This is a post from the exi-chat email list. Spike wanted to get a discussion going on IP. I didn’t want to go over old ground, and others seemed happy to, so I came up with this argument instead which should particularly resonate with the transhumanist perspective, and which I’ve not read explicitly laid out anywhere before.
I’m firmly on the free side. I see that people have already made a lot of the standard arguments against intellectual property, good work.
I want to offer a longer perspective, a perspective of the playing out of the 21st century.
The short version:
We are increasingly and will eventually entirely *be* information. If we allow ownership of information, we eventually lose sovereignty over ourselves.
The long version:
I think we can probably more or less agree that information and information systems aren’t going to become any less important as the century wears on. Particularly, more and more of the infrastructure of our lives is going to be made out of information. We’re not going to become less dependent on the global network(s) (in fact clearly we will become very much more dependent, very quickly). For individuals, increasingly all our communications, our purchases, our entertainments, are reliant on the extended internet, and will share the fundamental properties of information; particularly, endless reproduction in full fidelity for a price approaching zero. As time
wears on, the bricks & mortar world is going to be increasingly drawn into this, as we gain the ability to “print out” physical objects (and food? clothing? etc etc). And, we will become increasingly dependent on technologies based in massive, ongoing data collection and interpretation (eg: healthcare must go this way). Will we eventually teleport via copying ourselves across the internet? Will we eventually upload ourselves? Before that, our entire social identity will be embedded firmly in the infosphere and at its mercy.
In that context, a regime of intellectual property ownership and restriction is intensely political. What is at stake is our ability as individuals to live freely in the world, nothing less than that.
Right now, we are seeing books begin their inexorable move into virtual space, and what we see is massive restriction. If you’re using a Kindle, you can no longer resell your books, lend them to others, or anything else that relies on the principle of first sale. Furthermore, you cannot do the simple and clearly valuable things that should just be a feature of the environment; transfer them to any other computing device as determined by you, process and transform them as you like (as you could a text file). Now this sucks, and drives a lot of people crazy, but hey, we’re not really losing anything that we could do before.
However, as we become more dependent on technologies that render everything into information, the ramifications of this kind of closed, locked up approach to information (information as carefully managed real-world object analogues) will begin to really cause serious issues to individuals. What happens when your social network is based in a closed, owned environment, and those with power decide to change things to your detriment (eg: lock you out)? This already happens in
the social networking sphere, and for some people real damage (to relationships) occurs. What happens when your health care is based in massive (lifelong) ongoing data collection & mining, but the formats and software used to store and work with that data (or even the data itself) can be owned, and the people that own it decide to act against your interests (eg: legally restricting you from taking that data elsewhere, legally restricting you from using that data in a way that they don’t approve of)? What about if our material needs (food, clothing, etc) become dependent on the information infrastructure, closed and restricted, and people who own it decide to act against your interests, so you find you can’t eat?
What if you are physically and/or mentally augmented, but all your augmentations are based in closed owned information controlled by people who decide to act against your interests (do you want to have to jail-break your metacortex)? What if your lifespan is now augmented beyond what should have “naturally” occurred, but relies on ongoing intervention (implants? monitoring? etc) which is entirely proprietary, such that you cannot change provider? What if you are an upload, and find that not only is the environment you live in privately owned and controlled, not only is your personal data format proprietary, but the data, the pattern which comprises you, is entirely owned by someone else? What if stepping through that teleporter renders you, as a side effect, property of a corporation? This sounds far fetched, but you just have to look at the battle over the ownership of genomic information to see that we are on that trajectory.
Transhumanism, from a social individual point of view, to me, is about morphological freedom. It is about establishing the freedom of all individuals to proceed into the future under their own determination, and the laws of the natural world be damned; we will be what we can imagine and will to become. But, that project is clearly tied inexorably and completely into a world where everything important is essentially information. If that world of platonic information is owned and fenced by powers who don’t have to respect individual freedoms, then we are moving ourselves into a future of inescapable slavery of the many to the few, a catastrophe.
I don’t see how any extropian or transhumanist who is looking at the future with an honest eye can countenance this. The copyfight happening now is not a mundane economic squabble, it is a political fight for our futures, and one whose importance I think is very difficult to overstate. Don’t accept it!