Patent absurdity

dug // 21 August 2011

I feel like I spend a lot of time explaining why not having a commons of arts and sciences is a bad thing that we should try an avoid. I bang on about Sony Bono and Mickey Mouse and the great Dover books that helped crafters and artists in the 70s and I feel like I just can’t frame the argument in a sufficiently compelling way.

I’ve just recently come across a couple of wonderful items. One, the short film embedded above. The other, a Guardian article penned by Richard Stallman in 2005. He uses Victor Hugo to explain how patenting processes can be dangerous:

Here's one example of a hypothetical literary patent: Claim 1: a communication process that represents, in the mind of a reader, the concept of a character who has been in jail for a long time and becomes bitter towards society and humankind. Claim 2: a communication process according to claim 1, wherein said character subsequently finds moral redemption through the kindness of another. Claim 3: a communication process according to claims 1 and 2, wherein said character changes his name during the story. If such a patent had existed in 1862 when Les Misérables was published, the novel would have infringed all three claims - all these things happened to Jean Valjean in the novel. Hugo could have been sued, and would have lost. The novel could have been prohibited - in effect, censored - by the patent holder.

I went to see Stallman talk at the LSE in 2005 (he was clearly motoring around Europe in anticipation of the vote in the European parliament) and it was like a light-bulb moment. If you get a chance I highly recommend catching one of his talks.