[cc-licenses] Intellectual Highway Department

Greg London email at greglondon.com
Tue May 30 00:19:21 EDT 2006

Oh, so I forgot the "intellectual highway department" story.

The problem with the "commons" metaphor is that
it is static. It also does not reflect the work
it takes to create new works.

Even if you talk of the commons as a fenced in pasture,
and proprietary works as land outside the commons,
the metaphor doesn't really show the transition that
occurs before and after a new work is created because
you can't create new land. Metaphorically, the pasture
commons is inaccurate, and downplays the contribution
of new works, especially if those works are proprietary.
The land is "just there" and evil proprietary people
put up fences. Well, they're not evil, it's just that
the metaphor skews reality and they end up looking evil.

So, a while ago, I was pondering on this metaphorical
limitation and came up with the idea for the
"Intellectual Highway Department".

Imagine if the government decided that they weren't
going to have a highway department that builds new roads.
Instead, they decide that what they'll do is allow
people to build roads wherever they want, and the
person who built the road gets to charge a toll on
that road for, say, 42 years. The guy who built the
road gets to charge anyone who uses his road a toll.
And he cna do this for 42 years. After that point,
the guy can no longer charge a toll, and the road
becomes public domain.

So, you have this timeline of public domain roads
that starts out in ancient babylon, greece, and egypt,
representing the litarary works created there.
And these public roads span the history of time
all the way up to 1928, when Steamboat Mickey was
released. And because of the massive amount of
money Disney Corporation threw at the government,
the roads from 1928 forward remain a mass of toll roads.

Now, the idea is that it takes a finite amount of
time and energy to build a new road, and 42 years
would allow any road builder to recoup their investments.
And after they've made their money back, the road
is supposed to enter teh public domain.

Before: a series of existing roads, some public and
some toll based.

During: Someone creates a new road that didn't
exist before. If anyone wants to travel on that
road, they have to pay a toll. Good roads are
rewarded with many travelers and more money.
Bad roads get few travelers and less money.
bad roads that lead to desirable locations are
rewarded with many bumpy travelers who pay
the toll.

After: After 42 years, the builder has either
made enough money to make a profit on the road,
or their road simply wasn't something the public
was interesting in paying to travel. The toll
is lifted, and the road enters the public domain.

What gift economies do is they've figured out
that there are certain types of roads that
can be built by the free contributions of
many many people, and that these people are
willing to donate their work, and let the
road be free to travel upon immediately.

But the sequence of events, the existing set
of roads, then the time and energy to create
a new road, followed by the period of time
where the builder is allowed the right to
charge a toll, and finishing when the toll
is lifted and the road becomes free for anyone
to travel upon, is far better metaphorically
than a pasture commons.

The intellectual highway department shows
the time and energy it takes to create a work.
It also shows that new works do not take away
from the existing set of works, they only
add new options that were not available before.

Lastly, it shows how a giftware project
works alongside a proprietary project.

Giftware projects take work, and it isn't simply
a matter of a license will solve everything.
You don't see gobs of volunteers going out
and building roads or fixing potholes or whatever.
The street performer protocol isn't beeing used
by private citizens so they can fix potholes
for free, and ask for donations. Copyleft doesn't
magically solve this either.

BUt for some projects, it is possible to chunk
the project into such small pieces that the project
can be accomplished by having many individual
contributers contribute as little as a couple
of minutes of their time to make the project that
much closer to their goal.

The metaphor is also a good way to explain to
people the problem with ever-extending copyright
terms because that all roads built after 1927
are still toll roads fits the metaphor and shows
how Disney and the like are getting overpaid.

Bounty Hunters: Metaphors for Fair IP laws

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