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“As a ‘rational’ being, he now places his behavior under the control of abstractions.
  He will no longer tolerate being carried away by sudden impressions, by intuitions.”
     ~ Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense” (1873)

“Equality or freedom?”

We were climbing a flight of stairs at the museum
Where no exhibits were in sight
“I don’t know”

“A law professor I was listening to said
  That law is always about property
  That laws affecting my person contemplate my body to be my property
  That this is ultimately all there is to law”

“Then there certainly must be a lot of types of property”

“Take intellectual property:
  He impresses me
  With reasoning behind the idea
  That patents hamper the development of technology
  Because powerful organizations can collect patent portfolios
  And then compare anyone else’s new inventions to one thing or another
  From their own collections
  Thereby suppressing competition”

By now we were walking amongst photos, lovingly captured,
Of Brooklyn during the 1930s
“Equality and freedom are both nice abstractions
  There’s no way people can be equal
  We’re unique
  By nature or nurture
  Even taking large swaths of us
  Like women and men
  These groups have different roles in society
  How is trying to force them to be alike
  To live alike act alike work alike
  When they’re simply not alike
  Any better than allowing one to take advantage of the other?
  A lot of competition goes on that isn’t fair
  Your law professor didn’t say law’s about fairness did he?”

“See the child in this photo
  Lifting the woman’s skirt?
  Children have the freedom to do what comes naturally
  The boy wants to know what’s there
  So he acts”

“But then we grow up
  We may keep that childlike freedom alive in our minds
  Putting it into action puts us into trouble
  If there’s a reasonable law
  Then we’re not free to take what isn’t ours”

“Why shouldn’t ideas belong to everyone?”

“Suppose you invent a better clothes dryer
  Nothing comes out of it wrinkly
  You need help producing your invention
  Making people aware of it
  Distributing it
  So you talk it up
  And upon hearing about it
  I let you know I have resources
  Take all your plans and give you in return my promise
  To supply the help you need
  To realize your dream
  And instead hire a bunch of people in Bangladesh
  To make it cheaper than you can
  And beat you to the market
  Finally taking all the money you could have made
  From your invention
  Would you find justice in that?”

“And if I’d patented my clothes dryer
  You might not have gotten away with
  Your use of the invention
  Only if I’d had the means and patience to negotiate the patent process
  As well as the ability to sue you when you violated the resulting patent
  It’s just the same
  With all intellectual property
  The little guy’s the loser”

“You develop software
  Don’t you work for a corporation
  That gets paid and in turn pays you for your ideas
  So you can get by
  Just writing that software?”

“The free software advocates are surviving just fine”

“Typically working as part of academic institutions
  Funded by grants from some of the biggest businesses
  If they think they can outclass people who work directly for the man
  The pot might as well call the stove black”

“This museum is part of a university
  And probably gets funding through it too
  We can donate to it or not
  On the way in or out
  As we choose
  Why shouldn’t everything work that way?”

“Would your company pay you as well as they do
  If everything worked that way?”

“The bar to getting a patent is too high for me to do it
  Without the company’s involvement
  That’s why the big fish win”

“With or without the difficulty of getting patents
  Technology today is too complex for anyone to produce much that’s useful
  Without corporate support
  Other intellectual property is different
  For small fees
  I’ve registered pieces of music as copyrighted
  So I can safely put that music out into the world
  Knowing that if it goes into a Hollywood picture
  That earns big bucks
  I can claim my share
  Should the need arise
  I know how to sue ’em”

By now we had ambled through a large hall
With fascinating paintings on each wall and partition
And had moved on into a room filled with sculptures
“Courts might as well consider the physical world
  More important than intellectual property
  Consider this elegant hand
  Say the artist stole the block of stone from which it was carved
  To whom would it then belong
  The artist
  Or the stone’s original owner?”

“There would be at least two different kinds of law involved
  The law that affects tangible property
  And the law applicable to intellectual property”

“Well it seems pretty clear
  If the artist is a thief
  And the stolen item can be returned
  Then it should be returned no matter what’s been done to it
  I think that’s true even if it’s been rendered more valuable
  By the artist’s work”

“The artist might be sentenced for stealing the stone
  But the sentence couldn’t reasonably include picking up and collecting
  The chippings and shavings
  From which the hand was freed
  So when the sculpting’s done
  The stone’s original owner can never get the stone back
  In its original form”

“Isn’t he or she entitled to as much of it as can be returned?”

“The value of the stone might be substituted
  In dollars
  It may be greater or less
  The owner might claim that there’s less stone than before
  That what was returned generally has less value than what was lost
  Could the court decide whether the artfulness of what remains
  Compensates for the missing stone?
  Why should the court have to use tax dollars to make silly decisions like that?”

“But what of eminent domain and the right to not sell?”

“Those aren’t the same thing
  If I list my home on the market and receive some offers
  I might want to sell to one person
  Not another
  What’s that have to do with eminent domain?”

“Should the court force me to give up something that was stolen
  Or be able to divest me of any property
  Against my will?”

“I too despise giving government that much power
  Yet I’m saying the divestment has already more or less happened
  In the case of the hand
  I don’t see the sense in worrying about this mix of law
  Your example’s too contrived to mean much to me”

“How so?”

“What if I make a machine
  That carefully duplicates this hand
  That can measure its every surface and fold
  Down to the nittiest detail
  That can sculpt its near-perfect likeness out of any random stone
  Sufficiently similar in hardness and luster
  So as to duplicate this hand
  To any extent I want”

“I see
  Then the design of the hand can be the intellectual property of the artist
  While any particular stone can be anyone’s material property”

“You’re claiming that patents and intellectual property law in general
  Are the bane
  Of so-called progress
  Of individual liberty
  Of equality
  Responsible for evils of all kinds
  Up to and including the Great Depression I presume”

“Maybe not quite that bad”

“To tell the truth
  I dislike government generally
  But as long as there are entities
  With more power of any sort
  Than you and I have
  We need a way to protect ourselves from them
  And they’ll keep trying to usurp any protections we put in place
  I’d rather see them all go away
  So the highest technology would be that which can be developed
  By a few people given the basic natural world
  Like Amish technology
  Nothing more than people like you and me can assemble on our own”

“I’m not ready to live that way”

“Who is anymore
  Even the Amish are mostly subverted
  They often work in construction using power tools
  To match the output and productivity of other hired workers
  And since almost no one lives the way the Amish prefer
  That’s why we have government”

“For good or ill
  Government’s more subverted than your Amish
  Nearly all in the interest of big money”

“What can you do about it
  I think your law professor’s wrong
  I don’t agree that law is really about property
  Isn’t it rather about rights?”

“He’s the law professor”

“Law and professor together
  Both of which are the more reasons to distrust him
  And as for attaching importance to abstractions
  Why not just enjoy this museum?”

With that
A security guard appeared
Told us it was closing time
As we meekly obeyed his directive to leave
On our way out
One of us dropped a five-spot in the collection kitty
Which still contained probably less than enough total cash
To pay the guard’s wage for the hour

Thanks always returns

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