2010-05-02

The Smartest Man in Babylon

Abstruse Goose's comic The Smartest Man in Babylon, which appears to be a comment on copyright, is correct up to the last line:
Now the single "smartest" (and most brazen) thing that any person has ever done...was to convince the world that this abstract sequence of numbers was his property.
Except that he didn't. We did that.

"We," in the sense of people, lawmakers, society, or some combination thereof, in our collective wisdom have decided to award the discoverers of particular sequences of numbers a state-enforced monopoly, for a limited period of time, and with certain limitations, on the copying of these numbers. The ostensible reason for this is to encourage people to spend time and effort discovering (or "creating," if you like) such things.

This general idea makes a reasonable amount of sense, actually. And if you want to know what happens when we don't do this, we have plenty of historical examples to chose from. (Post your favourites in the comments!)

That said, there's no reason things have to be this way. If you feel the current state of copyright law has gone far beyond its original intended purpose and is now doing as much or more harm as good to us (except for certain groups), well, you won't be seeing a whole lot of disagreement from me.

I think one of the key things to remember in this debate, though, is that we, as a society, are in control of such things. And it could well be that all of these young "pirates" who are "stealing" MP3s and the like are simply stepping up and registering their opinion that we need a new balance here. (Or it could be that they are simply naive and don't understand economics very well.) There's no question that we're seeing some sort of backlash against powerful lobbies that are clearly attempting to preserve their own profits gained through rent-seeking.

So let's have a discussion about it. A good place to start appears to be with William F. Patry's book, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars. (I myself need to finish it before I can comment well on it.)

So think about it. What do we, as a society, want?

1 comment:

  1. Good post.

    I took the final line of the comic as a pun. I didn't take it seriously, and i don't think the author would either. I found it funny.

    The rest of the comic is philosophically awesome.

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