The Two Great Human Freedoms

Sorry about the rather grandiose title. The "freedoms" are the right to use language and the right to use tools, and I want to look at the way much of the "intellectual property" (IP) mindset infringes on these freedoms.

What freedoms?

Most arguments that X or Y is, or should be, a fundamental human right tend to be logically weak, and rely on the reader's shared assumptions about what is "reasonable". I'm afraid I have discovered no new principle of logic, so I have to try to carry you along in the same way.

It seems to me that two activities set humans apart from all other species: using language, and using tools. Neither of these distinctions is as absolute as was once thought. The debate about chimp language simmers inconclusively, and whether or not chimpanzees really use syntax or not is unclear. But many studies have shown quite elaborate systems of communication, such as the alarm calls of vervet monkeys, and it's clear that chimpanzees are capable of making abstract plans in their heads. (My favourite story is of how a chimpanzee has a bunch of bananas out of reach, and a packing crate. He has to work out that putting the crate under the bunch of bananas will bring it within reach: it isn't merely that the chimp can do it, the most amazing part is the look of enlightenment on the face of the chimp when he sees how to do it.) Again, the view that only humans use tools has been effectively demolished - only last night I was watching a nature film of a Galapagos finch using twigs to extract juicy grubs from a tree branch. Nonetheless, the scale of human use of these attributes sets them apart. No non-human animal has ever used a tool (a key) to unlock a safe to get another tool (money) to use another tool (a bus) to get to another tool (a shop) to get another tool (a hammer) to bang in another tool (a nail), just because they can't bear listening to a rattling sound. Anyway, this much is obvious. I take it as axiomatic that the process of human education is about developing our childrens' abilities to exploit these two great abilities. And I believe that any "Charter for Humanity", which might come in the form of a written or unwritten constitution of a state, ought to recognise these two essential abilities. Oddly, while the first, usually referred to as "Freedom of speech" is widely cited as a fundamental principle, I don't know of any set of principles that explicitly mentions the second. (That's the only reason I hope I might have something new to say.)

Freedom to think, to say, and to copy

Yes, you say, of course we must be free to think and to speak, but to copy? This word "copy" has had a terrible press in recent years, that people have become frightened to use it at all. Yet how do we come to have thoughts at all? Obviously for the most part because we reuse the thoughts we heard from others, and we add our own little bit. If we take music as an obvious example, the inspiration of Beethoven, or Brahms, or Ravel was 80% the results of "standing on the shoulders of giants," and the line between such inspiration and plagiarism has always been acknowledged to be a fine one. And we should be grateful it has sometimes been blurred: if the lawyers had really been on their toes in 1875, we probably wouldn't have Carmen in its current form. Although Bizet believed that the famous habanera he gave Carmen for her entrance in act one was a folk song, in fact it had been written only ten years earlier by the Spanish composer Sebastian Yradier. music - inspiration vs plagiarism c4/chimes/Debussy h4/ Information is not tradable, nor can it be stolen (cf language: knowing, vs hyperknowing. BrE/AmE) h4/ What's wrong with copyright? The distinction between "information" and "creative work" isn't tenable. The distinction between "just copying" and "being creative" isn't tenable. The "tunnel" misconception of the Web h4/ What's wrong with the patent system? h4/ What's wrong with the trademark system? (Not much, basically) Generic words: descriptive linguistics overrules lawyery h4/ Freedom to use tools h4/ h4/ Reverse-engineering as a fundamental human right Education / h4/ "Systemcraft" asking about using bulk film ; Japanese post office ; tax avoidance h4/ Non-deceptive fakery h4/ Alternatives: shareware, pay per shot microcharging cf 1c h4/miscellany Why making porn illegal is countereffective h4/ Appendix - Executive Summary Things I think should indeed be naughty: