Magic Chair Copier

Quiz: Name the speaker.

The idea of copyright was invented after the printing press. In ancient times authors copied from each other freely, and this was not considered wrong, and it was even very useful: The only way certain authors works have survived, even in fragments, is because some of them were quoted at length in other works which have survived.

This was because books were copied one copy at the time. It was ten times as hard to make ten copies as it was to make one copy. Then the printing press was invented, and this didn't prevent people from copying books by hand, but by comparison with printing them, copying by hand was so unpleasant that it might as well have been impossible.

When books could only be made by mass production, copyright then started to make sense and it also did not take away the freedom of the reading public. As a member of the public who didn't own a printing press, you couldn't copy a book anyway. So you weren't losing any freedom just because there were copyrights. Thus copyright was invented, and made sense morally because of a technological change. Now the reverse change is happening. Individual copying of information is becoming better and better, and we can see that the ultimate progress of technology is to make it possible to copy any kind of information. [break due to turning of tape]

Thus we are back in the same situation as in the ancient world where copyright did not make sense. If we consider our idea of property, they come from material objects. Material objects satisfy a conservation law, pretty much. Yes it's true I can break a chalk in half, that's not it, and it gets worn down, it gets consumed. But basically this is one chair [pointing at a chair]. I can't just sort of snap my finger and have two chairs. The only way to get another one is to build it just the way the first one was build. It takes more raw materials, it takes more work of production, and our ideas of property were evolved to make moral sense to fit these facts.

For a piece of information that anyone can copy, the facts are different. And therefor the moral attitudes that fit are different. Our moral attitudes comes from thinking how much it will help people and how much it will hurt people to do certain things. With a material object, you can come and take away this chair, but you couldn't come and copy it. And if you took away the chair, it wouldn't be producing anything, so there's no excuse. I somebody says: "I did the work to make this one chair, and only one person can have this chair, it might as well me", we might as well say: "Yeah, that makes sense". When a person says: "I carved the bits on this disk, only one person can have this disk, so don't you dare take it away from me", well that also make sense. If only one person is going to have the disk, it might as well be the guy who owns that disk.

But when somebody else comes up and says: "I'm not going to hurt your disk, I'm just gonna magically make another one just like it and then I'll take it away and then you can go on using this disk just the same as before", well it's the same as if somebody said: "I've got a magic chair copier. You can keep on enjoying your chair, sitting in it, having it always there when you want it, but I'll have a chair too". That's good.

If people don't have to build, they can just snap their fingers and duplicate them, that's wonderful. But this change in technology doesn't suit the people who wants to be able to own individual copies and can get money for individual copies. That's an idea that only fits conserved objects. So they do their best to render programs like material objects. Have you wondered why, when you go to the software store and buy a copy of a program it comes in something that looks like a book? They want people to think as if they were getting a material object, not to realize what they have really got in the form of digital copyable data.

What is a computer after all but a universal machine? You've probably studied universal Turing machines, the machines that can imitate any other machine. The reason a universal machine is so good is because you can make it imitate any other machine and the directions can be copied and changed, exactly the things you can't do with a material object. And those are is exactly what the software hoarders want to stop the public from doing. They want to have the benefit of the change in technology, to universal machines, but they don't want the public to get that benefit.

Essentially they are trying to preserve the "material object age", but it's gone, and we should get our ideas of right and wrong in sync with the actual facts of the world we live in.

Meanwhile the chairmaker starves.

Or uses his experience in chairly things to become a trusted agent, helping people find just the right chair for them. For a small commission.

Granted, this doesn't employ every former chairmaker. The others move on to new professions. Some retire and hang out with former buggy whip factory owners. A few probably do starve.

Eventually, chair replication technology is joined by automatic cashiers at the supermarket, self repairing car engines, and a slew of other similar systems. People who continue to work do so because they enjoy their job, others enter early retirement. The arts flourish. We move beyond ScarcityEconomic?s. Pardon my lack of sympathy for the chairmaker.

You aren't following the analogy properly. If making new chairs stops paying, we're stuck with copies of the chairs we already have. If creating new information stops paying, we're stuck with copies of the information we already have. Only wealthy people will be able to afford the luxury of devoting their time to creating new information. Everyone else will be stuck with manual labor.

I realized that on the drive home; I ended up wondering about what would happen to the chair designers, rather than chair makers. I'll delete this once (or refactor it to point out the misconception) once it's been up for a while and have done my pennance. I don't totally agree with what your saying (my assumption rests on the lack of scarcity leading to a population of mainly wealthy people and technology doing away with manual labor), but thank you for helping me to refine my thinking.

You're welcome. If no one profits from creating new information then expensive new information becomes scarce. Cheap new information (the kind that be can created with little time investment and little organizational overhead) will be plentiful. Personally I'd rather pay $20 for a DVD than live in a world drowning in Blair Witch Projects. There will be scarcity as long as our time is limited. No matter how cheap materials and energy become, our limited life spans force us to assign value to the time we spend.


"If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property."

-- ThomasJefferson


See IntellectualProperty, SoftwarePatents

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