Defend the public domain. Who owns what?

RE: something to rant about- the public domain

The thesis?  The increasingly corporatization of knowledge, along with changes in US copyright regulations means there is an unhealthy drain of innovations to the public domain.  The privatization of human knowledge is underway.  Can you imagine if the all the worlds great art was under lock and key and prying public eyes?

I’m no expert on intellectual property, copyright, patents and licensing.  What is the ‘commons’?  What is public(s)? The CBC recently broadcast in Ideas,  ‘The origins of the Modern Publics’, stemming from the research project called Making Publics.

“…All of us today participate in imaginary communities that we call publics – our Ideas broadcast assembles a virtual community of listeners – a listening public. But there was a time when making things public was the exclusive property of men of rank…”(CBC Ideas)

It can be messy.  It’s not even like the pornography expression- “I know it when I see it!”  Intellectual property is more unclear to end users or consumers of content; nevertheless, I understand it to be the skeleton of any future development on this finite planet. Who owns what?  De Soto helped me out. Try him.

“…Imagine a country where nobody can identify who owns what, addresses cannot be easily verified, people cannot be made to pay their debts, resources cannot conveniently be turned into money, descriptions of assets are not standardized and cannot be easily compared — and the rules that govern property vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. In this excerpt from “The Mystery of Capital,” Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto examines the complexities of ownership in the Third World…” -De Soto

De Soto outlines the ignorance of the west regarding property.   “When leave Cairo….What you are really leaving behind is the world of legally enforceable transactions on property rights.” DeDecades ago, my cousin described a scene in Sierra Leone where her scooter was ‘stolen’ only to returned randomly the next day. They saw the scooter, not as hers, but rather the communities. This is why we are so confounded by the developing nations.  My son, travelled throughout southeast asia recently and there he described a similar status. Ownership was the foreigners reign.  Aboriginals are ‘homeless’. Contrast this with the modern western world of stocks, bonds, housing and electronic goods.  Everything, large or small is owned by somebody- even ‘public property’. Who really owns the trees of our great lands?  Some public property is required to make human rights and civility possible. Next time you are walking in your municipal park, look around and imagine it all fenced in with you out!

On the other hand, no private property means instability so humans can benefit from the fruit of their own labour.  Clear ownership and legal definitions are required for order and prosperity. A balance is required.  In many third world countries a title document is often non-existent making planning and investing almost impossible.  No one will work for nothing.  These are places where informal economic activities dominate. I’ve been reading all my life about civil wars, coup d’etat and good intentions.  Revolutionaries all seek to stablize fair order. Land reform.  Financial reform. Educational reform….all demand institutions of justice to flourish. Civilians want to have hope for improvement and total nationalization or privatization serves only a few elite.  I’m afraid too many westerners don’t even comprehend the level of rights they possess. Like Kielberger’s Me2We campaign, wealth needs to be shared.  Innovations need to be distributed fairly. Inventiveness needs to be rewarded. Service to all, like education and health care need to be acknowledged and respected. Intellectual property and personal property need to be justly protected. Imagine a high school Math class where everyone could cheat. Chaos? What’s the point of school?

Unlike the concept of cheating or parking cars  illegally, young people today see no issue with ‘taking’ a producers newly released movie from BitTorrent without any fee.  They assume the owner is some fat overstuffed Hollywood billionaire, never as a young fledgling filmmaker who has borrowed millions of dollars.  To the producers this is tantamount to posession of stolen property.

Ah! property? Our previous world understood when someones stuff was stolen. Private ownership has been the fuel behind the global economic boom and bust. Winners and losers. Haves and have nots. For more on this thread read the PBS interview with  Hernando De Soto or listen to Jeffery Sachs on the Charlie Rose show.

Unlike previous generations, which were stimulated from unimpeded flow of ideas in education and witness a boom of creativity- another renaissance if you like.  Allowing patents/copyright to last infinitely beyond the death of the holder will stifle future development.   Eg. human genome. Portions of this project are owned by corporations. Medicines, vaccines, food crop seeds, etc.  are not free for public, governments or universities without large payments. Even access to water is now under siege.

It is not only prudent to provide some future access to patents but I think immoral.  Future bright minds, need the human knowledge base to be large and expanding. No entity or person should become wealthy by monopolizing ownership of anything God’s hand created.

Bibliography:

The Public Domain |” http://www.thepublicdomain.org/
Free downloadable book here.  or read online here

Confessions Of An Economic Hit Man by John Perkins
Charlie Rose. http://www.charlierose.com/topic/business?keyword=Economics
Freakonomics (Revised Edition) by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else by Hernando De Soto
Commanding Heights-the battle for the world economy‘, PBS. 2002.

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