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Editor's Note: Intellectual Property Is A Mental Illness

Jan 17, 2009, 00:03 (27 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

This whole "intellectual property" mania is a mental illness that deserves its own entry into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It's like that great movie, "Aguirre: The Wrath of God." Give yourself a treat and watch it; it's a wonderful film that takes place after the fall of the Incan empire. Lope de Aguirre, played by the perfectly mad Klaus Kinski, leads a band of Spanish conquistadors on a quest for El Dorado, the legendary City of Gold. The quest is doomed, of course, as they struggle through hostile terrain and hostile locals, pushed onward by their own greed and ruthlessness.

The best scene of all is the final scene (spoiler! I warn you!) Aguirre, the only survivor, floats down a river on a decaying raft, boasting of his grandiose plans to a little gaggle of monkeys:

"I, the Wrath of God, will marry my own daughter and with her I'll found the purest dynasty the earth has ever seen. We shall rule this entire continent. We shall endure. I am the Wrath of God!"
I think of that a lot when I'm reading tech news. Like Apple sending a cease-and-desist letter to Wired for publishing a video podcast to the Gadget Lab blog that showed how to install an "illegal, hacked version" of Mac OS X Leopard onto an MSI Wind netbook. You might remember how a couple years ago Apple was jackbooting everyone for using the words "pod" and "podcast". Thankfully that failed and "podcast" has entered our vocabularies as a word we can use with little fear from the word police, and I can still grow pea pods.

In these two examples people are using Apple's products, and talking about Apple's products, in exciting ways. They're not badmouthing them, they're giving away the kind of cool publicity that money can't buy. But Apple thinks that is wrong and bad and must be stopped, and in their crazy quest to own words and ideas they are missing out on an opportunity-- customers want an Apple netbook, and instead of recognizing this, Apple would rather punish them.

Just like the entertainment industry, which for decades has resisted delivering music and movies in formats that customers really want, and would rather force manufactured shlock on us instead of nurturing real talent that we would gladly pay for. They should be on their knees in gratitude that we have stuck it out this long, figuring out our own workarounds (independent radio stations, custom mix tapes, ripping to digital formats, PC-based music servers) instead of telling them to take a long walk off a short pier.

Killing the Golden Goose

The tech industry is notorious for thuggish Tony Soprano tactics. How did this come about? Pepsi doesn't make you agree to a EULA. DeWalt doesn't tell you what you can and cannot do with your own DeWalt tools that you have purchased. The fashion and automotive industries copy each other openly, and don't waste time suing each other for poaching ideas. Instead they stick to the business of trying to win customers the old-fashioned way-- by making cool things that people want to buy.

The proprietary software industry nearly succeeded in killing off the second-hand software market, and then had the two-faced gall to whine about copyright infringement-- they tolerate it when it opens new markets and shuts out the competition, but sooner or later those bad pirates have to pay up. Every other industry has a thriving second-hand market, instead of this loony game of wink-nudge "piracy", and it benefits everyone-- it opens new markets, and reduces the financial risks of early adopters and customers who buy new.

Microsoft has devoted considerable energy to trying to kill off the second-hand hardware market as well by going after schools and non-profits that use old, donated equipment, and forcing them to purchase new software licenses. Most OEM Windows PCs come with crippled versions of Windows that can't be moved to different PCs, but are locked to the original.

Don't even get me started on the unhealthy dependence of an entire multi-billion dollar "security" industry that wouldn't even exist if Windows were not such a porous piece of poo. They're not going to put any energy into actually solving the problems, not when their livelihoods depend on manufacturing marginally-effective splints and bandages.

The market-share debates over Microsoft vs. Linux, and proprietary software vs. FOSS are endless and hampered by the difficulty of collecting reliable FOSS usage data. But one fact is crystal clear: people choose FOSS because they like it, not because they are coerced into it as they are with so much of the proprietary gunk.

Microsoft is Aguirre, and the rest of the doomed band are all the companies who have tied their fortunes to the insane conquistador. They have mad dreams of world conquest where they own the entire market and control everything their customers do, and force them to pay, and pay, and pay for the privilege. But I have hopes that thanks to FOSS it's not going to happen; they might as well be boasting to monkeys.