Sessions at FSCONS 2010 about Ethics with video

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Sunday 7th November 2010

  • Ethics of Intellectual Monopolies

    by Glyn Moody

    In the past, there have been two main classes of things we can share:
    physical objects and abstract ideas. Generally, people have regarded
    ideas as non-rivalrous, and so something that can and should be shared
    quite naturally (although many institutions have tried to put a brake
    on that for various reasons), whereas *not* sharing physical things is
    generally the rule because of the rivalrous nature of physical objects
    that have become property (the commons is obviously an important class
    of things that can and are shared).

    But today, we have a third class of objects: digital artefacts like
    text, music, image and video files. These are not physical - although
    they have to be stored in some physical way - and they are not purely
    abstract like ideas: we can copy them and hand them around in various
    formats. So we need to think about what kind of sharing is
    appropriate for them.

    The music and film industries are currently engaged in a war against
    the idea that these digital artefacts can be freely shared: the
    Digital Economy Act in the UK, HADOPI in France, ACTA globally. But
    these are artefacts with zero marginal cost; once the file is created,
    it can be passed on to every human being on this planet with the means
    to use that file, for effectively zero cost. This gives everyone with
    a computer/connection access to *all* human knowledge and creativity
    once it is digitised - an unprecedented situation.

    I would argue the power of doing that - and the moral rightness of
    giving everyone in the world equal access to all knowledge and
    creativity - is now so great, that existing legal systems that try to
    apply intellectual monopolies like copyright and patents to stop it
    are not just unworkable (as we see) but ethically wrong. I believe
    that the arrival of this new class of digital artefacts with zero
    marginal cost brings with them a new imperative to share - and also
    means we will need new business models to sustain them.

    At 1:15pm to 2:00pm, Sunday 7th November

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