[permaculture] Exploding the myth of patents and copyright

Toby Hemenway toby at patternliteracy.com
Tue Mar 6 14:36:51 EST 2012

I have issues with the expansion of copyright and patents to unreasonable levels, but Falkvinge's article is a very selective picture that ignores a mountain of contrary evidence. He makes unsupported and false statements such as, Germany's engineers were superior to British, when Germany didn't industrialize until a century after Britain and added far fewer innovations to the industrial age; there are good data on that. Britain had far more engineers and inventors per capita than Germany. It was the British who trained the Germans, and it was the Prussian school system, not free enterprise, that churned out German engineers.The story about Edison is a slanted, too. As the inventor of a particular camera and process, he enforced his monopoly for about 4 years. Then he licensed it to a large number of film makers (the MPPC), and that lasted another 4 years or so, and it's generally agreed that the quality of US movies improved greatly in this time. The MPPC was broken up in 1915 when courts ruled that it had abused the patent system. So let's not blame patents when the problem here was greed and lawbreaking. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_Picture_Patents_Company has a good summary of this. And Falkvinge's statement that "todays' giants were founded in [patent's] absence" is just nonsense. Google is hardly open source; Microsoft used IBM's patent monopoly, the oil, auto, plane, and rail industries used patents, and let's not even start on Monsanto.

I recommend, as a very readable and fascinating antidote to Falkvinge's article, a book that uses good scholarship instead of selective data, called "The Most Powerful Idea in the World" by William Rosen. Rosen carefully documents that although the conditions for the industrial revolution existed in much of Europe and Asia, it occurred in Britain because the patent system encouraged innovators and rewarded them, while limiting the patent monopoly so others could build on the ideas. Innovation lagged elsewhere because good ideas were so quickly stolen that no inventor or developer could earn enough money to make the investment needed to create, say, a locomotive or textile mill. In the rest of Europe, artisans remained in their cottages while in Britain, they built factories. (Let's set aside the social problems of the Industrial Era, since we're talking about innovation).

Cool factoid from Rosen's book: patent and copyright terms were set to their original 14-year length because apprenticeships were 7 years long, and this allowed two generations of craftspeople to have new ideas instilled by their creators, insuring that the ideas would be widespread. Monopoly was always balanced with spread of ideas, and it financed their spread.

Open source exists today in large part because the patent and copyright system allowed the creation of expensive infrastructure that could publish and manufacture things cheaply. Most of the open-source designers I know have incomes that are based on the legal protection of innovation. It's the same kind of irony as hearing "free trade" arguments being made in nations that benefitted the most from protectionism, like UK and US. Now it's time to move beyond the outdated copyright and patent system, but let's be honest and remember that it got us where we are, technologically, instead of claiming falsely that it hindered innovation. The problem is corporate control of ideas and the legal system, not patents and copyrights.

Rosen's book is a great read for anyone interested in innovation or the history of the machine age.


On Mar 5, 2012, at 10:36 PM, wenshidi at yahoo.co.uk wrote:

> https://torrentfreak.com/history-shows-that-copyright-monopolies-prevent-creativity-and-innovation-120205/
> History Shows That Copyright Monopolies Prevent Creativity And Innovation
>    March 5, 2012
> We all too frequently hear that the copyright monopoly is supposed to encourage creativity and that the patent monopoly is supposed to encourage innovation. Most lawyers whose jobs depend on the belief in these myths even claim that the monopolies fulfill these functions to the letter. But when we look at history, a different pattern emerges.
> Let’s start around the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. In that day and age, copyright monopoly laws were in force in the United Kingdom, and pretty much the United Kingdom alone (where they were enacted in 1557). You know the “Made in Country X” that is printed or engraved on pretty much all our goods? That originated as a requirement from the British Customs against German-made goods, as a warning label that they were shoddy goods made in Germany at the time. It spread to pretty much global use.
> But Germany didn’t have copyright monopoly laws at this point in time, and historians argue that was the direct cause of Germany’s engineering excellence overtaking that of the United Kingdom. In the UK, knowledge of handicrafts was expensive to come by. Books and the knowledge they carried were locked down in the copyright monopoly construct, after all. In Germany, however, the same knowledge was available at print cost – and thus, engineering skills proliferated. With every new person learning engineering, one more person started to improve the skill set for himself and for the country at large. The result is that Germany still, 200 years later, has an outstanding reputation for engineering skills – the rise of which are directly attributable to a lack of the copyright monopoly.
> There are more examples. Pharmaceutical companies argue how they absolutely, positively need the knowledge monopolies we call patents in order to survive. The company Novartis is one of the worse offenders here. The claim that patent monopolies are needed is not only false in an objective light – as in the patent monopolies not being needed at all today for the pharma industry – but more interestingly, Novartis itself was founded in a time and place when no such knowledge monopolies existed – more specifically, in Switzerland in 1758 and 1859. If the patent monopolies are so vital for success, how come the pharmaceutical giants of today were successfully founded in their complete absence?
> Rather, the pattern here is that the people who have made it to the top push for monopolies that will lock in their positions as kings of the hill and prevent people who do something better from replacing them. It’s a power grab.
> In Sweden, the telecoms infrastructure giant Ericsson was founded making a telephone handset that directly infringed on a German patent from Siemens – or at least, would have done so with today’s monopoly laws. A Norwegian company later copied Ericsson in turn. Nobody cared. Today, with the patent monopolies we have today, Ericsson would not have survived the first phone call. And yet, Ericsson is one of the giants pushing for more restrictive monopoly laws. Of course they are; they have been successfully founded already. What innovative giants of tomorrow are we smothering stillborn through these monopoly constructs?
> Indeed, the United States itself celebrated breakers of the monopolies on ideas and knowledge as national heroes when the country was in its infancy and building its industries. When the US was still a British colony, the United Kingdom had this idea that all refinement of raw material into desirable products should happen on the soil of the United Kingdom, and only there. Industrial secrets were closely guarded, and the United States sought to break the stranglehold for its own benefit. When somebody brought the British industrial secret of the textile mills to the United States, for example, he was celebrated by getting an entire city named after him and named a father of industry as such. Today, the same person would have been indicted for industrial espionage.
> Or why not take a look at Hollywood and the film industry? In the infancy of filmmaking, there was a patent monopoly blanket on the entire concept of moving pictures owned by Thomas Edison, who was adamant in claiming his legal monopoly rights. In order for innovation in the area to flourish, the entire industry moved from the then-hotseat of moviemaking, New York. They moved as far away as they could, west across the entire country, and settled in a suburb outside of Los Angeles. That was outside of the reach of Edison’s patent monopoly lawyers at the time, and so, moviemaking took off big time. Today, the fledgling industry wouldn’t have been outside of the reach of those monopoly lawyers.
> I could end with mentioning Internet and how monopolies try to tame it from every angle, but I am sure everybody can fill in the blanks here. Just for fun, we could mention Bill Gates’ famous quote that if people had taken out patent monopolies when the web was still in its infancy, the industry would be at a complete standstill today. It is consistent with the overall pattern.
> The pattern here is clear: copyright monopolies and patent monopolies encourage neither creativity nor innovation. Quite the opposite. Throughout history, we observe that today’s giants were founded in their absence, and today, these giants push for the harshening and enforcement of these monopolies in order to remain kings of the hill, to prevent something new and better from replacing them. Pushing for copyright monopolies and patent monopolies was never a matter of helping others; it was a matter of kicking away the ladder once you had reached the top yourself.
> But for the rest of us, it makes no sense whatsoever to carve today’s giants in stone. We want them to be replaced by something better, and the copyright and patent monopolies prevent that.
> About The Author
> Rick Falkvinge is a regular columnist on TorrentFreak, sharing his thoughts every other week. He is the founder of the Swedish and first Pirate Party, a whisky aficionado, and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. His blog at falkvinge.net focuses on information policy.
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