User talk:Mercury merlin
a thought experiment about the broken window fallacy and free culture
Imagine I am in possession of some digital content, which could be anything, a software program, a piece of music, a book or a film, a recipe, an expression of a mathematical formula, anything at all.
Imagine I have a friend, who requests a copy of that content. I could always deny him, and keep the content secret, or I can choose to make it available to him. Today's technology means that copy can be made and delivered to him at effectively zero cost to either of us. If there is any cost at all it is negligible, and can be wholly assumed by my friend, so all I need do is make the content available and he can do the rest.
If the content was created by me, or if I received it under a free license, then the transaction would be legitimate under present law in most jurisdictions. Put that to one side for a moment, and add up the overall utilitarian effect of the transaction. Since my friend asked for a copy, presumably the digital content presumably had some utility, in an economic sense, whether artistic, functional, or in some other way.
Before the transaction, I had the utility of a copy, and after the transaction my friend has the utility of a copy, and I still also have the utility of a copy. No physical resources were consumed by the transaction, though it's possible some money might have changed hands. Either way, after the transaction, the total wealth of society has increased by the utility of one copy of the content, as the economy still contains the same amount of money, the same resources, and two usable copies of the content where there was only one before.
My friend can now also make a further copy available to another friend, if he wishes, and ultimately I cannot prevent that, though unless I provided it under a free license, further redistribution would likely be copyright infringement. Even so, every copy has some utility, the cost of redistribution is zero, and the supply is infinite. Thus, each copy made increases the total wealth of society, irrespective of whether money changes hands or not. Moreover, my friend can modify and improve the work I did, and redistribute the modified version instead, especially if I provided or made available the content in the preferred form for modification of that work, such as source code as well as binary objects for a software program, or vector graphic master for a bitmap image.
Even if only provided in a final form, he may still be able to modify it or re-engineer the work in suitable form for modification. For him to do so, there must be some additional utility to him in possessing a modified version over my version; if that would also be useful to others, it is likely that requests for further redistribution will go to him instead of me, perhaps involving accompanying financial transactions. If I also find the changes desirable, then it's likely that I'll want to request the modified version myself as well, and the version currently being widely redistributed will very quickly shift to the most useful version. Less useful forks will also persist exactly as long as they are useful to someone, even if that is just one person.
When copying, modification and redistribution are restricted, with an artificial scarcity imposed by licensing fees per copy or per use, or by withholding the preferred form of content for modification, then monetary activity and industry surrounding licensing fees may be considerable.
However, society as a whole is left poorer by the utility value of every copy not made, and the utility value of all the modifications not made. Not only that, every dollar, pound, or euro spent may contribute to the circulation of money, and apparent economic output, but since distribution of a copy had no actual costs, this money changed hands for no actual gain overall. It could have been spent otherwise, for genuine added value, and this is not seen or apparent because it was potential that was not realised in practice.
This is the same waste as replacing broken windows in the fallacy of that name; while it is good for glaziers, the total wealth of the society is reduced. In this example, licensing fees, closed-source works, and End-User agreements may be good for the content industry, but the total wealth of our society is reduced compared to what it might have been if content was modifiable and redistributable, as is possible under a free license such as Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike, to take just one example.
For material which is intangible, infinitely reproducible, and in infinite supply, everyone benefits if we find fresh models, such as copyleft and sharealike, which still permit direct rewards for the creation of new and original work, without attaching an artificial financial cost to the freedom to copy, modify, and redistribute which in truth and as a matter of practical reality cost nothing.
A modest proposal
for the preservation of the moral rights of authors and the public over creative content.
Creative content of any kind shall attract the following moral rights:
Right of attribution
An author's right of attribution, not transferable under any circumstance, neither to be sold on nor otherwise disposed of.
