doing the bulk of the fighting (and dying) in the Civil War to defend the institution.

This adds even more credibility to your argument, though--if copyright slavery only benefits a very few (and, indeed, it does--for example, there are but 5 major record companies today, and they each insist on owning the copyrights of their artists' work), then it should be abolished in the name of equality.




Literacy (1)

SimonK (7722) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967265)

The number of people winging about the English in this article is disturbing. Its just slightly archaic and complex, in the style commonly found in philosophy departments and victorian literature. Anyone half literate should be able to read it, but I guess that excludes a lot of Slashdotters,

Literacy (1)

SimonK (7722) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967266)

"IP sucks and stuff" doesn't actually tell you why, though. Its just a dogmatic statement of opinion.

Well-aimed Crtique (1)

SimonK (7722) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967267)

The author did in fact attack IP laws as they stand. He was not arguing in favour of freedom of ideas (which, I agree, the current system supports), but in favour of free use of their physical manifestations. If you read the article, I think its pretty clear.

Literacy... must be readable! (1)

SimonK (7722) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967268)

I do not believe it is possible to talk well about politics in the kind of language usually used for technical discussions. Much of the heat and frenzy generated around discussions in these forums seems to be due to just that mistake. You actually need to be more precise, and I believe the kind of prose used in this article is good for that purpose.

As to this being an international forum - yes it is and that is a general problem with the internet. One needs to speak English, and quite a wide range of types of English to get along. I do not see that as a reason to reject things written in more complex English, especially if they would be hard to put in simpler language.

And yes I am condescending. You must admit that many people here do not give a good impression of their own literacy or education.

Tip for Those with Good Ideas (1)

SimonK (7722) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967269)

The patent system was set up to try to stop this from happening. It was felt that a limited monopoly would encourage people to make their discoveries public, thus serving the public interest better than they would as trade secrets.

The other side of the coin ... (2)

SimonK (7722) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967270)

Although I agree with this article, I have to say that there is a case for intellectual property which I find it hard to deny.

Given that most things are scarce and our world relies on an economic system that assumes scarcity, how do we encourage people to have ideas if they cannot profit from them by making them artificially scarce ?

Should genes be considered IP? (1)

mcelrath (8027) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967271)

Should Monsanto (and other Agri business and genetic engineering firms) be allowed to own genes as intellectual property? Monsanto calls saving seed from Roundup Ready(tm) crops and replanting in the next season "Seed Piracy."(*) Do you want a corporate monoploy controlling our food supply?

And the government monopoly currently controlling our food supply is any better? Are you arguing against monopoly (which doesn't make sense -- government) or corporate food production (which also doesn't make sense...unless you want to live in a communist state).

Should genes be considered IP? (1)

MarkH (8415) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967272)

In the EU monsato are the causing great problems with there huge power in the US Goverment being used for trade embargo's to prevent the EU being able to lable foods produced from GM modified crops and GM Hormone enhanced livestoke as such.

It is very scary to see the might of the US political system being used in such a neglect of the right of the individual to know what they are eating.

In the UK this is causing a massive backlash with store chain after store banning the use of GM products in their own label brands.

When will big companies learn to stop bullying the public into accepting products they are not ready for?

How about a GPL for GM seed crops for the third world which don't require expensive nitration and fertilization.

Re: socialism vs. capatilism (1)

eponymous cohort (8637) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967273)

Your landlord probably has a mortgage on your property, he/she is responsible for the property taxes, water bills, and maybe some of the other utilities.

He/she is also responsible for the upkeep of the property. In short, most of what you pay in rent, the landlord does not keep for him/herself.

What's your solution? Should you just be given a place to live? And who will pay the builders, upkeep, etc?

Re: socialism vs. capatilism (1)

eponymous cohort (8637) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967274)

The difference between a socialist and corporate state is that Socialists don't trust corporations, but they do, for some reason, trust a monopolistic, centralized government.

Standard of living (1)

eponymous cohort (8637) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967275)

What's really different now is that class barriers are gone. The poor can work up to middle class or even rich, the rich can fail and become poor.

In the Middle ages, you were a noble or a serf, and you stayed that.

Copyright vs. Patent: Two DIFFERENT Things (2)

Dictator For Life (8829) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967282)

I am continually amazed at some people's inability to distinguish between copyright and patent.

Copyright protects an expression of ideas. It doesn't protect the ideas themselves. Why do you think it's perfectly legitimate for you to quote from a book without paying the author? Why do you think it's perfectly all right for you to appropriate the ideas expressed in a book as your own? Because copyright doesn't protect ideas. It protects expression: written words.

On the other hand, it is illegitimate for you to appropriate someone else's words as your own. That's plagiarism. It's cheating, and if you try to sell them, it's a crime.

Copyright is what makes the GPL work: the author of code has a right to dictate the terms under which his code is used by others (if he releases it at all). If RMS is actually opposed to the legitimacy of copyright (and I don't know, but I surely hope he isn't) then he is one of the greatest hypocrites alive today. He would then be guilty of using something he abhors (and something he wants to eradicate) as a tool for advancing his cause. It would be like an anti-gun zealot using an Uzi to get rid of all those 2nd Amendment "fanatics".

Copyright is what makes the GPL different from public domain. Things in the public domain are free for anyone to use in any way they choose, including taking code proprietary.

Copyright is legitimate. Patents are different because they restrict the use of ideas -- and I fully agree that this is silly. But copyright is a different story. Someone somewhere invested their energy in producing a tangible thing: their book/code/whatever. It is theirs, and they have a right to do with their property what they wish.

Finally, let me say that the premise of the article is incorrect. Private property is legitimate because God owns everything, and he extends to us the right to own things as stewards -- as his representatives. There is nothing whatever immoral about the idea of private property; people may do bad things with their stuff, but that's a separate question.

