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Freeing Information

I’d like to share some thoughts I’ve had on restricting access to information (commonly referred to as Intellectual Property).

The term Intellectual Property (IP) describes well what I’m talking about, that being the concept that the same rights which apply to your material goods (e.g. your computer) can be extended to your thoughts and ideas. If I’ve got my history right IP came about as our products became more complicated… more information was squeezed into products to make them faster, more efficient, et cetera. This increasing lead to information becoming the valuable component of a product, rather than the raw materials. The use of IP has accelerated in recent decades as companies rush to protect their valuable property – IBM being a prime example, currently holding in excess of 40,000 patents.

Someone who has come up with a great idea is quite right to want to some recognition for it (and by recognition I mean money), after all they need to put bread on the table and so forth, however, cracks in this principle start to appear as the ‘people’ with the IP rights are more frequently corporations, who have an insatiable hunger for bread. (Corporations, unlike your normal crack pot inventor, are out to extract every penny from anything they can get their hands on.)

IP is now deeply ingrained in society, it surrounds, wraps up and protects everything from copying or reuse. Protection coming in the form of law suits and counter-suits, with corporations vehemently attacking any threat to their ownership of a piece of knowledge.

The practice of considering knowledge on the same level as material goods is flawed, unlike material goods once ‘created’ a piece of information can be replicated infinitely without real cost. But once you’ve created this piece of information, you want your reward, you want to be paid. So you charge for people to use this information (or to buy a product which manifests it), enough to cover your costs, you also need to ensure your future is safe so you charge a little bit extra to help you develop ‘the next’ piece of information. But you’re a corporation so ‘costs’ are insatiable (your employees always want to be paid more, your share holders always want larger returns) and you strike upon the idea of charging people by how much they value a product.

Now consider the example of pharmecutical companies that develop ‘life-saving’ drugs, how do you value a life? This is what they do everyday, and they are pricing some people out of the market!

These few lines aren’t a very good expression of what I’m thinking and if I thought about it I would probably realise I have greatly misrepresented the issue. I’ve written a few more words more specifically in relation to the information in the design process as part of my university work.

Posted on 07 Feb 2007

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