Digital Rights and Intellectual Property
The invention of the internet has radically transformed our society from one that was driven by industrial might into one that is driven by information access. However, our intellectual property laws have not kept up with this transition. The reason for having intellectual property was originally created and is still, was to promote the growth of technologies and culture in a way that provides the maximum benefit to all individuals. This was setup in a manner that provided individuals exclusive rights to their intellectual property for a limited amount of time, ideally enough to make their investment worthwhile, and then to open the intellectual property up for the community to freely benefit from, transform, and build on top of.
This strategy worked very well from the pre-industrial revolution up until the last few decades. However, as the information revolution has moved forward, there have been several indicators that point to a need for this system to be brought up to speed. Over the last several decades, there has been an incredible lobbying effort by large media corporations to the U.S. government that has been successful in pushing the term of copyright to extraordinary lengths of time so that these large media corporations can continue to make profit off of works that would otherwise become freely available to the public. However, this clearly undermines the entire idea behind intellectual property by limiting the public’s access to it, even after the corporation has had a chance to make back its investment (the vast majority of the revenue from media is generated in the first 1-2 years). These great lengths need to be reigned in, to the benefit of the public. With the rise to popularity of the internet also came the rise of individuals wanting to use the internet to share media with others. However, when networks arose to meet this desire, they were quickly branded as “pirates” even though they were of an explicitly non-commercial nature. The vast number of users of these networks makes it obvious that the public perception identifies noncommercial sharing of works either fundamentally ethical or at the very least not a wrong that is on the same level as commercial for-profit copyright violations. A balance needs to be found where noncommercial end users are not afraid to use the works that they legitimately have access to, and to use those works in their existing interactions with other people they have personal relationships with, while still respecting the rights afforded to copyright owners. Additionally, under the guise of combating the popularity of sharing media over the internet, large media corporations have begun to apply technological locks to their media in the form of Digital Rights Management (DRM). DRM keeps users from transferring (or performing other fair-use acts with) media that they have legally obtained from one format (like a DVD) to another format (like a video file on an iPod), instead the companies force users to re-acquire the media (and pay more money) to see the same media in this new format. At the same time, all DRM if fundamentally flawed and all implementations to date have been broken. Thus these technological restrictions have not slowed the unauthorized transfer of media on the internet, but have punished those who have legally acquired media by forcing the to pay even more to use that media. This has also been expanded to encompass things like garaged door openers and ink-jet printers, which obviously needs to be addressed.
In the Intellectual Property realm of Patents, software patents are now being used widely, but do very little to encourage investment. Rather, they are often used to shut-out competition or for patent holding companies to try to get big settlements from big players. In the end software patents are only benefiting a small group of people, who aren’t even in the software development industry. Adding on to make this worse, is the fact that a software patent is really just a patent on a very complex mathematical formula or business method, not on a real invention, and many of the patents that are granted are for obvious and fundamental technologies which go to companies just because they are the first ones to think about the problem, not because they have made a great breakthrough. For both the copyright and patent issues, it is the lawyers that are the real winners. These have both become increasingly litigious. Law firms make hundreds of millions of dollars on Intellectual Property lawsuits, and that money is, in the end coming from the public. Obviously, spending millions of dollars and years of time arguing a intellectual property case isn’t in the public’s best interest. In the end, the lawyers, patent trolls, and some media companies with out-dated business models are the ones who are benefiting from our current Intellectual Property laws, not the public.
We have a proposals we are going to show you soon in order improve the area of the patent law.
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