Tip for Those with Good Ideas (1)

dgenr8 (9462) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967287)


If you have an idea and you want to make money from it, set up a service that uses the idea internally. Don't try to charge for identical copies of the output.

The "Neww Economy" and IP (1)

Cassius (9481) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967288)

Of course, he assumes that the majority of the population wants to be good and help their neighbor

Nearly our entire legal system rests on the time-tested notion that the above premise is absolutely false.

We have implemented the Leviathan, for better or worse.

The "Neww Economy" and IP (2)

Cassius (9481) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967289)

The so-called "new economy", which supposedly rewards the creation of good content while minimizing the cost of delivering the content (towards zero eventually), the only way people are going to be able to make a buck is to have some sort of IP protection.

Unless you can propose some radical economic system that drives the cost of production and distribution towards zero, rewards content creators, and yet somehow offers no protection for IP, then please enlighten us. Oh, and please don't offer any ideas where I am required to live on some "standardized income" that does not differentiate between varying demands in society.

Speaking of Intellectual property... (1)

Eric Hillman (9785) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967290)

Can we clear up the attributions here? This *entire essay* was written by Benjamin Tucker, excerpted and submitted by Kevin Horn -- not just the first paragraph. I woulda thought the style was a dead giveaway.

It is a good argument, and I agree with most of it, but I think that the information age has thrown a curve in it. Since any electronic work is now infinitely reproducible, should, say, id games be prohibited from copyrighting their work? Who would pay for Quake II if it was available everywhere, without fear of punishment -- or if multiple vendors could resell it at their own prices?

On the other hand, certain aspects of information systems automatically punish proprietary standards. TCP/IP is the protocol of the Internet, in part, because anyone can run it or write their own implementation without paying royalties. If MS decided tomorrow that NT servers on the Internet would run *only* on, say, NetBEUI, they'd alienate a huge percentage of the world. And the Internet would collapse like a souffle' topped with bricks.

In short, I think the proper tack here is a situational, utilitarian one, not an inflexible, dogmatic one.

You forget 'Dred Scott' (1)

NatePuri (9870) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967291)

Many believe that the Civil Ware was sparked in part by the Supreme Court's decision in Dred Scott.

This is the case where the court held Mr. Scott did not have a right to bring a law suit to challenge his slave status because he wasn't traditionally consider a human. Only citizens could bring law suits; only humans could be citizens; Dred Scott was not considered human in the American tradition at the time; thus, Dred Scott (nor any black person at the time) could bring a law suit.

This result infuriated Northerners, and has been cited as one of the reasons for the war. Your comment that asserts blacks freely joined the Confederate Army and were treated with dignity seems a little spurious. Could you cite your authority for that statement?

The other side of the coin ... (1)

troyboy (9890) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967292)

Exactly. I doubt many would defend intellectual property as *actual* property, since it is clearly a social construct (so is "real" property, but that is another story). Protection of intellectual property spurs development (perhaps even toward that eternal ear of corn mentioned in the essay). As long as society values technological development and wealth, then monopolistic IP seems to be a rather effective way to do it! Forgive my armchair empiricism; I'd love to hear an argument about how technology can be better encouraged in a world without IP...

Not a Right but still a Necessity (1)

TeaJay (10918) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967294)

Actually, his discusison of property may or may not remove it as a "right" depending on your strict interpretation of "right". It is not a natural right, but in fact (physical) property is a necessity for civilization to progress. He clearly stated that in the article. This elevates it, given the reality of the world, to a right because we chose civilzation and that requires concrete property as a right to function. The undebateable nature of this right is granted once the basis of civilization being individual initiative is accepted.

This part, at least, should be very palatable to people here. The IP examination is what will raise hackles, in my opinion.

I'm not sure about the socialist angle, I don't see the equal liberty goal espoused here leading directly to socialism or Marxism. In fact, off the cuff this would seem to be anti-Marx. The only way to get rid of property is to have all property collectively "owned" which is only possible in a single world Marxist collective. Otherwise, even with separate Marxist collectives, you replace the individual property argument with a collective argument with different dimensions, but the same dynamics.

Should genes be considered IP? (1)

Col. Klink (retired) (11632) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967296)

It costs millions to genetically engineer a new seed. If they didn't have IP protection, they'd never be able to regain their expenses...

I don't own my ideas? (1)

James Ojaste (12446) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967320)

You obviously didn't understand the essay.

The essay argued that by the very same logic that states that you *should* be compensated for goods that you produce, you *shouldn't* own abstract things - ideas.

Paintings, books, produce - these are all *physical* things. It can be argued that source code is also physical - it is a product. It cannot be argued that the algorithms used in the software are physical - they are not products, they are mathematical constructs which were always there (anybody care to patent PI?).

As for your arguments for capitalism vs socialism - are you BLIND!? You claim that socialism is bad because overall it tries to do what's best for society and screw the individual - as if capitalism doesn't cause at *least* as much harm to individuals...

The author is hopelessly confused (1)

James Ojaste (12446) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967321)

As to the privacy issue, I believe that that example would fall under copyright - not the *idea* of using a ring to symbolize marriage, but a specific *implementation* of that idea. I think that most are willing to cede implementation restrictions. Secondly, the example inherently depends on the concept of ownership while attempting to put aside the same concept - "*my* wife". Could this "wife" not be "used" simultaneously by everybody (no disrespect intended - this *is* after all a thought experiment) - is this "wife" really *yours*?

As to the chairmaker, he could persuade you to do it in many ways; he could do something of equal value for you (make you a better saw, for example), or convince you to do it out of a sense of pride or challenge or glory.

