Friday, September 13, 2002

I have been thinking a lot about Lawrence Lessig's arguments on the Future of Ideas. I am finding myself in agreement with him regarding copyright and the length of time something should be protected before becoming part of the public domain, but in disagreement with him on the subject of "opaque creativity."

My primary issue is one of enforcement, although I have philosophical concerns as well. On the subject of copyright, the role of society and government is on the side of the IP creator, working to protect the individual's rights for a period of time. After that period, society withdraws support for the individual, and allows free use of the IP.

The challenge with Lessig's arguments about transparency is that it would put society and government in a role of opposing the IP creator as, after the period of protection, the IP creator would have to be compelled to disclose the method of production or presentation. What would our society look like if we had to create enforcement structures which were compelling every IP creator to disclose their process or technology of creation? And what are the limits of this disclosure?

Lessig is also wrong that IP creation in the past was always transparent and that today we have a new problem of obscuring production or presentation. Coca-cola, for example, has never disclosed their recipe for Coke -- Would Lessig compel them to disclose this recipe? Is this the kind of transparency he is looking for?

Nothing, however, prevents Pepsi from "reverse-engineering" Coke and providing a competing product using their own formula. And this could be true for the IP issue that Lessig is concerned about as well. We might not compel the developer to release source code for the software program -- but we would also not prevent an independent party from creating a duplicate through their own independent efforts.

Take an example of the romance "novelist," who uses a computer program to automatically generate these pulp fiction novels. Should we have a society that compels the novelist to disclose the source code for the generating program at the time that the copyright expires for the novel?

I believe that such a requirement would result in a system that would have to exert control over its citizens to a degree which would undermine the principle of individual freedom which have demonstrated over the past 200+ years to create the foundations for a just and prosperous society.

No comments: