Piracy and progress

John Naughton’s blog is invariably a good read and he does a very good link. One very short entry that caught my eye recently was a link to a piece by Lawrence Lessig. This one turned out to be golden. It begins, “If piracy means using the creative property of others without their permission, then the history of the content industry is a history of piracy. Every important sector of big media today – film, music, radio, and cable TV – was born of a kind of piracy.” And, I suspect, the same would be true of the PC industry.
As I have argued before the growing dog in the manager attitude to intellectual property is based on a misrepresentation of how innovation and invention works. In an important sense we are all free riders on the work of generations before. Now changes in IP law seem to be enabling some, mainly large, corporations to lock in parts of this common heritage and to have become the main free riders. And it is important to remember that it is they and their shareholders who are the main beneficiaries from this shift, not the actual creators or the people who use what is created.
In many areas of life this probably doesn’t matter much. People will find their ways around the obstacles or simply ignore them. But in science it does matter. In an interesting review of the issues in the New York Review of Books, Richard Horton quotes the philosopher of science John Ziman who argues that:
“the erosion of traditional scientific values?such as the principles that research should be driven by curiosity and by the desire to advance scientific knowledge?has created a new “post-academic science,” a science that seeks an immediate economic payoff. Sustaining some form of non-instrumental science?which practically means not routinely applying the litmus test of wealth creation to every new idea or hypothesis?is important not only for inquiry into fundamental theoretical questions but also because society needs a model of independent critical rationality for the proper conduct of democratic debate, judicial inquiry, and consumer protection.”