The other side of the coin ... (1)

Paranoid (12863) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967327)

Don't read this, my logic is probably flawed. :)

The whole point of Linux is open source. Meaning that peoples ideas are shared freely, which is pretty much the opposite of IP, afaik. And, all OS-wars aside, Linux is obviously not dead. The system works, and the reason people add to the collective pool of knowledge (embodied in source code) is simply because they want to see the system do a certain thing. I'm pretty sure thats why most (probably close to all) GPL'd packages are created to begin with.

And the Linux phenomenon is so much fun because it WORKS. Even Linux's competitors admit [opensource.org] this.
--
Paranoid

THIEF! (0)

bwz (13374) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967329)

Stop using that language! You havn't paid any royalties to the creators of English! Thief!

Erik


Has it ever occurred to you that God might be a committee?

Do we really need... (1)

bwz (13374) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967330)

More 'content'??

Has it ever occurred to you that God might be a committee?

A comment :-) (1)

bwz (13374) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967331)

I claim that the idea "invention will stop if IP rights are weakend" is a completely unverified assertion, I have not seen any substantial proof whatsoever that this is true. I don't deny that it could be true - but I've not seen any serious study or experiment that verifies this. The reasoning goes "if they get no money for their work they won't do it". I believe that much R&D is duplicated today and much of the rest would be done anyway. Maybe a little slower in some areas, but all the people that does duplicated R&D today, will they just stop or will they go of and do something different??

What I'd like to see:

Shorter IP terms, a few years for patents and a few decades for copyrights.

Less things patentable (software algorithms).

Serious research in the field of IP rights (I know that's hard to do) to try to find better methods of rewasrd.

I'm highly sceptical to 'mandatory licensing', i.e. X per cent of revenues on patented/copyrighted ware goes to patent/copyright holder. This is because such rules would be very hard to get right..

Erik



Has it ever occurred to you that God might be a committee?

Oh, they've invented all right... (1)

bwz (13374) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967332)

A highly money generating business model.... Not that this 'invention' benefits mankind :-) :-)

Erik



Has it ever occurred to you that God might be a committee?

It's not hard to make a nuke... (1)

bwz (13374) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967333)

The hard thing is to get the right isotopes of Uranium or Plutonium with high enough purity. That takes major industrial resources and IIRC the current "best methods" are somewhat secret. All western countries could "easily" duplicate the work required. The theory is is most public libraried together with a lot of other "fun" stuff... Fortunately all terrorists seems to be rather inept (at causing mass destruction)...

Erik



Has it ever occurred to you that God might be a committee?

Copyright vs. Patent: Two DIFFERENT Things (1)

bwz (13374) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967334)

Previous poster set aside the issue of Gods existence, as I believing Atheist I cannot do this: Please prove the existens of the "God" object derived from the "Diety" class. After this please prove that the "God" object have granted you the capability of "ownership"

I claim that there are no "natural rights" (rights granted by nature). There are only rights granted by societies.

Erik



Has it ever occurred to you that God might be a committee?

Nit-picking note (1)

jerodd (13818) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967343)

You have a very shaky understanding of American history. Slavery benefited a tiny minority of the population (at least in the South), while the 80% or so who didn't own any slaves ended up doing the bulk of the fighting (and dying) in the Civil War to defend the institution.

This is certainly true. However, the slavery system was integral to the old Southern economy. It should also be noted that many who didn't personally own slaves believed in the insitution, or didn't believe there was anything wrong with--``I wouldn't personally own any slaves, of course.''

It should also be noted that as many people didn't believe blacks to be fully human, they didn't really count as population (except for the purposes of determing the number of congressional Representatives).

This adds even more credibility to your argument, though--if copyright slavery only benefits a very few (and, indeed, it does--for example, there are but 5 major record companies today, and they each insist on owning the copyrights of their artists' work), then it should be abolished in the name of equality.

Well said. In my opinion, the current intellectual ``property'' scheme benefits almost no-one. People simply do not realise what freedoms are lost because they've never experienced anything else. Since lost of intellectual freedom is not nearly as severe as the more common losses of property, the right to own property, or of one's personal freedom to be (prison/execution), the effects are far more subtle and it's much more difficult to get people to think outside of the box of what a world without IP walls could be like (no offence intended towards a common protocol in use on internets).

Cheers,
Joshua.

Should genes be considered IP? (1)

jerodd (13818) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967344)

It costs millions to genetically engineer a new seed. If they didn't have IP protection, they'd never be able to regain their expenses...

``It takes hundreds of slaves to pick all the cotton and process it from a medium-sized field.'' Denying a fundamental liberty because it makes a certain business avenue possible is wrong. Monsanto will have to find a new profit avenue.

Which reminds me--Monsanto is in Chapter 11 and they may not be long for this world. They've had serious trouble competing, and they foray into bioengineering has been a last-ditch attempt to attract investment.

Cheers,
Joshua.

Should genes be considered IP? (1)

jerodd (13818) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967345)

The trouble is: who owns the unomodified genes? Depending upon your worldview, you consider them a gift from Gaia, a gift from God, or a gift from nature (insert other religious beliefs here). Monsanto is being extremely presumptuous in assuming they can take the genes BSD-style and add their own licencing terms.

I would consider legislation to require all existing genetic material to be licenced under a GPL-like licence (which makes since, since genes really are an encoding for software) imperative. This would be an excellent solution the controversy over genetically modified plants and animals and the resultant foods--you can see the `source' (to the genes) and see what it does. It takes the fear away--at least it would for me. OTOH, having Monsanto creating seeds that spread infertility among plant crops is a criminal action tantamount to biological warfare, and no private entity should be allowed to do that. Spreading proteins that prevent proper reproduction is a weapon of mass desctruction and ought be treated so.

Cheers,
Joshua.

