On intellectual protection

This page aims to clearly yet concisely summarise my stance on intellectual protection in law.

I’m not opposed to intellectual protection

As with many moderates with an active involvement in digital rights issues, I am not opposed to intellectual protection being enshrined in law. I want to make it quite clear that, unlike the ‘anarchist’ picture which certain entities like to paint of anyone opposed to legislation such as the European Copyright Directive or software patents, I’m employed in the technology industry, am moderate in my views and specifically not opposed to reasonable laws on copyrights, patents and trademarks which recognise and respect the delicate ‘social contract’ implicit in such concepts.

Of course, there are those who seek the abolition of all intellectual protections such as copyright, patents and trademarks. They are fully entitled to their views, but I do not share them. If you have any doubts about my intent, you are free to examine, for example, my correspondence on the European Copyright Directive which I openly place on the public record for all to see.

I am opposed to the unfettered expansion of “intellectual property rights”

What I do have a problem with is expanding already generous laws to allow unreasonable restrictions on technology, and provide legal bludgeoning tools for those who wish to do no more than the equivalent of intellectual land-grabbing. For example, you only have to look at the truly horrific patent situation in the United States, where a plethora of patents on trivial and fundamental software and business-method concepts serve absolutely no purpose other than to make work for lawyers and bankrupt genuine innovators.

We have to move away from an incorrect and simplistic (but unfortunately increasingly widely-promoted) view that creativity consists of a set of distinct, unique, independent and inviolable pieces of “intellectual property” which are directly equated to the possession of physical property. To promote and legislate based on this view is to ignore the collective nature of human society (nobody lives in a vacuum), and risk restricting thought itself, in a chilling nod to Orwellian ‘thoughtcrime’.

In a strange twist, it’s now virtually ‘radical’ to advocate (as I do) a ‘back to basics’ approach to intellectual protection, which recognises the benefit to society of providing economic incentives to create and innovate, whilst damning those who use legal intellectual protection tools to seek unfair market strangleholds and the bankrupting of competitors. I believe it is morally repulsive to foster a legal system where real innovation is replaced by fruitless and destructive litigation, consumers are turned into criminals, and small-enterprise development is hampered by an ever-present risk of frivolous (and potentially fatal) legal action by larger competitors.

Ultimately, I believe civil liberties provide the ‘casting vote’ in any proposals for more restrictive legislation in the fields of intellectual protection. If there is a proposal for legislation which provides increased protection against unfair exploitation of copyright/patented material, but this comes with a civil liberties cost, then there is no choice.

The myth of ‘the dumb consumer’

The world is not a simple world full of ‘creators’ and ‘consumers’. Sure, there are those who devote their lives to creativity, and those who prefer a more passive approach, but in their own lives, everyone is both a creator and consumer, and this will become increasingly evident in a world where it is becoming more and more easy to share one’s creations with others across the globe. Let’s not allow stupid and simplistic legislation such as the European Copyright Directive and expansion of patentability to create a new age of intellectual poverty, where only the large and powerful are able to compete.

In closing, I’m all for free market economics – but not for making genuine innovation impossible and trying to turn future generations into mindless consumers. After all, if the current generation of technically-skilled people allow the concept of ‘freedom to tinker‘ (which is crucial to fostering new generations of innovators) to be legislated to death, who will be left to invent, years down the line?