Today, there's a review in the New York Times about Hot Property, a new book by Pat Choate that essentially claims the US is in technology decline because of "piracy."
From the article:
Choate says that while industrializing countries may benefit from piracy, the world as a whole loses. ''Piracy and counterfeiting impede innovation: thieves do not invest in research, design, production, development or advertising. . . . The result is fewer new medicines, fewer advances in science, fewer new products, fewer new music CD's, fewer new movies, less new software and higher prices for whatever is created.'' Everyone is harmed, either directly or indirectly, ''when thieves steal from Microsoft and Disney.'' And, he concludes, ''What is missing is the will of U.S. political leaders to confront those who are stealing U.S.-owned intellectual properties and with them the future of the American people.''
The irony here is that both Microsoft and Disney have risen to dominate their industries by building upon the innovations, and works, of others. In the case of Microsoft, most of the graphical desktop environment was not invented by Microsoft. It wasn't invented by Apple, either. Both companies essentially copied the work of the Palo Alto Research Center (also known as PARC), a research laboratory that was part of Xerox Corporation.
Disney got its start with Mickey Mouse. Walt Disney created the cartoon character in a short 1928 animated film called Steamboat Willie. Steamboat Willie eventally turned into Mickey Mouse. But Steamboat Willie itself was based on a Buster Keaton film called Steamboat Bill, Jr, released less than a year earlier. And both characters came from an earlier song. As Lawrence Lessig writes in his book Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity:
It is not just from the invention of synchronized sound in The Jazz Singer that we get Steamboat Willie. It is also from Buster Keaton's invention of Steamboat Bill, Jr., itself inspired by the song "Steamboat Bill," that we get Steamboat Willie, and then from Steamboat Willie, Mickey Mouse. ...
... Indeed, the catalog of Disney work drawing upon the work of others is astonishing when set together: Snow White (1937), Fantasia (1940), Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1942), Song of the South (1946), Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Robin Hood (1952), Peter Pan (1953)...
The list goes on from there. These companies did not get to where they are by creating something brand new, isolated from the rest of our culture--they copied what was all around them, made some unique changes, and brought their remixed ideas to market.
But apparently, others that do the same thing with their works are "pirates," and copying these works result in lost dollars to them. Never mind that "piracy" of Microsoft operating systems has helped to make them ubiquitous, and reinforce Microsoft's monopoly.
Of course, not everyone thinks this way. Just Friday, one of the most influential venture capitalists of Internet startups, Joi Ito, wrote this about software patents in support of the recent decision by the European Union to reject them:
I ... believe that the notion that software patents somehow help venture businesses is a red herring and that software patents are primarily a tool for software monopolies to stay keep the little guys out.
You can download Lessig's book (for free) here. Read Ito's post: Joi Ito's Web: One venture capitalist's view on software patents. And, for the next week if you sign up for free NY Times registration, you can read the review of Choate's book: 'Hot Property': Freebooters of Industry.
Read and make up your own mind.