Bigger problems... (1)

jerodd (13818) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967346)

What was it that Gordon Gecko said in Wall Street? "Greed is good. Greed works." I believe that was it. Greed seems to be the entire incentive for doing anything worthwhile in this (or most any other) country. (Not necessarily the greed of the scientists that are doing the work, but the greed of the stockholders who are expecting to make money by funding the research.)

Greed is NOT good. Greed is evil! While there is nothing wrong with wanting to create a useful product or provide a useful service by which both yourself and others may profit, greed in the sense of wanting to benefit yourself without regard for others is very, very, wrong. While civil government is not called on to prevent greed, they are called upon to prevent wrongdoing, and almost all greed involves wrongdoing. Why do you think the SEC exists in the U.S.? Why do you think there is so much regulation of things like the air travel industry? Because greed prevents these things from functioning according the law of love, which should be our motivation for all that we do. If it's not, why are we doing it?

Since our entire economy depends on the ownership of ideas, I don't know how (especially with the world economy in its present condition) we could move away from the current system. Anyone else have any thoughts on this?

Richard Stallman and others have proposed many ideas on how such a society might function; you can read about them at the the FSF's website [gnu.org] . Most of the ideas are pretty wild and sound very foreign to our ears.

But we must admit that the pure motivation for profit is not what drives a soecity to greatness. The motivitation to show love to our fellow neighbor what drives a society to greatness. Who is remembered with more adoration--the head of the East India Company or Florence Nightingale/Louisa Alcott? Who left a legacy of opression and who left a legacy of helping the hurting and sick?

Let us have Nightingale as our example. May we all do one tenth of what she did.

Cheers,
Joshua.

Never thought I'd see Tucker on /. (1)

jerodd (13818) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967347)

I suppose the fact that he was a libertarian socialist (dirty word!)

No, it's not! People are free to hold a variety of political beliefs. I dislike almost all major parties, and the libertarian part isn't there (yet), so I'll grant you grace. =)

will tick off a few people on /. -- he exposes property (both physical and intellectual) as government-granted monopoly, rather than an indivudal, fundamental, undebatable right.

I believe that there is a fundamental right to physical property in the same sense you have a fundamental right of control over your own person. Take a look at the average two-year-old: they all have real proprety down pat; you can't even keep your shoes in a corner without them attempting to bring them back to you. But children don't get the idea of intellectual property very well with the exception of plagiarism (proper attribution)--no child would feel guilty for repeating a joke, but every child would take offence if another took credit for their joke (or other idea).

Cheers,
Joshua.

The "Neww Economy" and IP (1)

jerodd (13818) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967348)

Unless you can propose some radical economic system that drives the cost of production and distribution towards zero, rewards content creators, and yet somehow offers no protection for IP, then please enlighten us.

Go to this website [gnu.org] and read. It has some very interesting ideas of how to musical artists could be paid by the very act of listerns and fans copying their music. I don't agree with the idea in its entirety, but at least give it some thought--there's more than just the present American system.

Stallman has written quite loquaciously on how such a society might function. Of course, he assumes that the majority of the population wants to be good and help their neighbor, which nowadays might be a misguided assumption. (That's required for any society to work correctly, though).

If you're a typical /. troller, though, don't read the GNU writings. Instead, just keep posting that we have to have the current IP scheme because otherwise we're all communists and there's no way to make money!

I don't own my ideas? (2)

jerodd (13818) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967349)

As for your arguments for capitalism vs socialism - are you BLIND!? You claim that socialism is bad because overall it tries to do what's best for society and screw the individual--as if capitalism doesn't cause at *least* as much harm to individuals...

The only reason socialism is wrong is because it condones one organisation (the state) bereaving everyone else (the people) of their property and then redistributing it as certain people in the state feel is `fair'. That is wrong--there is a fundamental right to property (as in physical proprety, like lands, houses, cards, food, your own person, &c.)

Capitalism by itself is worthless. Capitalism paired with a society that believes in conducting business fairly and honestly, performing good deeds for the less advantage, and not violating other's right to life and property works very well. But capitalism without ethics (or morality, if you want to call it that) is good for nothing--it's anarchy (and let's please not start talking about that).

Just remember: did your mother attend to your every need for the first year or so of your life because of a hope of making profit or because of pure love for a helpless infant?

IP and the common law (3)

jerodd (13818) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967350)

When I was in Virginia two months ago I was reading the book the ABA publishes which is IIRC called ``The Foundations of our Heritage''. It has reams of legal documents from the Magna Carta to the Consitution to various papers by John Locke, Blackstone, &c. I remember reading an excerpt from a writing of either Locke or Blackstone--I do not remember which--where he spoke against what some in England were trying to with regard to the then-fledgling copyright law. The basic argument for copyright (and especially long, as in 100-year, copyright duration) was that many orphans and widows had no source of income other than copyright licencing fees.

While that's certainly a noble reason, it doesn't apply today. While many argue that reforming intellectual ``proprety'' law would result in too much upheaval in society, did not eliminating slavery result in the same upheaval? After all, many struggling farmers and widows and orphans depended upon slavery for their daily bread.

Cheers,
Joshua.

IP (1)

Master Switch (15115) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967355)

Hmmm,
This is a very interesting article, It is interesting to see how people from a different era viewed these issues. I waiver in my own opinion. On one hand, I can see the value of Open ideas with no copyright or protection, but on the other, I see these problems. First, if one could not patent a process, it would be impossible to compete. Let us say that you invented a better wheel. You are an everyday joe, not much money to your name. Now, GoodYear comes along, finds out about your wheel, and then starts producing it, at great profit for themselves. What recourse do you now have. If there is no IP law to protect you, you have no recourse. IP law was designed in part to protect those with few resources from the infringement of those with large amounts of resource. A lack of IP law would actually favor the large corporations, not the average joe. If you can't protect your invention, there is no incentive to invent.
On the flip side of that coin what if INTEL or DEC could not patent parts of their design, how could they ever recover the millions, if not billions that were spent to develope their chips. If they couldn't, chances are that we would still be running on vacuum tubes, if even that. It works both ways. IP law is designed to protect the single inventor as well as the Multi Billion dollar corporation. It is not perfect, but it is an attempt to protect the motivation to invent.

