Hmm, no, I don't believe I was saying or implying anything of the sort: quite the opposite, actually.
Discussion (you know, with arguments and mutual respect) is excellent and if the majority of the population feels these rights should go, well... I am a fervent believer in democracy.
I *do* object to simplification and outright, unreasoned hate-campaigns: like it or not, make what reasoned choice you will, but the IP-debate is not that simple. Just weigh the pro and cons. "X is ridiculous" is just a simple opinion, I am sure you can do better... ;)
Well, as the French say: "Du choc des opinions jaillit la verité" (from the shock/collision of opinions the truth will arise)... but thanks, discussion is what the comments are for and I for one am not looking to preach, but I do feel some reasoned counter-arguments to what I consider pretty cheap IP-bashing would help the discussion.
Oh, and I do believe the anti-piracy hunts by the MPAA have made a mockery of collective rights enforcement, which in my eyes is sad. They appear to use a harvester combine / carpet bombing kind of strategy, which is simply unprofessional and detrimental to the system built on the idea of protecting the rights holders. I do not believe the MPAA/RIAA are doing a good job of anything.
Ahh, no, I am *not* saying every infringement is a lost sale: I have heard that argument thrown around by over-zealous IP-adepts, but that is not true either. Lots of people would never pay for the stuff they download and share for free. Some people even share content they dislike just to get good ratios on their torrents.
But the opposite (not every illegal download is a lost share, SO illegal file-sharing causes *no* damage) is just as unfounded. It is the exclusivity of the right that is eroded: every act of file-sharing lowers the moral sense of it being wrong and erodes the concept of IP rights itself. Now, laws are made by people and in democracies we get to think certain laws (passed under some majority at some time) are wrong, but living in a democracy and a rule of law also means you have to obey even the laws that you do not agree with (please spare me the 'evil' law scenarios: copyright is not in contradiction to human rights).
Okayyy, the MPAA and their ilk have drawn so much bad press with their heavy-handed tactics, that even level-headed writers get so upset they seem lose any sense of logic.
Yes, file sharing is almost omni-present, but it still forbidden by law. You *may* think that the world was better off before the first copyright laws (and indeed before royal priviliges) but I think most authors would beg to differ (disclosure: apart from being an IP lawyer, my entire family earns their living through creative works and their IP rights).
IP rights are exclusive rights, created to protect first authors and later other creative/innovative people. 'Exclusive' means just that: your right consists of the ability to exclude people from whatever specific use was bestowed on you. That mini-monopoly serves to help the author generate some income, instead of dying poor or living under patronage.
Enforcement of this right is expensive, however, and it was a boon to IP rights holders that some governments decided to help them by declaring IP piracy a form of theft that the government will do something against. The 'damage' (missed income) may be small, but every file-sharing erodes the right of the author further. Civil proceedings put the cost on the IP holder and that is additional damage: in my view, it would be unfair NOT to have the defendant pay this as well. The government is just cheaper, because it doesn't charge convicts for the cost of their prosecution.
So, yeah, loads of people run traffic lights and some cops are *really* indiscriminate and vicious about fining folks for that. The damage is minimal, but they are eroding a rule, a system that society put in place for a reason (yeah, corporate lobbying sure made IP rights a whole lot more powerful, no argument there). So, tough shit, either own up that you want your content for free (even if the author did not want to give it for free) and get lawmakers to change the law through voting or criticise the WAY in which it is done only, not the system. Sounds fair?
>> Being from Europe, might you support patent rights as inalienable/natural/non-tradable rights?
No, not really, although I support the alternative measures such as have been taken in the copyright/contract laws of several European countries to make it more difficult to deprive authors of their rights. This helps protect authors - and could be used to help inventors - against losing the rights too easily or all too one-sided transfer agreements.
>> From your comments, I think you might also support a patent law that cannot be used to end small-scale commercialization (or obviously, noncommercial use).
Yes, that is correct: non-commercial use is of course not covered by patents and as for small-scale commercialisation, this is called the 'de minimis' (smaller than significant) exception. I agree with several authors who have argued that such a defense should not just have a place in courts (for judges to with as they please) but also in the law (remember: apart from the UK, European countries put their legal rules in statutory, codified laws, making it less necessary to wade through endless amounts of case law.
>> Also, wouldn't you agree that software is rather different than typical inventions?
Yes, absolutely: I teach patent law and software protection at a technical university and I am myself an amateur programmer. Software IS different. EU patent law excludes software from patentability altogether. Sadly, the powerful lobby of tech-companies has led the European Patent Office to allow such patents regardless: the idea is to treat software inventions as any other, but with very high inventive step requirements and an 'person skilled in the art' who is a well-grounded software-developer. As long as that threshold is maintained (excluding all simple/obvious automatisation [is that a word, I don't think so] of known measures into software, we should still be largely alright.
[I work in the European patent industry as a litigator and advisor on protecting technical innovation, so be aware of both bias and possible experience in the following:] It always pains me to see the patent system so reviled that most tech blogs can easily draw a good crowd with some simple patent bashing. I blame patent trolls and their mouthpieces, like Myhrvold, much like I blame the US portrayal of justice on TV for a global loss of respect for the law.
Most patent cases I work on involve actual inventors bringing an invention to full development and market-readiness and getting remunerated for their invention by larger companies, precisely because they have filed a patent that protects both them (from their corporate partner) and the company that wishes to invest (from its competitors). I believe a patent-less society would actually be far more dog-eat-dog for small inventors/companies than the one we have now. That said, non practising patentees stretch a good - in my eyes - system to cover very extreme cases and Woadan's suggestions seem a good way to mitigate that behaviour.