Two people on opposite sides of the world have exactly the same idea at the same time. Which one of those two people would be most morally justified in claiming to own the exclusive rights to that idea?
Should it be the first to dash through the doors of the USPTO office, with a big wad of cash in his hand?
Isn't that just further rewarding someone for already being affluent (or quick, or both), rather than rewarding him for having an original thought?
And how original are anyone's thoughts anyway?
Surely our knowledge is merely the sum of what we have been taught, and not some divine gift handed down from God, entitling the bearer to exclusive privileges. How can anyone claim exclusive rights to that which has been collected from others, such as authors; teachers; parents and peers? Are those contributors not equally entitled to attribution and rights to that knowledge? Are such contributors not also entitled to benefit from those ideas? Given the scope of where one acquires knowledge, shouldn't those beneficiaries encompass all mankind?
This is the essence of Free Software.
"Nothing today, likely nothing since we tamed fire, is genuinely new: Culture, like science and technology, grows by accretion, each new creator building on the works of those who came before."
"All creators draw in part on the work of those who came before, referring to it, building on it, poking fun at it; we call this creativity, not piracy."
~ Judge Alex Kozinski, US Court of Appeals 9th Circuit
White v. Samsung Electronics America, Inc., 989 F.2d 1512, 1512 (9th Cir. 1993)
Of course innovation is more than just a collection of data, it is defined by the particular arrangement of that data to form something unique. But again, the uniqueness of that arrangement can never be proved conclusively, beyond the documented "proof" of who was the first to publicly claim uniqueness ... and then pay for the privilege.
Also consider that the arrangement of data is more an implementation than knowledge of something fundamental. Being able to arrange the pieces of a puzzle in a particular order should not prohibit others from also doing so, even if those others only discover how to do so by learning from someone else. Attempting to prohibit such a thing is an attempt to prohibit the objective of learning itself, which is a gross violation of academic principles and human endeavour. Those puzzles were not created by such inventors, they are the fundamental axioms upon which all knowledge and learning is based. Should we be prohibited from learning simply because others before us have done so?
To claim ownership of knowledge is like claiming the rights of a God. We did not create the universe, we merely live in it. It'd be nice to think that we could do so harmoniously, without trying to claim exclusivity to every particle of matter or thought in that universe, like a pack of rabid prospectors rushing murderously, flintlocks and pickaxes in hand, towards a glint of gold in a rock-face.
Then there is this postulation that innovation is not merely the formulation of a unique idea, but is actually the business development of that idea, and that those who invest in such development deserve special consideration, because without that development society would be deprived of the benefits of that idea. This justification is somewhat of a euphemism however, not to mention a false dichotomy, since the "beneficiary" is more likely to be just a single company, rather than society as a whole, given the exclusionary nature of this knowledge.
The Constitution of the United States of America
Article. I, Section. 8.
"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."
Essentially this is nothing more than a means of promoting business ... and a single business at that, instead of some greater altruistic or academic goal. It seems that the great institution of American democracy itself is founded upon the principles of racketeering. Is it any wonder that American culture draws so much criticism, when its most fundamental tenets are so reprehensible?
America is not unique in this respect, and indeed was not the first to implement such unethical tenets. That dubious honour goes to England, which introduced the first Licensing Act three and a half centuries ago in 1662. However, the ruthlessness with which American businesses, and their political lackeys, pursue the totalitarian agenda of "securing exclusive rights" to everything, even thought itself, for anyone greedy (and rich) enough to claim them, is stunning in its scope and ferocity.
Witness UMG's recent claim that simply discarding a promo CD is a violation of copyright, for example. Such examples are by no means uncommon, in fact it seems to be the new business craze sweeping America ("craze" would appear to be a very appropriate description).
American-based global corporations are even using lobbyists to spread the disease of Intellectual Monopolies across the rest of the world too. Thanks to pressure exerted on British ISPs, primarily by media moguls like the BPI (in the name of "Intellectual Property considerations") many British Internet subscribers have now lost the right to privacy - one of the most basic civil rights, since those ISPs are being coerced into monitoring; recording and censoring their customers' Internet communications (an action that previously required a warrant issued by the Home Office, on a case by case basis, and depended on actual due cause for suspicion that a crime was being committed).
Apparently the entire population of Britain has been declared "guilty", before and regardless of being proved innocent, of something that should not even be a crime in the first place, since this is a wholly civil matter. The civilians who comprise the members of our business community, are now the lawmakers, it seems.
Using the premise of "business considerations" to justify state-sponsored racketeering is a very poor excuse to subject mankind to a totalitarian regime of intellectual slavery. Granting Intellectual Monopoly to businesses under the premise that they "need" to recover their investment costs using "royalties", rather than by more ethical means, is merely further rewarding someone for already being sufficiently affluent to spend money on a patent applications and research (or more likely - lobbying), instead of rewarding actual invention, which may have already occurred elsewhere without financial backing, and should in no way be interpreted as proof or justification of exclusive "ownership".
"Another problem is that the social returns from innovation do not accord with the private returns associated with the patent system, Stiglitz said. The marginal benefit from innovation is that an idea may become available sooner than it might have. But the person who secures the patent on it wins a long-term monopoly, creating a gap between private and social returns."
In fact it would be a far more prudent course of action to ensure that the "right" to such knowledge was not granted exclusively, so that any number of people could further develop and implement that idea, thus benefiting all of society ... probably more quickly too, and not just a single company and those obligated to be its "customers" (i.e. slaves to Intellectual Monopoly). It's an entirely false dichotomy to claim that the only viable means of innovating is through the grant of exclusive privileges, justified by financial investment. Humans should not be slot-machines that only yield innovation by inserting coins into them. Surely we don't need financial motivation just to be able to think. As for the subsequent business development of those ideas, why should that be different from any other business development - such as building houses or cars? Do those manufacturers need exclusive rights in order to make their business ventures viable? Clearly not. So why should the computer software; music; publishing; film and television industries be any different?
Using exclusive access to knowledge as a business device, presents an unjustifiably unfair advantage (state aid) to a select few, effectively creating a monopoly which may be abused to derive profit, to the exclusion of all competition, even in the absence of a viable product or service. That is clearly not capitalism, it is a form of totalitarianism called corporatism - where political and financial control of a nation shifts from the democratically elected representatives of the people, to undemocratically self-appointed and self-serving corporate dictators.
Such devices should not be necessary. Surely business development is its own reward, assuming that development is successful, and if it isn't then that is hardly anyone's fault but the developers. If businesses find that the manifestation of an idea fails to generate profit, then perhaps they need to consider the possibility that the idea itself is flawed; or that the implementation needs redesigned; or that it should be marketed differently, rather than immediately jumping to compensate for their own incompetence by employing racketeering techniques. They have my sympathies, I'm sure, but I had hoped that the days of building empires with the blood of slaves were over.
We are not all responsible for the success or failure of others' business ventures; we have no moral obligation to ensure that others profit by their inventions, especially when those "inventors" use their ill-gotten exclusive "rights" as a weapon against us, to prohibit our pursuit of academic learning.
The principles of Intellectual "Property" transforms business from being an opportunity to being a "right" that is protected by unethical laws, with unjustifiable exclusivity. It is nothing but snake-oil peddled by carpetbaggers. The consumption of this snake-oil is then enforced by laws that are instigated by corrupt politicians, at the behest of those same carpetbaggers who bribe those politicians.
That isn't "innovation", it's racketeering.