On intellectual ownership

069 January 15, 2018 -- (cogitatio)

Recently -- while I was busy getting out of one particular swamp, to be more precise -- stuff has happened, of which I will remind two events: Stanislav began writing his epic FFA series, and Diana introduced her very own reference code shelf, to which she has already added a few pieces. I find the latter to be particularly interesting: while almost everyone has "an opinion" regarding, say, the software they use, in the sense every Romanian has an opinion on politics and football, in the very sense everyone has a butthole -- while this is so, few individuals would claim any sort of responsibility for the items they so judge. In fact, nowadays anyone at all rarely claims any responsibility on any piece of "intellectual property" (whether written by them or otherwise), to the extent that by now you're willingly getting fucked in the ass by various Googles, Microsofts, Apples and so on.

Unfortunately for the variouses above, V exists today. In practice this means that as the author of, say, a piece of code, you're either prepared to put your ass on the line1 with respect to the item and its intellectual honesty, or bust. The orcs and the wreckers might put some value on your attempts, but everyone else -- that is, your betters -- won't.

This model works in some sense backwards from what today's so-called "civilized world" deems to be "intellectual property". "Traditionally", software is written by some nobodies toiling in nondescript swamps, then is put a label on, then is sold2 as the premier "operating system", "cloud management system", "app" or some other useless ambiguity. But that's not all: given that putting intellectual items on the market is a rather iffy matter, you're not exactly sold the software, but the so-called rights to use said product in some way or another, which typically includes the explicit prohibition of reverse engineering $thing, even if, say, $thing becomes obsolete within the year -- which it typically does.

Or, to quote a wise man:

Similarly, "net neutrality" is not in any way related to network freedom. To best understand the competing paradigms : the artificial perspective - as proposed by the obsolete governments and the rest of the numerously various paper fiat arrays - revolves around the "rights" of the "owners" of hardware, and the "intentions" of the writers of software. In this perspective, using a computer "against the will of its owner", even if you're using it exactly in the manner it allows itself to be used, is "criminal" whatever that may mean anymore.

Exactly contrary to that, the natural perspective : if you don't want me to use your server to print all the nude photos your users entrusted you, write your software and provision your hardware in such a way that I can't. Because if I can, then it is not my right but my freedom to do so.

A parallel with human sexuality is not unwarranted here. At a past time when the ownership of female humans was the principal method to control capital formation and the political process, the same sort of dead hand fictions proposed that they in fact control the usage of women, that anyone owning a woman does so only as a sublicense from their sovereign ownership of all women, and may proceed only in furtherance of the regulation they emitted as to how women may be used and may not be used and so on and so forth. Specifically excluded from all this - the woman in question. Particularly "criminal" at the time - using a woman in the manner she herself wishes to be used.

Times have changed, women are now worthless, but computers aren't, and these same dead hand fictions propose anew : that they own all computers, that if you own a computer it's only a sublease from them, subject to furthering their regulations and so on and so forth. Specifically excluded from all this - what the code actually says and does. Particularly "criminal" - using a computer in the manner it itself allows to be used.

This then brings us to the fundamental question of our essay: how do we define ownership? and in particular what does intellectual ownership mean?

Physical ownership is pretty straightforward. Given an arbitrary $object, the proximate genus for ownership is control over said $object: for example, in order to get from home to work, I could either drive the $object that I have chosen to call "my car" or call for another $object named a taxi. The specific difference is exclusiveness in my relation to $object: others may or may not call the same taxi at some point, but I am the only one who can use my car, based on my own claim above anything else. This is for example what I mean when I say that I would rather, at all costs, have my own computing machines than rely on the inherently unreliable cloud.

Intellectual ownership, that is, the ownership of an $object lying in the realm of thought, is however an entirely different matter. Take for example any non-trivial3 piece of knowledge, such as Shakespeare's Othello or Thales' theorem. You may acknowledge their existence, know where to put them in the great tree, maybe even have a vague idea about their meaning; this is the proximate genus, and assuming you've been through school, you probably know about a great deal of the intellectual items ever conceived by humanity. The specific difference however refers not merely to "knowing about" $object, but to devouring it entirely, such that you understand all the intimate aspects of $object, its very author becoming part of your internal conversation on the item in question.

This is then what I mean when I say that I own something intellectual(ly): that I have read it4 carefully and that I believe5 to have understood it in its entirety. In fact I am unconvinced there exists any other kind of intellectual ownership; but go ahead and humour me if you think otherwise.

As a consequence, I have decided to open my own store of signed intellectual artifacts. The linked page contains a bunch of V patches, the seals as generated by their original author(s) and, added, my own signatures. At the time of writing the list is quite modest, which only means that there's plenty of room for it to grow into a repository of knowledge. So here's to that!


  1. Or, to put this more mildly, your "skin in the game".

  2. Not always for money. In fact, chances are you've already sold your freedom for this-or-that very awesome smartphone and/or phablet and/or smart always-connected device you supposedly own.

  3. We disregard trivial pieces of knowledge not because they're merely failed attempts to enrich the library™ -- which, to be perfectly clear, they are -- but because they're not very interesting. Ask yourself now, how many of the works you've read so far really do matter?

    Let's just hope you're young enough to catch up.

  4. Or watched it, or heard it. I do admit to fitting a not-very-small musical library in my head, I just don't see any reason to share it publicly at the moment.

  5. Believe me or not, belief is an essential part of the whole deal. You'd be surprised how many times I would read a book the second or third (sometimes the fourth) time, only to discover things I had missed on previous readings. And I'm not the first to observe this either!

    It's either worth reading twice or not at all, or how did the saying go?