The Era of Open Source
This is the first semi-political post here, on something I’m sure a lot of people know about but don’t necessarily know the basis of. I’m not a law student or someone greatly versed in law, but I do enjoy politics and I understand the basis of policy, so I’ll have a shot at this anyway.
The topic is intellectual property – trademarks, copyright patents etc. I think modern society is beginning to reject these standards that have been upheld for so long, but first lets look at what they are and why they exist. The protection of intellectual property began with the original intent of giving an inventor/creator/writer etc. rights to their own work individually and exclusively, for a period of time. The reasoning for this was money. Inventors could invent something amazing, only to have it copied on completion and see themselves earn no money at all – such a concept promotes people who copy not those who create. In addition there is moral intellectual property – being accredited for your own work. The system is inherently supportive of a capitalistic system and encourages personal achievement. I have no problems with moral intellectual property, it is a fair system, however it seems the tides are now turning against the concept of copyright – but why, and to what effect?
In recent years there has been a movement against people owning their own intellectual property. Words associated with this movement include copyleft, anti-copyright and probably most notably: open source. Open source because thats where it seems a large part of this movement has begun – in computer programming. So the question begs to be asked, what is different now? What has changed to make the concept of idea ownership seem like a bad thing? Well if I were to guess I would say the internet has been the main perpetrator.
Intellectual property works on an individual level – it is good for the individual but bad for society as a whole. Why is it bad for society as a whole? Well the main reason is it involves the concealment of information, keeping discoveries secret and using them for your own special gains which no one else can work off. From a business point of view this makes sense, its the best way to control the market. However society as a whole is hampered, if everything was free information, to everyone then all people could do things more easily. They could take the recipe to coca cola and make their own, or even work to improve it to their own taste. Bad for the company, good for society. In this way the removal of intellectual property would be a very left wing move, working away from capitalism.
So to get back to the question of why this has happened, my suggestion is the internet. The internet is seeing a new age of development evolving within it. The internet is allowing people from all over the world to share ideas and thoughts instantly and not only this, but it is building communities. Collaborative projects involving thousands of people doing minimal work (such as photo tagging or voting on digg or the best example of all: wikipedia), are the beginnings of large scale changes. And the denizens of the internet are changing the way they think about things. When projects are driven by large spread out groups like this they work very differently from a company. One of the big changes is that (most) people don’t get paid and another is they care about things which help society as a whole.
Brave New World
So now we have a seemingly left wing internet community, one that doesn’t respect businesses but rather wants to see mass collaboration of work for the betterment of all. One need only look at free media sharing to see how little people regard concepts such as artist’s right to earn money from their work. But lets look at the consequences of this change. Is this the dawn of some new age communism, is this the death of capitalism? And how will this change the world of companies as we know it? On the upper hand we have the benefits of open information which everyone can benefit from – this is ideologically a good move in my opinion. It supports the intellectual growth of everyone and supports large wide scale involvements in projects. It also ideologically moves towards ideals such as world peace and utopian society.
But what of the negatives? Well for one thing, people who create “individual works” are in trouble. That means pretty much all the music artists you know. Without the right to protect and own their work these people don’t have a motivation to make the work in the first place, not if they cannot earn a living out of them. Large companies will also take large blows from changes like these if they are forced to make all their work public and the capitalist system will be severely damaged. This will also hurt larger countries (which control the companies) as all their “secrets for success” will become international knowledge. And once companies die we have problems. Communal works a great, but they don’t work for everything, music would be a good example – sometimes you NEED small amounts of people to make things work and by pushing these ideals through all fields and abolishing intellectual property we may see the destruction of active strong work in these fields.
Is there a solution to this problem? Well there are two. The first is we abandon the idea of open source in all but a few fields. We learn how to regulate it better and we preserve the capitalist system. The other option is to match left wing policies with left wing funding. If the government payed for artists to make work than those artists can still keep working in a very socialist like system. Capitalism and socialism both have flaws and benefits, but it seems like there is a very strong movement towards socialism, whether people realize that is what they are supporting or not. People need to realize that there are significant consequences for the way things are moving and if we continue this way we need to be conscious we are doing so.
On another note, Dreams In Vitro is an open source project. I don’t make money from this blog and I want anything I do to have the greatest effect it can in the world, so feel free to reuses any of my ideas or writings for your own use. I have however retained moral intellectual property of this site, so while anyone can use the ideas – they must still be accredited to me. So what do you think about this situation? Is it the right way to be going? Is this the way we will definitely go, or will we change directions? I’d be interested in hearing other views on the topic.