Now, where I would agree with the article is in the area of software. I believe that software is only copyrightable, and not patentable. No one should be able to patent an algorithm. Would it not be absured if Shakespear had a patent on tragedy. You could view tragedy as an artistice algorithm. Certaintly, he should be able to protect his original works, but not the general idea behind them. Same for software. Microsoft should be able to copyright the software that enables Cascading Style sheets, but they should not be able to patent Cascading Style sheets themselves Anyway, that's my 2cents worth

Master Switch out

I don't own my ideas? (1)

EricWright (16803) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967360)

Of course it is. I never argued against open source. I just have a problem with everyone who jumps on a soapbox and screams about how ALL s/w should be free (in all senses of the word).

I also see a big discrepancy between someone who works in their spare time to write s/w, then asks people to pay for it and giants like M$ who downright force you to use their s/w and ONLY their s/w (see /. article on P III Xeon demo for good example).

Re: socialism vs. capatilism (1)

EricWright (16803) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967361)

Damn right! That's exactly what I'm saying. Why should I work my ass off to make a living when the federal government takes a percentage of that and gives it to the slobs who are too lazy to get a job?

I've got no problem with government subsidized disability compensation for those who are UNABLE to work. But people who would rather sit at home and leach off the government (and ultimately hard-working tax-payers) are another story.

All socialism does is to encourage everyone to aspire to the same level of mediocraty just to avoid being screwed by Da'Man.

I don't own my ideas? (1)

EricWright (16803) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967362)

Physical items are the products of abstractions (ie. thoughts). I doubt there are products that did not arise from the thoughts of a person/group (ok, ditch the obvious M$ jabs please).

If you go back and read my post, I never claimed that I should be allowed to patent an algorithm. I claimed that no one should force me to give away my source code, which is a unique collection of algorithms, coded in a precise way in which they become useful.

One other thing: socialism is an interesting idea. In practice, it fails miserably. Case in point: USSR.

I don't own my ideas? (2)

EricWright (16803) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967364)

Give me a freaking break!!! If I spend my free time developing a product, or idea, that others want, I should damn well be able to charge them a compensatory fee. Similarly, if I am the philanthropic type who wants to give away my product/idea, that should also be my right. But, the first time someone tries to TAKE something I have developed myself, WITHOUT my permission, that person will find themselves with a boot up their ass!

You can probably tell that I have mixed feelings about the open source fanatics. Why should I be forced to give away not only the binaries for an application I develop, but also the source code? I thought one of the strongest motivations for all the Linux hackers out there is, if you can't find it, write it. Well, if you don't like having to pay a nominal fee for something someone else wrote, fine. Go write a similar app yourself. Don't hassle the guy who wants to make a buck off his work.

Should artists be forced to give away their paintings? No. Should authors have to give you a copy of their books? No. Should a farmer have to give you his produce? No. These are all socialistic concepts. What's good for society as a whole is the rule, and if it hurts one person, so what.

No thanks. Capitalism is just fine by me. Free market enterprise and competetion will keep prices reasonable (which is the argument against monopolization of an industry), so you'll always be able to pick up, say, a C++ book and learn how to beat the "evil, money-making corporations".

(Just so you know, I'm NOT a fan of Bill Gates/Microsloth)

I don't own my ideas? (1)

Victor Danilchenko (18251) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967396)

I hate it when people don't think before they speak...

Give me a freaking break!!! If I spend my free time developing a product, or idea, that others want, I should damn well be able to charge them a compensatory fee. Similarly, if I am the philanthropic type who wants to give away my product/idea, that should also be my right. But, the first time someone tries to TAKE something I have developed myself, WITHOUT my permission, that person will find themselves with a boot up their ass!

OK, so you spend months developing that PERFECT recipe for the super-duper banana cream pie, and then you can restrict others from using it... NOT!
Or, you spend months coming up with this new mathematical formula, and then you can restrict others' use of it... NOT! (again)

Should artists be forced to give away their paintings? No. Should authors have to give you a copy of their books? No. Should a farmer have to give you his produce? No. These are all socialistic concepts. What's good for society as a whole is the rule, and if it hurts one person, so what.

the 'copyleft' idea would be for artists not to give out their paintings, but to allow others to make unlimited number of copies; similarly, an author would not give out books, but perhaps allow others unlimited access to the typeset or plaintext version of the book (electronically). Lastly, with farmer, there is no similarity at all. When a farmer gives out their crop, they can no longer use it -- material property is that way. if you give out source, YOUR copy of the source is still usable to you.

Some people just DON'T THINK. Sheesh!

(Just so you know, I'm NOT a fan of Bill Gates/Microsloth)

No, just a fan of the ridiculous (and illogical) property scheme that allows them to prosper.

--

Ownership... (1)

Victor Danilchenko (18251) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967397)

I really hope this is not what the entire /. community thinks like. I always thought people shared thier ideas because they WANTED to not because they HAD to. There is a difference between VOLUNTARILY sharing ideas and being FORCED to share ideas. What a person thinks is his own, and no one elses.

You are missing the point. Nobody makes you share your ideas (except fot Apple and their ASPL license); the whole point here is that, once you tell that idea to someone, you cannot make them not share it with anyone. Get the difference?.. You can keep your idea private, but you cannot impose restrictions on others' use of the same idea -- that's the whole anti-IP point.
--

Copyright vs. Patent: Two DIFFERENT Things (1)

Victor Danilchenko (18251) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967398)

Copyright protects an expression of ideas. It doesn't protect the ideas themselves. Why do you think it's perfectly legitimate for you to quote from a book without paying the author? Why do you think it's perfectly all right for you to appropriate the ideas expressed in a book as your own? Because copyright doesn't protect ideas. It protects expression: written words.