At the sole discretion of the author, a moral right of share-alike may be asserted over the content, which shall apply to the contents and derivatives of the content in perpetuity. Creative content protected by share-alike under Right to assert share-alike shall be ineligible for registration of copygrant under Registration of copygrant privilege which shall not be applicable to the content.
Registration of copygrant privilege
The original author of creative content, or the author of derivative content based on existing content itself subject only to attribution according to Right of attribution and not share-alike according to Right to assert share-alike, may register the content for copygrant privilege, at the sole discretion of the author of the content.
Duration of copygrant privilege
The duration of copygrant shall be determined by statute from time to time as necessary. In no circumstances shall this duration exceed one human generation, in no circumstances shall an increase in this duration apply retrospectively to existing works already registered under Registration of copygrant privilege at the time of the increase in duration. In all circumstances shorter durations should be preferred.
Conditions for copygrant privilege
To qualify for copygrant, the content must be registered by the deposition of a full and complete copy of the content with an independent guarantor, as shall be regulated by statute from time to time. Under no circumstances shall an official government or quasi-governmental organisation be appointed or permitted to stand guarantor for copygrant.
Deposition and retrieval
Internet-based deposition and retrieval shall be preferred to facilitate the cheap and efficient operation of copygrant registration.
Registration of copygrant shall be valid if and only if full supporting source material (the preferred form of supply of the content in which copygrant is claimed for the modification of that content) is also deposited with the guarantor, such that an exact identical duplicate of the content for which copygrant is claimed may be generated by the guarantor from the source material using only additional tools available from Common domain content.
Source material not required
Making public, distributing, or otherwise disseminating creative material deemed as trade-secret under Source material not required shall constitute a criminal offence.
Expiry of copygrant privilege
At the expiry of copygrant under Registration of copygrant privilege the original author may at their sole discretion choose from the following options:
Right to extend copygrant privilege at first expiry
At the first expiry of copygrant under Registration of copygrant privilege that privilege may be extended for the same duration as originally granted, by notifying the guarantor of the author's wish to extend the privilege. This shall be permissible once only and no second or subsequent extension shall be permitted.
At the first or subsequent expiry of copygrant under Registration of copygrant privilege the original author may at their sole discretion assert a moral right of share-alike over the content according to the provisions of Right to assert share-alike.
Reversion to attribution-only at expiry of copygrant privilege
At the first or subsequent expiry of copygrant under Registration of copygrant privilege, if neither the provisions of Right to extend copygrant privilege at first expiry nor the provisions of Right to assert share-alike at expiry of copygrant privilege have taken effect, then the content shall revert to the moral right of attribution only, according to the provisions of Right of attribution.
Derivative content created from existing content
Further contributors to a creative work itself subject only to the provisions of Right of attribution may at their sole discretion choose from the following options:
At the sole discretion of the derivative author, a moral right of share-alike may be asserted over the derivative content, according to the provisions of Right to assert share-alike.
Registration of copygrant privilege for derivative content
At the sole discretion of the derivative author, the derivative content may be registered for copygrant privilege according to the provisions of Registration of copygrant privilege.
Reversion to attribution-only for derivative content
If neither the provisions of Right to assert share-alike for derivative content nor the provisions of Registration of copygrant privilege for derivative content have taken effect, then the content shall revert to the moral right of attribution only, according to the provisions of Right of attribution.
Non-commercial fair use
Non-commercial copying, duplication, derivative modification, or redistribution of any creative content (except as expressly forbidden by Trade-secret material), for any purpose, shall be deemed expressly permitted fair-use, under all circumstances exempt from and notwithstanding any registration of copygrant under Registration of copygrant privilege.
The production, sale, or distribution of any device, algorithm, or other means intended to forcibly prevent the copying, duplication, derivative modification, or redistribution of any creative content shall constitute a criminal offence.
Making public, disseminating, or otherwise redistributing creative content or derivatives of creative content without attribution or with intentionally false attribution, against the provisions required by Right of attribution shall constitue a criminal offence.