Category Archives: Intellectual Property

Fakery and futility

If you live in New Zealand and you click the Play button on the top video, expect to see the following message.

This video contains content from EMI, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.

If you click the Play button on the bottom video, you should see identical content published by EMI.

Go figure.

Intellectual property is fake property, and enforcement of copyright is futile in the digital age.

If you want more than asseveration, I have actual arguments for my view that IP is a crock here and here. And here’s a good one from Stephan Kinsella.

“copying” is merely a subset of learning, emulation, competition. None of us can oppose “learning” as a general matter. So I have yet to hear an argument that some forms of learning are okay but not others.

Going viral


Copyright is the freedom to choose, says Peter Cresswell.

No, it’s not.

War is NOT peace, ignorance is NOT strength, and copyright is NOT the freedom to choose.

Copyright is the government telling you what songs you can and cannot sing in the shower.

This video, produced by the Copyright Alliance, is Orwellian bullshit.

Copying a tune to your medium of choice is like catching the flu on public transport.
Once an artist releases a song, the song is out there, like a virus.

Stop the extradition of Richard O’Dwyer to the USA

Stop the extradition of Richard O’Dwyer to the USA

Richard O’Dwyer is a 24 year old British student at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK. He is facing extradition to the USA and up to ten years in prison, for creating a website – – which linked (similar to a search-engine) to places to watch TV and movies online.

O’Dwyer is not a US citizen, he’s lived in the UK all his life, his site was not hosted there, and most of his users were not from the US. America is trying to prosecute a UK citizen for an alleged crime which took place on UK soil.

The internet as a whole must not tolerate censorship in response to mere allegations of copyright infringement. As citizens we must stand up for our rights online.

When operating his site, Richard O’Dwyer always did his best to play by the rules: on the few occasions he received requests to remove content from copyright holders, he complied. His site hosted links, not copyrighted content, and these were submitted by users.

Copyright is an important institution, serving a beneficial moral and economic purpose. But that does not mean that copyright can or should be unlimited. It does not mean that we should abandon time-honoured moral and legal principles to allow endless encroachments on our civil liberties in the interests of the moguls of Hollywood.

Richard O’Dwyer is the human face of the battle between the content industry and the interests of the general public. Earlier this year, in the fight against the anti-copyright bills SOPA and PIPA, the public won its first big victory. This could be our second.

This is why I am petitioning the UK’s Home Secretary Theresa May to stop the extradition of Richard O’Dwyer. I hope you will join me.

– Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder

Please sign the petition.

God creates. Man makes alternative arrangements.

Genesis 1:1

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Ayn Rand

The power to rearrange the combinations of natural elements is the only creative power man possesses. It is an enormous and glorious power—and it is the only meaning of the concept “creative.” “Creation” does not (and metaphysically cannot) mean the power to bring something into existence out of nothing. “Creation” means the power to bring into existence an arrangement (or combination or integration) of natural elements that had not existed before. (This is true of any human product, scientific or esthetic: man’s imagination is nothing more than the ability to rearrange the things he has observed in reality.)

Ecclesiastes 1:9-10

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun[c].

Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?

If ‘property rights’ is the answer, what’s the question?

If ‘property rights’ is the answer, what’s the question?

The question is, how do we allocate scarce resources in a free society?

Here are two common examples of scarce resources.

(1) Tangible, “value added,” goods.
(2) Land.

The answer in each case is the same: privatisation. The institution of private property—which is a societal convention—accords people property rights in tangible goods and land.

Tangible goods to which value has been added are the products of someone’s effort. Other things being equal, we give ownership of the goods to the person who produced them. According to our property conventions, you get to keep the fruits of your labours.

Land is already there. It’s not the fruit of anyone’s labours. So, as a very general rule, we give ownership of land on a “first come, first served” basis. If you’re the first to stake a claim (by planting a flag, perhaps), then it’s yours. (There may be qualifications, for example, it may be deemed necessary to “improve” the land, or to “occupy” it “continuously” for a period of time.)

What about so-called “intellectual property”? Should a free society give ownership of ideas? There’s no disputing the fact that good ideas are (almost) always products of someone’s intellectual effort. And there’s no disputing that good ideas are (almost) never thought of simultaneously. Take any good idea, and there’s (almost) always someone who thought of it first. And, what’s more, it’s (almost) always the case that the person who thought of the good idea first is someone who put in the intellectual effort required to come up with the idea. So, other things being equal, why not give ownership of the good idea to that person, perhaps by way of copyright or patent?

Why not? Because, in the case of ideas, ‘property rights’ is the answer to a question we don’t need to ask. In a free society, ideas are not scarce resources. Tell me what your good idea is, and I have it too. Ideas can be copied. They can be copied ad infinitum. Ideas aren’t scarce.

The notion of “intellectual property” is bogus. The correct account of the nature of property is the scarcity theory of property. The production theory of property is flawed.