'Written words' are ideas, just of a more specific kind. All information is just 'ideas' of one sort or another. if you really think about it, there is no qualitive distinction between an abstract idea of a tragedy, a more specific ourline of a tragic love story between two hormone-crazed teenagers, a still more specific story of 'Romeo' and 'Juliet', a detailed scetch of that drama, and finally the specific text. All of these things differe from each other only in the amount of detail.

Copyright is legitimate. Patents are different because they restrict the use of ideas -- and I fully agree that this is silly. But copyright is a different story. Someone somewhere invested their energy in producing a tangible thing: their book/code/whatever. It is theirs, and they have a right to do with their property what they wish.

Do you think that it takes any less time to, say, invent a volfram-thread (sp?) light bulb (a perfectly patentable idea)?..

Finally, let me say that the premise of the article is incorrect. Private property is legitimate because God owns everything, and he extends to us the right to own things as stewards -- as his representatives. There is nothing whatever immoral about the idea of private property; people may do bad things with their stuff, but that's a separate question.

Now THIS is one of the most laughable explanations of the nature of property I have ever heard. Setting aside the very question of god's existence, let me ask you this -- how do you know that god gave you the right to that car? When have you last spoken with her? Well, I have spoken with god today, and she told me that she decided to now grant the 'stewardship' of that car to me. Fork it over, buddy!

--

I don't own my ideas? (1)

Victor Danilchenko (18251) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967399)

(I think my first answer got lost due to me forgetting to click 'submit')

If people are allowed to freely copy paintings, music, software, etc. this has the potential to erode the economic incentive of artists to produce the works in the first place. This means fewer works, and this means a less successful economy, which is bad for society.

A substantial body of psychological research has shown that people involved in creative tasks (such as ones that produce in what currently falls under the abel of 'IP') actually do a much better job when offered non-material compensation -- lova, pride, respect, satisfaction, etc. -- rather than material ones like money. The obvious conclusion then is to set up a system which would allow such people to do what they do, but not to offer them this money as reward, instead offering them the intrinsic incentives.

Such a system already exists -- education research facilities work this way. Most inventions (as opposed to 'innovations' in the Gatesque sense) come out of such facilities.

BTW, you say that elimination of IP has a potential to erode our economy. My computer has a potential to spontaneously combust right now, yet it does not... Until someone can offer support for this erosion having a reasonably high chance of occuring, the above point has little, if any, value in this kind of argument.

--

Well said... (1)

Praxxus (19048) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967408)

We're all individuals.

I'm not!

Sorry. Couldn't resist.

I eat so I can think (1)

TNN (19310) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967411)

Man, that was unreadable!
Creation of ideas usually requires substantial
amounts of material property, not to mention food.
You at least need something to guarantee the
inventor will be able to get a return on
investment. That's where intellectual property
can be beneficial and should be used.

Dear Editor (Rob Malda), I really think you
shouldn't have let that one go through.
Please add a weekly poll for lamest slashdot
article.

Literacy... must be readable! (1)

TNN (19310) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967412)

Hi SimonK,
On an international forum mainly crowded with
readers having a scientific/technological
background I guess it's best to speak their
language.

Anyhow, I'm sure most slashdotters are more
than half literate. Are you of the condescending kind?

Well said... (1)

RobinHood (20365) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967424)

True. There is nothing wrong with a programmer aspiring to make money from his/her craft. I don't even begrudge Microsoft for charging exorbitant amounts of money for their products, because I think it's the public's fault for paying far too much for a 'fad'. Everyone is internet this, or dotcom that...

That doesn't mean that microsoft did everything ethically, and they should be made to pay for their crimes.

What we do need is a more efficient e-commerce system, so that you can pay the author a dollar to download a program, without the overhead eating up that dollar. I would pay a dollar sendmail, if I thought the author deserves it.

However, charging a dollar to my VISA card is simply not practical.

Plus, let's also not forget that a lot of people would like the *recognition* of their work, and not necessarily the profit. If we set up an institution where free software is archived and the author's name permanently attached to their work... wait a second... :)

I don't own my ideas? (1)

kmj9907 (20499) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967425)

Good point. You can't/shouldn't force people to give information that they aren't willing to give. So if you have info that people will pay for, sell it if that's your wish. Just know that there's always the possibility that someone will create a similar program and give it away for free, depriving you of income. That is as much their right as selling info is yours.

kmj

The author is hopelessly confused (1)

Kaa (21510) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967428)

The guy can neither write, nor think clearly. I advise him to read any good legal philosophy book on property. This whole essay is gross oversimplification. Just two issues that came to my mind immediately:

Let's say that a physical object is usable by everybody simultaneously in all places, etc. I just made a ring for my wife. I do NOT want anybody else to use it. Is it my property? (privacy / uniqueness issues)

I am a very good chairmaker. I made an excellent chair for myself and everybody else can/does use it simultaneously with me. A guy comes to me and says that his butt is differently shaped and he wants a different chair, but he is not a chairmaker. How can he persuade me to make a chair for him? (stimulus issues)

Yeah, now I know what this issue reminded me of: classic XIX century socialist/marxist writings: Property is theft!

Still doesn't work (1)

Kaa (21510) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967429)

As to the ring example falling under the copyright -- the author makes a much stronger point. The author claims that if it were possible to use a physical object simultaneously by everybody everywhere, there would be no concept of property. This is way more fundamental than the expression vs. idea distinction made in copyright.

