‘The Economy of Ideas’ by John Perry Barlow, the co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is an excellent (if a little long – but well worth reading) essay published in 1994 in Wired Magazine. I would be a visionary essay were it published today! Here, Barlow warns us that in the coming years, corporate censorship could be the greatest danger to our freedom of speech.
A provocative – but well reasoned – position, to say the least.
“Throughout the history of copyrights and patents, the proprietary assertions of thinkers have been focused not on their ideas but on the expression of those ideas. The ideas themselves, as well as facts about the phenomena of the world, were considered to be the collective property of humanity.”
“Notions of property, value, ownership, and the nature of wealth itself are changing more fundamentally than at any time since the Sumerians first poked cuneiform into wet clay and called it stored grain. Only a very few people are aware of the enormity of this shift, and fewer of them are lawyers or public officials.”
“Whenever there is such profound divergence between law and social practice, it is not society that adapts. Against the swift tide of custom, the software publishers’ current practice of hanging a few visible scapegoats is so obviously capricious as to only further diminish respect for the law. “
“I believe that law, as we understand it, was developed to protect the interests which arose in the two economic “waves” which Alvin Toffler accurately identified in The Third Wave. The First Wave was agriculturally based and required law to order ownership of the principal source of production, land. In the Second Wave, manufacturing became the economic mainspring, and the structure of modern law grew around the centralized institutions that needed protection for their reserves of capital, labor, and hardware.
Both of these economic systems required stability. Their laws were designed to resist change and to assure some equability of distribution within a fairly static social framework. The empty niches had to be constrained to preserve the predictability necessary to either land stewardship or capital formation.
In the Third Wave we have now entered, information to a large extent replaces land, capital, and hardware, and information is most at home in a much more fluid and adaptable environment. The Third Wave is likely to bring a fundamental shift in the purposes and methods of law which will affect far more than simply those statutes which govern intellectual property.” (my emphasis)
Barlow makes the case that corporate interests will, if allowed, protect their investment in the ‘ideas’ which are the ‘currency’ of the Third Wave – and that could involve significant curbing of our freedom of expression.
Interestingly enough, I have come across this video (and there are many others which raise this issue) that might just demonstrate a tiny little bit of what Barlow is talking about:
It is something to ponder….