I'm really happy to see Obama's transition website continue from the earlier campaign site to feature a "Technology Agenda". However, it has one particularly glaring deficiency that concerns me. Even while calling for "reform", the following statement demonstrates a fatal misunderstanding of the role of intellectual property in today's world:
This statement is dangerous because it ignores the real story of the "digital age": the fact that the rise of the Internet can be largely credited to free and open source software that expressly disclaims any notion of property rights. In fact, one could argue that the Internet is built primarily on open source software. Apache, LAMP stacks, low-level TCP/IP networking code, firewall code, all open source.
Without the intellectual commons created by the coders, tool builders, web designers and other enthusiasts who've built the Net, the Internet would look more like a gigantic closed AOL of yesteryear. Tinkering, hacking, and "scratching your own itch" are as important drivers for the open Net as are the billions of dollars of investment in commercial software protected by strong intellectual property.
This language in the Technology agenda would be more accurate if it read:
In fact, most forms of intellectual property are state-created monopolies created around the exploitation of expressions (copyright), ideas (patents), or brands (trademark). Monopolies in and of themselves are not evil - in fact there are good reasons for some monopolies to exist (for example, so-called 'natural monopolies'). But any policy towards intellectual property should recognize its basis as a form of monopoly, and should treat intellectual property policy with the same public policy aims as the monopolies of the industrial age. That is, to sustain growth and most effectively meet our economic (and creative) potential, the rights of IP holders (those who hold state-protected monopolies) should be balanced against factors such as consumer benefit (very broadly defined), and the distortion of normal markets (tying, anti-competitive behavior, etc). The language used in the technology agenda raises concerns that no such balancing would be part of the Obama administration's policy objectives.
I hope I am wrong, and that the actual policies developed by this administration will be more balanced.
I am writing this blog partially as experiment in direct democracy via blogging. In doing so, I'm hoping this new administration is more willing to adapt to public calls for change than the last one.
In other words, I'm hopeful we can make the change we seek!