And the example does NOT depend on the concept of ownership. Change 'my wife' to 'a girl I like'. Nothing changes. Liking somebody does not imply ownership. However I, being an individual person, would like a choice of exclusivity in some matters.

As to the chairmaker, once you make a better saw for him, we are off to a barter economy and the concept of property rears its lovely head. If we are exchanging a chair for a saw, what rights do I have to what I am exchanging? And I will not even talk about the inherent free rider problem...

It ain't that easy... (1)

Kaa (21510) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967430)

Well, let's see. So if anybody shared information with you, he should not force you not to share it or copy it. Well, isn't it his choice? Free adults can (or should be able to) make any contracts they want. I wrote the software, I am willing to sell/share it with you, but I want to be able to negotiate my contract with you about that. As part of that contract I would like to impose obligations upon you, similar to current copyright law. Can I do this? Sure I can, unless you want to limit my liberty of entering into any contracts I want. Is it amoral on my part? I don't see why, it's a matter of my own choice.

The notion of property is based on the idea that you can prevent others from doing certain things. Either you claim that there can be no property on information at all (and what about your medical records?), or I as the owner can impose any conditions in the contract. If you don't like the contract, don't sign it!

The issue of what is socially desirable and the proper public policy is, of course, a completely different discussion.

Ownership... (3)

Danchez (21525) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967433)

I don't even know where to start.

I really hope this is not what the entire /. community thinks like. I always thought people shared thier ideas because they WANTED to not because they HAD to. There is a difference between VOLUNTARILY sharing ideas and being FORCED to share ideas. What a person thinks is his own, and no one elses.

I am all for Linux and the GPL, but I am also all for someone charging for their work. If you created it then name your price, if I want it then I'll pay.

And yes if you detect a little of Rand in my reply then you are correct.

Mis-aimed Crtique (2)

tomjanofsky (21580) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967434)

If this is intended to be a critique of intellectual property, it is severely misaimed. While this is an interesting piece, it is really only making the case for how things already are.

The article is appropriately titled though, "Why ideas should not be property" - while "ideas" themselves are not considered property under current intellectual property laws.

IP laws such as copyright and patent do not attempt to reserve the "idea" to the creator, rather they reserve the right for the creator to have certain controls over physical manifestations of that idea (in the case of copyright, read duplication, distribution, derivative works) for some time period. IP applies only to the expression of an idea, not to the idea itself, or any facts underlying that idea.

We have intellectual property for reasons that are both related to the notion that someone has a certain ownership of something they create (philosophically this has a number of bases - including, but not exclusively Locke) as well as for utilitarian purposes (the US Constitution gives the Congress the right to make IP laws to "further the progress of the arts and sciences"). That is, the people who agreed upon those laws felt that for any number of reasons, including but not limited to profit - people would be more inclined to create intellectual property if there were protections provided for their rights.

IP laws do not attempt to control the flow of ideas - any law that tried to do such a thing would be foolish - but they do reserve rights concerning the manifestations of those ideas to the creators.

People here on /. seem to have a misaimed hatred for intellectual property. There is a big difference between the notion of intellectual property - and how particular IP laws are currently implemented. The GPL requires and supports the notion of intellectual property as much as any traditional copyright does - it's key difference lies only in how it views the distribution of the creators rights that come along with that intellectual property. Free software requires the notion of intellectual property.

Should genes be considered IP? (1)

nigiri (22248) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967435)

There's only one problem:

The farmers who bought that seed signed a contract with Monstanto agreeing not to save any seed corn. They did this for the economic advantage of not having to worry about where they spray their noxious chemicals around. The fact that they'd like to break that contract should earn them no sympathy from anyone. If they had refrused en masse to sign that contract, Monsanto would have had to find another way to sell that seed.

Should genes be considered IP? (1)

Big Jim (24218) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967439)

>``It takes hundreds of slaves to pick all the
>cotton and process it from a medium-sized >field.''
>Denying a fundamental liberty because it makes a
>certain business avenue possible is wrong. >Monsanto will have to find a new profit avenue.

This is exactly the argument against legislation of MP3s. The business model record companies use has become outmoded, and they want to curtail our artist's and our artist's fans freedoms.

They have every right to make a profit. They do not have the right to stop others from profiting, and they do not have the right to cut our rights.

Capitalism has always been about evolution. Competion and Diversity are the key words to the thing. What is happening, in fact, is an attempt to legislate Competition and Diversity out of our economy. We all know this is bad for consumers, who don't get continual improvements to products, and for producers, when the economy ceases to function.

(incidentaly, mass comm. mediums, like the bigmoney-to-many paradigm of TV, force consumer desires in planned directions. Is this good or bad in light of the evolutionary view of capitalism?)

Should genes be considered IP? (1)

Big Jim (24218) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967440)

uh - the farmer ALWAYS resells the seed. It's called grain, and we make bread, pasta, cereals, and many other wonderful things with it. and we also feed it to our livestock, who do the same.

House of cards, like the man said.

I don't own my ideas? (1)

Big Jim (24218) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967441)

Capitalism is just fine for many things. More socialist systems work better elsewhere. Other types of organization work better in other places. There is no need to say, "Capitalism: now and forever." All systems have their problems, all systems have their benefits. (the problems don't ever go away, because the problems are people! :)

The thing about software is that it's somewhere BETWEEN and idea and an object. It takes no work or cost to copy, move, use simultaneously. It does however take work (time and sometimes money, time==money for many) to PRODUCE. This is why neither the Completely Free or the Completely Closed methods work PERFECTLY.


Cost of production is one thing that the essay above didn't seem to touch. Is there a gradient between ideas and objects? Apparently, yes. Hard thinking time, boys and girls.

