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Whose Intellectual Property?

Richard Stallman (Mr. GNU) recently wrote a piece on the term “intellectual property.” His opinion is that the term itself should be done away with as it represents only one side of the argument, which views global intellectual culture as property. He suggests no replacement term at all because “a different name could eliminate the bias, but won’t address the term’s deeper problem: overgeneralization. There is no such unified thing as ‘intellectual property’. It is a mirage, which appears to have a coherent existence only because the term suggests it does.” [Full paper: Did You Say “Intellectual Property”? It’s a Seductive Mirage]

Indeed, how do we represent the true nature of the battle between those who want to make money from indefinitely copyrighting works (publishing / record industry Sith lords and their government lackeys) and the people who want to protect the public domain (bad-ass Jedi knights – Ewoks need not apply)?

This is a suggestion I posted to the Union for the Public Domain bulletin board this morning:

As Wiley says in today’s comics page, “It’s all about semantics. You call it a drinking problem. I call it a reality exit strategy.”

I agree with Stallman in that a way to take back the argument is to change its one-sided terms. The words that are used to posit an issue offer a lot to or detract from that issue in terms of connotation. I would much rather call “it” what it is, a book, music, art, etc. rather than “intellectual property” and discuss each on an individual basis. For one, using the term “intellectual property” makes the property value of the media more important than the media itself.

So, guess what. Reclaim the argument. Those who want to stop calling it IP should do so and put forth future arguments on their own terms. The others can continue to refer to it as IP if they wish, because that’s probably how they see the material. Once that is done, we can go back to fighting the growing legions of interests who want to keep intellectual culture out of the hands of as many people as possible.

What do you think?

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