Here’s a counter-example to the production theory of property, a third, less common, example of a scarce resource.

(3) Radio frequency transmission bands.

If you and I broadcast our radio shows on the same radio frequency band in the same geographical area, our transmissions interfere with one another. The solution to the problem is, again, privatisation. There’s actually a legitimate role of government here—to endorse, and to enforce the rulings of, an independent body that grants exclusive use, in a given geographical area, of scarce radio frequency transmission bands. On the basis of … what? Fairness? Not on the basis of first come, first served. And certainly not on the basis of the production theory of property. You can’t produce a mathematical range. And you can’t be first to use a set of numbers.

[Cross-posted to SOLO.]

Nothing new under the sun

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?

It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.

No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them. (NIV)

Boy takes swing at US patents

Boy takes swing at US patents

A five-year-old kid from Minnesota has patented a way of swinging on a child’s swing. The US Patent Office issued patent 6,368,227 on 9 April to Steven Olson of St Paul, Minnesota for a “method of swinging on a swing”. Olson’s father Peter is a patent attorney.

The award has generated a mixture of chuckles and frustration at an overworked patent system unable to catch absurd applications. The patent covers moving a swing side to side or in an oval pattern. Children can get bored by swinging back and forth, or by twisting the swing to make it spin, the patent says.

“A new method of swinging on a swing would therefore represent an advance of great significance and value,” it reads. Olson’s alternative is to pull on one chain at a time, so the swing moves towards the side being pulled.

Peter Olson told New Scientist: “I had told him that if he invented something he could file a patent.” His son had not seen sideways swinging because the swings at his school are closely spaced, so he asked his father to file the application.

The patent office initially rejected the application for prior art – citing two earlier patents on swings – but Peter Olson appealed, noting that neither was a method for swinging sideways. The patent was then issued.

The US swing patent does not match an Australian patent on the wheel for sheer absurdity. However, in that case, an Australian lawyer was able to sneak the wheel patent through a fast-track application system. The US patent went through the full application procedure.

Peter Olson says he was not trying to prove anything, just show his son how inventions and patents work. The Australian lawyer who received a patent on the wheel was trying to point out how poorly the system operated.

The US Patent Office says it does not comment on individual patents, leaving it unclear how such an obvious idea won approval. A spokeswoman did say that the patent office uses a legalistic definition of obviousness: “That is not necessarily the conventional definition.”

The swing patent could face reconsideration at the request of the inventor, third parties, or the patent director.

When the laughter stops, silly patents filed by individuals are less a problem than trivial ones filed by large corporations, says Gregory Aharonian, publisher of the Internet Patent News.

As an example, he cites US patent 6,329,919, a business-method patent issued in December 2001 to four IBM developers for a system that issues reservations for using the toilet on an aeroplane.

Lawyer moves to patent wheel

Lawyer moves to patent wheel

An Australian man has registered a patent for a “circular transportation facilitation device” – more commonly known as the wheel.

Melbourne patent lawyer John Keogh said he registered the patent to show flaws in an intellectual property law that came into effect in May, the Australian newspaper The Age reported.

The new law established the “innovation patent” system, which Mr Keogh said did not require sufficient oversight from the patent office.

The new innovation patent can be prepared without professional help and only requires claimants to show “innovation”, not “invention”.

Mr Keogh said it represented the government caving in to claimants who said it was too expensive to obtain a standard patent.

“The government decided to find a way to issue a patent more easily,” he said.

“The patent office would be required to issue a patent for anything. All they’re doing is putting a rubber stamp on it.”

But Commissioner of Patents Vivienne Thom said: “To obtain the patent the applicant must make a declaration that they are the inventor.

“Obtaining a patent for the wheel would require a false claim, which would certainly invalidate the patent,” she added.

Why we don’t need copyright laws

Over at the Pirate Party of New Zealand website (where I am now a guest blogger, yo ho ho!), the Pirates outline their core policy. Contrary to what you might expect, the Pirates support copyright laws. Here is what they say about copyright.

Because we see copyright as a legal right, not a moral right, we think it should be up to individual societies to democratically decide whether to implement copyright law, and if so, to what extent. The long title of the Statute of Anne 1709 (widely regarded as the beginning of modern copyright law) describes the statute as being for “the Encouragement of Learning” (British Copyright Act, 1709). Similarly, the stated aim of the provision for copyrights and patents in the USA constitution is “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” (USA Constitution, art. I, sec. 8, cl. 8). The Pirate Party believes that modern copyright law is more restrictive than necessary to serve this purpose, and that the purpose could actually be better served by less restrictive law.

So copyright is for “the Encouragement of Learning”. But we have state education for that!

So copyright is also “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts”. But we have the Ministry of Science and Innovation for that, and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage!

It would seem that “the Encouragement of Learning” and the promotion of “the Progress of Science and useful Arts” are already more than well catered for by big government with at least three separate ministries with all their ministers, associate ministers and associated minions.

So we don’t need copyright laws!