Monday, October 17, 2005

New international charter from the good guys

Big business has long had an international IP interest group, WIPO, as well as national groups such as the (obviously misnamed) Progress & Freedom Foundation. In defense of the public interest on IP matters, we have the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but while their efforts often have positive global effects, their main focus is in the U.S. I'm not aware of any significant group protecting the IP public interest internationally, but at least now we've got a charter.

From Slashdot:
The Adelphi Charter, an international blueprint for how intellectual property should be made, [is made] by Britain's Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce. The Economist says “The Adelphi group are a varied crew ranging from Gilberto Gil, the Brazilian culture minister (and pop star) to Sir John Sulston, a Nobel-winning scientist who helped decode the human genome, and James Boyle, a law professor at Duke University. They believe that the intellectual-property system is starting to lean so far in favor of private enrichment that it no longer serves the public interest.” The charter calls for evidence-based policy, and a balance between rights protection and the public domain. It also condemns business method and software patents."
Hopefully, this charter can serve as a rallying point for people who want to combat the torrent of bad IP law, and the organizations that lobby for it.

I would like to make a comment on a criticism in The Economist's article:
The charter declares that software, business processes, and medical therapies should not be patented, nor copyright extended to things like databases that are simply compilations of open facts. But the Adelphites have not submitted these ideas to the same kind of rigorous economic analysis that they demand from their foes.
First of all, I do believe that the backers of the charter have done a lot of analysis; I've read a bunch of articles from one of them, James Boyle, and while I don't know if what I've read would qualify as rigorous analysis according to The Economist, it's a lot more rigorous than I could muster. Many of the backers are lawyers, professors or leaders of academic societies, and as such they've collectively done a vast amount of analysis.

Secondly, if you agree with the premise of the charter--an automatic presumption against expanding rights--then it's not necessary to prove that these various IP rights are unnecessary; rather, it's necessary to prove that they are. But from the point of view of the charter authors, and of most geeks, none of the rights in question have proven their value to society, or even to the tradespeople who should supposedly benefit. For instance, I've been programming since I was 10, but I've always been against software patents (well, not since I was 10, but since I learned about them.)

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