Re: Intellectual property (resend)

Hal Finney (
Thu, 20 Mar 1997 22:33:03 -0800

Lee makes a lot of good suggestions regarding alternatives to intellectual
property laws. In the last issue of Scientific American, there was an
article on "trusted computers". Contrary to what you might expect, these
aren't computers that you trust - they are computers which you own but which
are trusted by other people! The computer works for somebody else, not for

The idea is that you load some software (or a book, video, etc.) into the
computer and it lets you run it, but it won't let you copy it to anybody
else. Or, you can loan it out but when you do you don't have it any more.

I don't really find this a very appealing idea, but of course if people
want to try it and see if it works in the market, that's fine.

The thing that struck me though was that the article was focusing on the
problems with protecting intellectual property in the computer age. Books,
videos, music, etc., all could be shared for free. The implication was
that without these mini-big-brothers (little brothers?) to keep people
honest, the whole publishing industry would disappear.

The glaring omission from the discussion was the software business. They
have been dealing with this problem on a large scale for almost 20 years.
They don't have trusted computers; most software these days doesn't even
have copy protection (although of course the advent of CD-ROMs has made
it harder to make lots of copies). By the reasoning of the article, the
software business should be an endangered species.

I think that's why they didn't mention it - it is such an obvious
exception to their reasoning that it would have undercut a lot of what
they were trying to say. So they hoped people wouldn't notice.

Even with IP laws widely ignored, and even with the ease of copying
software, we still have a thriving software business. Shelves groan
under the weight of new titles. Of course there are losses due to
unauthorized copying. But that hasn't stopped the business as a whole
from being fantastically successful. There's no reason the same thing
shouldn't happen with other digital media.