(idea: define two sets of laws with the same number of atomic paragraphs, each paragraph meta-isomorphic to it's paired partner. one set for IP, the other for physical property. then, for each entity wishing to be covered by the laws, assign a number 0..1 to it, 0 being more IP-ish, 1 being more physical-ish. then, say, for a particular entity of IP/obj-ishness of .5, 50% of the IP paragraph set applies, 50% of the property set applies. chosen randomly at inception of the law's application to the entity :)

I eat so I can think (1)

Big Jim (24218) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967442)

Point one: It was unreadable. Most of us digested it pretty well, why not deal with it?

Point two: The guarantee that the inventor will be able to get a return on investment. This is completely silly. Lawmakers are not responsible for making sure you succeed. That is your the inventor's problem.

Point three: I've got nothing against the poll for lamest article.. sounds like fun! But if you've got a beef with an article, your comments and possible counter-article are your weapons. Closing your eyes (not wanting to see it) is not.

Remember: Democracy is not so much your rights to freedom as your responsibility to understand and keep them. All information is valuable, whether true or false, whether agreeable or disagreeable.

(i make no excuse for my spelling & grammar. it may be terrible, please deal with it)

I don't own my ideas? (1)

Big Jim (24218) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967443)

>Our modern economy is largely based upon the
>"illogical" property scheme that forces the
>public to pay for copyrighted works. This economy
>has allowed the developed world to reach to the
>highest standards of living in history.

Actually no. It (sadly like many such systems before it) allows the highest standards of living for a few, an admittedly nice standard for more, and absolute piss-shit crap for the rest.

What we are looking for is not to increase the absolute or even average measure of quality of life. what we want is to increase the low end of it.

I will detract from the success of this economy, as I will detract from the success of any system, because NO SOCIAL SYSTEMS CAN BE PERFECT. Point being, constant analyses of success and failures of all systems is required. This is democracy.


...
...

Except maybe killing anyone who happens to be unhappy.. but then we'd need mind-reading machines to find out what they were thinking.. and we could drug them up to be happy.. oh well.

IP (1)

Mr Moose (25219) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967444)

It is not perfect, but it is an attempt to protect the motivation to invent.

I thought the best motivation was capitalism. The only think IP protects is theft of design. In the case of hardware goods. It is kind of easy to copy a design (a bottle of Coke for example).

In the case of software, to copy the design is hard, unless you find that writing 1,000,000+ lines of code is easy. So for that case, IP actually slows down invention, since it creates hurdles to improve on designs.

In the hardware case, you can look at the bottle of Coke and improve on that design without violating the IP. Can you do the same with software ?

Re: socialism vs. capatilism (1)

Eric Savage (28245) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967455)

With the exception of supporting moderate welfare and socialized healthcare, I consider myself a capitalist (more specifically an entrepeneur). I have determined that the only thing that separates capitalism from the anarchy (or barbarism that idealist/socialists call it) is the legal system. Capitalism, in the last 100 years, has innovated in ways all other forms of government since the dawn of civilization combined cannot remotely match. While people have shown that they WILL work for the greater good, they will not do it as fast or effective as when they do it for their own good. The net has been in a semi-mature state for about 20 years now, but look at it in actual utility/value today vs. 2 years ago. Ecommerce has forced the pace to be quickened. While we have moguls making vast sums of money, we can also reap the benefits of thier innovation/effort by doing practically everything online, where the old .edu-dominated net was simply a big messy library. Back to the point: IP laws should be designed to grant an immediate benefit to the few who concieve it, and a long term benefit to the public. This is why patents have lifespans. WIthout IP laws, the big corps that everyone is so afraid of would dominate completely because of thier vast production resources. The little guys would have no chance to grow and we would basically become a corporate state, which almost identical to a socialist state if you really think about it....

Information Property (1)

Lordahdaring (29285) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967462)

Well, I agree we should look into this as a society, however there are pieces of information that not everyone needs to know!!! What if instructions for the ATOM Bomb were public domain... I mean I know this is slightly extreme... but, nonetheless, true... If I come up with a killer Idea, or a program that people will pay tons o money for.... then Whats wrong with me making some cash from that... I feel its morally more right to get paid for ideas than to get paid for stuff. Think about it, manufactured stuff is usually there because someone in a position of power broke subservient people's backs to get their stuff out.

I say that this was a great essay, but it viewed everything from only one angle.

This is a "Major Nit-Picking Note"tm (1)

Grandpa_Spaz (29498) | more than 15 years ago | (#1967463)

Your attempt at correcting Jerrod's admittedly shakey understanding of US History is admirable (read the other posts for that information), you information, especially of the principles where incorrect.

Of 80% will get the most casulties; they have 60% more of the population than 20% (duh...). If you look at a percentage of each population, you will find that of the population without slaves, only 65% of them fought, while 63% of slave-owners fought.

And, you premise of why they fought is totally inaccurate. Slavery wasn't even an issue in 1861; although the revisionists would have you think otherwise, it was really a minor, to-be-dealt-with-after-the-others issue. Both sides, North and South, treated it as such, mainly because they knew when the others issues were resolved, this would resolved with it (one of the issues being the reformation of the Southern agarian economy). No, the war was fought over the states rights; many of them believe they were being infringed upon by the federal government, the federal government would not back down, saying as the majority (the Northern states) backed the more centralized government.

Additionally, I ask you this: would 75,000 free blacks sign up, voluntarily, to defend slavery? No... they wouldn't. And yet 75,000 black Southerns, ALL FREE MEN, signed up in 1861-1865 and fought in regiments along side the white regiments, and many served with distinction. In fact, Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest (know founding, then dissolving the Ku Klux Klan and his previous life as a slave trader) said that the black company that fought under him were the best fighters had seen, and "I trust them more than any white man under my command." Hmmm... doesn't sound like a slavery issue to me...

Please pardon the rant; I just wanted to set the record straight.
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