Bonum Certa Men Certa

Another Cautionary Note: Nicolas Sarkozy

Identifying foes of Free software...

For those who forgot, the French President has been doing a lot of legwork for Microsoft and their partners in the media industry. We mentioned this more recently, but a couple of references are worth repeating. The first one is about the president's seemingly healthy affairs with Microsoft, namely:

Sarkozy and his family have been vacationing at a lakefront estate in Wolfeboro owned by former Microsoft Corp. executive Michael Appe.


Here is a recent change of law that was proposed (taxing the Internet).

French president Nicolas Sarkozy wants to ban advertising on public television and replace the income stream with a tax on mobile phones and Internet accounts. "Our national television must provide quality and access to culture; it must not be shaped solely by commercial considerations," said Sarkozy in Paris on Tuesday.


And another.

What this neglects to take into account is the fact that falling into the public domain is a gain for the public - and hence the actual moment when it becomes part of the "national pop heritage" - and that the gain vastly outweighs any minimal effect it has on ageing rockers' royalties.


The actual news comes from the following blog. It suggests that Sarkozy's copyrights crusade shows no signs of abatement.

The support for Commissioner McCreevy came from the French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Soon after taking office, he set up a commission, led by the head of the major retail chain FNAC, to look into copyright and the creative industries. Alongside recommendations on ISP responsibility, the commission proposed extending copyright and this will be on the agenda when the French Government assumes the Presidency of the European Union in July this year.


For those wondering how this relates to this Web site, consider the strong relationship between copyrights and patent laws. The two are very different, but the term "intellectual property" strives to have them assimilated. TechDirt has published a good new essay against intellectual property, which is claims cannot really exist.

The main reason why I have trouble with the "property" part isn't just the fact that it leads people to try to pretend it's just like tangible property, but because it automatically biases how people think about the concept.


Here is another good analogy. [via Glyn Moody]

Copyright maximalists love to draw parallels between property rights and copyrights. But if we take that analogy seriously, I think it actually leads in some places that they aren't going to like. Our property rights system was not created by Congressional (or state legislative) fiat. Property rights in land is an organic, bottom up exercize. The job of government isn't to dictate what the property system should look like, but to formalize and reinforce the property arrangements people naturally agree to among themselves.

The fact that our current copyright system is widely ignored and evaded is a sign, I think, that Congress has done a poor job of aligning the copyright system with ordinary individuals' sense of right and wrong. Just as squatters 200 years ago didn't think it was right that they be booted off land they cleared and brought under cultivation in favor of an absentee landowner who had written a check to a distant federal government, so a lot of people feel it's unfair to fine a woman hundreds of thousands of dollars to share a couple of CDs' worth of music. You might believe (as do I) that file sharing is unethical, just as many people believed that squatting was unethical. But at some point, Congress has no choice but to recognize the realities on the ground, just as it did with real property in the 19th century.


Lastly, consider this new piece about it being a lost cause.

The scarcity argument focuses on the efficient use of existing resources. In contrast, the reward argument focuses on the creation of new resources. It says that people will under-produce valuable resources if they aren't allowed to keep what they produce. For example, a farmer is far less likely to plant crops in the spring if he won't be able to prevent others from harvesting them in the fall.


By eradicating the problem (software patents) and identifying barriers -- including people -- progress can finally be made. New laws which strive to illegalise/marginalise Free software can (and should) be eliminated for logical and scientific reasons, not just philosophical or economic ones. The copyrights debate has many parallels we can learn from.

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