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Intellectual property

Intellectual property is an interesting idea, which when it was originally introduced was a measure designed to help make sure that the author profited from his work. In fact, when copyright was introduced in the united states, it only lasted for 14 years, with one optional 14 year renewal.

While nobody begrudges this for the creator of some original work, this is generally no longer the case. It is now generally used instead by companies to close access to various markets, or to ensure the use of various strong terms and conditions on various monopolies.

There are now starting to be serious problems associated with this, and the way it is used, so it is unlikely that in the long run it can remain as it is currently used.

Examples of the sort of problems you find range from companies using recently registered trademarks to get the url's of long established small businesses, or using reasonable conditions on inventing things for the company to steal inventions that the inventor creates that have no connection with the companies business, or even using copyright law to try and maintain a stranglehold on their part of the publishing industry (either book, music or video).

In fact, the music industry has gone so far with this attitude that Michael Eisner of Disney has said "privacy laws are the biggest impediment to us obtaining our objectives", and at the same conference Steve Heckler of Sony music said "Once consumers can no longer get free music, they will have to buy music in the formats we choose to put out". In combination with things like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act this means that you might not be able to use any open source code, or even own a compiler.

The worst problem though is the use of software patents with computer projects. If it is big companies trying to patent "look and feel" of programs (the silliest case being the look and feel of a spreadsheet), or bt's patent on the common technique of the hyperlink (both of which predate computers), it is generally being used to sue small companies out of business or force the payment of licencing fees that they are not really due (but the small company can't afford to fight).

A massive problem with this is that a small company or individual programmer can be put in the position of having to prove that he never had the chance to see the source code or reverse engineer a commercial program, or else face massive punitive fines, even though the people involved might have come up with the code independently. This is effectively putting these people into the position of guilty until proven innocent, which is in direct contradiction to the ethos of most liberal countries.

A way around this is to support the use of free and open source software. The most notable examples of this are the gnu tools, and the Linux kernel.

You might also want to sign the petition against eu aproval of software patents.

NEWS 2002/04: Pay per view TV has dreadful security. The latest example of copyright stupidity is a badly phrased draft E.U. law, which is aimed to stop people getting around this weakness by making any effort or tools used to crack security illegal.

A side effect of this is to make security tools (which are used by crackers) illegal to possess, thus ignoring the fact that server managers use the same tools to keep crackers out.

You might want to look at the site of The Pirate Party, formed in 2006, who got a E.U. parliamentary seat in 2009 and argue for fundamental reforms of this field.