Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

Copyright Notice: We don't think much of copyright, so you can do what you want with the content on this blog. Of course we are hungry for publicity, so we would be pleased if you avoided plagiarism and gave us credit for what we have written. We encourage you not to impose copyright restrictions on your "derivative" works, but we won't try to stop you. For the legally or statist minded, you can consider yourself subject to a Creative Commons Attribution License.


The Copybot

Over on Freedom to Tinker there is a nice essay about an important discovery in the online game SecondLife. To briefly summarize: people can create and sell objects for "Linden Dollars" which can be traded in the real world for US Dollars. Someone has now built a copybot which can make exact duplicates of any object. It seems the "perfect storm" for the pro-IP crowd: surely the economy will collapse over night. (It does matter quite a bit whether the copybot can operate without or without the permission of the current owner of the object - it isn't clear to me from the essay which way it works.) If you want to know what will happen next, go read the 1958 Ralph Williams science fiction short story "Business As Usual During Alterations."


In the real world permission is pretty insignificant when everyone has replication devices.

In the real world we also have far more effective diffusion devices (file-sharing).

2nd life is supposedly wholly subject to the control of its creators - except that they permit a semblance of liberty to its denizens.

In 2nd life DRM actually works - given its god's will is omnipresent.

Unfortunately, in 2nd life, the ingenious exploitation of even its heavily constrained liberty has become so sophisticated that people have been able to create their own replication devices that automate reverse engineered reconstruction to achieve what the 2nd life DRM chooses not to permit.

This idea that one can both issue an edict that restricts the public's use of technology and actually achieve such a restriction is thus demonstrated to be folly both in the misguided idealism of the virtual world as it is in the real world.

The individual does not have the freedom of choice to suspend the public's liberty - even if you try and kid each member of the public that this freedom of choice is their right.

This is grievous semantic corruption of the meaning of the word 'freedom'.

Freedom from control or freedom to control - you can't superimpose the two together except in a word game.

Considerably more on the SecondLife copybot from a ?reporter? who specializes in reporting about SecondLife. The copybot doesn't need permission, just physical proximity to the object to be copied. Freedom or not, this was as bad for the economy as theory says it should be.

To clarify: copyright law is about controlling other people's copies. That is, if I bought a copy from you - should you be allowed to tell me what to do with it. We ordinarily imagine that you get to control your own copies. That is, you aren't allowed to sneak into my house in the middle of the night with your copy machine and make copies of my "A Tale of Two Cities."

In SecondLife it appears that you can make copies without anyone's permission - meaning you don't even have the right to control your own copies. This means that the person who creates the original cannot collect anything, except through charity. In this case we really should expect economic collapse - most people will stop making new things. That seems to have happened, followed shortly by the banning of the copybot.

Don't worry, collective patronage still works even if even 'private' creations are instantaneously available to all.

I would have expected that LL could have enabled players to create things offline and then demonstrate them in isolated sandpits.

And THEN fricking sell the things.

See my comments on Ed Felten's blog: Freedom To Tinker

Yes - I agree: even without demonstration, reputation alone combined with collective patronage will keep some element of creativity. Collective patronage may yield a pretty small fraction of social surplus if there are a lot of people, meaning that some more marginal (="expensive to design and not so great") creations won't happen. It will be interesting to see how they wind up going.

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