Sunday, April 15, 2007

Why free software exists: Part 6

Problems with IP

People claim that their technology business only benefits them if there is some way to protect their assets from being publicly misused. Today if you had come out with a new idea sooner or later other people would want a piece of it. How they put the idea to use is totally to their discretion - their self-will. But if an idea is free, in the context of a modern society, other people have it so that they can protect it for themselves and somehow mint profit out of it. This is just one of the ways your ideas can get stolen, and later you think you can't do anything about it, except fight it out with a lawyer. This is business or the way of life in most technological sectors. You can think of many companies that do this - they are really famous for their reputation they have thus far created. If the idea of free software came into existence probably twenty years back, then life would be different.

Protecting ideas is a 'good thing'. Ideas getting stolen is a 'bad thing'. This is so because protecting ideas and funding them to develop ideas that build on those ideas will further develop your business. However in cases where secrecy is a requirement (and it cannot be compromised) then protecting ideas is a noble move. But the whole point is that this kind of protecting ideas is something harmful in field of free software. And if you subscribe to these ideas in any way (i.e. use a computer, or an os, or software, etc) you are allowing those people to take control of something in your life. And with relevance to the scope of this blog that something refers to your computer system.

But if you look deeply into it what does it really mean? Why are technocrats concerned about protecting their assets or ideas? Why are they ever bothered about protecting in the first place? This is actually a problem with the modern human society, and the people that live in it. If you want to believe it, people are inherently protective!

Now why do I say that protecting ideas is bad? Hmm, I think I am being a bit judgmental here. I am not saying that protecting ideas is a bad thing. I believe that where it is necessary to protect ideas it is necessary to protect ideas; otherwise it is harmful to society. It can even tamper technological development.

Now look at all of this from another perspective. We want the world 'we' live in to be 'free'; and of course, not everything should be free. Life would not be practical if everything was free. At least of the sake of technological development the ideas that are being implemented should not be concealed from the public. In reality they are being concealed. The motive here is to gain some sort of monopoly over something. If we discouraged this monopoly there would be chaos. In other words there would be a lot of things to choose from. For e.g. if the technology behind constructing microprocessors was free (in the sense everyone could manipulate to their own will) the consumer would be besieged with choices on what processor to buy. Now switch to the marketers point of view: Once he sells his product to a customer, the customer will most probably hunt down the marketer saying that the product (whatever) has got complaints and it needs to be serviced. The marketer would not play the hiding game here; he sees profit in this. But if the technology was free, then the marketer would probably never see that customer again. The customer would have found some other person to solve the complaint. (Remember the customer has choice which makes life even more complex). IP exists to solve the chaos from the marketers point of view.

But what these laws never thought of were the customers or the consumes - us. It seems for a marketer every customer can become a competitor if technology was something tossed around like a salad. customers really care about technology? Does technology mean anything to them? The answer is no. People are blind about any technical detail. They involve themselves with the technology to the extent that they can get their jobs done. Then you might want to ask the ethical question: where would the idea of technology tossing work?

In university circles. This is actually why linux OSs never had an impact with non-technical customers like the way Windows had. But even the idea of technology tossing is some what protected in university groups. I mean that there is always some conflict when some information from one university leaks out to another university. But if we consider one university circle there is some relative development; i.e. technology tossing happens!!! Sometimes some ideas even break the meanest of software patents; they often ridicule them! This is one such social circle we all need to take a closer look at; and then form rules so that we can implement them over a bigger social circle.