Friday, March 16, 2012

Copying is Not Theft, its Evolution at Work


Nothing bugs me more than to hear a debate on copyright infringement, because someone inevitably tries to insist that copying is theft and that's why its illegal. You wouldn't allow someone to walk into a Walmart and steal a Compact Disc(CD), so why should you be allowed to steal a song off the Internet. The argument is as flawed as the entire intellectual property system. Copying is not theft, copying is evolution at work.

When we talk about copying, we are really talking about replication. Replication is a process by which something is duplicated, leaving the original unchanged, and allowing the duplicate copy to advance. This process is not to be taken lightly. It's a process which is responsible for all life on this planet, and if life exists elsewhere in the universe, chances are, its because of replication. Replication is as fundamental to the computer as it is to humans.

Think far back, all the way back to about 14 billion years ago. Suddenly, a singularity appears, a fraction of a second later, The Big Bang. In that brief moment all the components in the universe today are created, but they don't actually start out like we see them today, the process takes a long time. In the quickly expanding universe, hydrogen and helium are being distributed everywhere.

Soon this hydrogen and helium naturally coalesce, condensing into what would become the first stars. But these stars are not like the stars we have today, these massive stars are very unstable, and within them a fantastic thing is happening. Hydrogen and helium are combining to make new elements, the heat is becoming more and more intense, the gravity under which all this is happening is growing ever greater, and in moments there is an explosion.

This explosion, called a supernova, is so intense you can't even imagine it, the light from this explosion would be enough to out-brighten all stars in the universe today. All the elements from these stars are flung into the expanding universe. Soon these elements coalesce once again, now made up of clouds of gas, these clouds begin combining into a massive churning ring of energy creating the beginnings of new stars, and like the first stars they too are massive, though not as large as the first ones.

But the gravity of these stars, are also too great and once again they explode, throwing gas and dust into a concentric ring around the center. But at this center is something amazing, a supermassive black hole that's gravity will be responsible for continually churning the gas and dust until the end of time, forming the beginnings of a galaxy. Within this galaxy, the clouds of dust spinning around begin to coalesce once again, forming stars. These stars are tiny compared to the massive stars that once created them, and around these stars clouds of dust begin coalescing into the debris that form planets.

This whole process takes billions of years but in the end we have the planet Earth, but this planet isn't like it is today. The newly created Earth is a spinning ball of molten rock, but slowly over time it cools down, and the process of combining atoms results in the production of water. Now that water has emerged all over the planet, life can begin. Though this process may seem easy, its one of the most complex things found in nature. Only through the process of evolution is life possible.

So in a primordial pool, the beginnings of life were formed. Much of the same process that was used to form the galaxies, stars and planets were used to form life, with one exception. Replication is responsible for the production of life as we know it. As the very first complex molecules began to form, like Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the process of replication began to take hold, rapidly copying information over and over, forming more and more complexity.

These molecules formed into cells, and once again the information was copied, combined and transformed into even more complex life. Over time, this process would move from a primordial pool, to the oceans, and then find itself on land. All the while, this process repeats to finally evolve into all the life that exists on our planet today. 99.99% of the genetic code found in all life on this planet is identical. It is in that .01% that life becomes different.

The process of evolution began a long time ago. Part of the process of evolution is something called natural selection. In the simplest term, natural selection is the process by which lifeforms are discarded to allow stronger lifeforms to flourish. The process of natural selection is responsible for the domination of the lifeforms that exist today.

As the Earth evolved over time, the life that existed also needed to evolve. The environment began to change, and the lifeforms that could survive the change, continued and evolved, while the ones that did not, became extinct. Without replication, the process of natural selection would have resulted in the extinction of all life on earth. You see as molecules formed into cells, this process of natural selection would have destroyed many attempts at the original production of life, resulting in no production of life had it not been for replication. Replication is solely responsible for allowing a clean slate approach to life.

Imagine if you were in your kitchen making a pie, and you started bringing all the ingredients together, but you weren't quite sure what was required to actually make the pie. Now imagine you could use the process of replication to make your pie. Each time you mixed ingredients together and baked it, without knowing exactly what was needed, it might result in total failure. Maybe your pie had too little flour, or not enough salt, or maybe too much butter. In any case that's a lot of do-overs. But you have replication, so each time you get your ingredients together, you replicate them, so when the ingredients are consumed during the creation of the pie, this won't result in a total loss. Eventually with time, you will produce the perfect pie. So in essence life is a wonderfully complex pie.

Over time, animals developed brains, and once again the process of replication is at work. The brain is like a sponge that can process vasts amounts of information that allow animals to interact with their environment. But without replication information learned by one animal would be useful only to that animal and when that animal died, the information would be lost forever. Through reproduction, animals are given the ability to pass on their genetic code, but children are once again a clean slate, and only through the process of replication do children become useful adults.

Adults pass the information which they have learned, to their children, thus replicating it. The information stored in the adult hasn't changed, but it has been copied to a new brain, which can then be passed on to their children, continuing the process of replication. This process is found in all animals, including humans. It is only through the process of replication that humans have evolved to be the most dominate lifeform on this planet. You may not think about it much, in fact you may have never really thought about it.

Although you have amassed some information through your own discovery, it is more likely that the information contained within your brain was amassed largely through the replication of ideas. Humans are interactive beings, we spend most of our time in the presence of other humans, and quite often that time is spent talking to one another. You may not consider it, but when you speak to another human, the content, your words are being replicated exactly in the mind of the person you are speaking with. In fact our brains are replicating information all the time.

Replication is found in every facet of life, from our schools, to our jobs, to interactions with our friends, family and strangers. We are a culture of beings who have spent our existence sharing information with each other, maybe without ever really truly thinking about it. Without replication humans would learn nothing, because the knowledge contained without one person's brain would die with them. Each human would have to discover the nature of the universe themselves, more information than one person could learn in an entire lifetime. In fact we've been here a long time, so in reality the information each of us can learn today came little by little passing on from person to person from the discovery of things found over the course of their lifetime.

Contained within the knowledge base of human existence are the contents of human thought replicated from human to human over thousands of years. Replication and evolution work together harmoniously, allowing things to evolve that serve to better replicate information. For instance, humans developed speech, then language, then written word. These processes, allow for better replication of information from one brain to another. Although, showing someone how to do something is often better for some, it's not a replacement for the efficiency of writing it down and sharing it with large amounts of people.

After all, each one of us is only one person and we could spend our lives teaching others how to do some specific task, but we are limited by the audience we can reach and the amount of time it takes to teach that audience a particular task. With the discovery of spoken word and then the written word, human society has advanced more than anything else in the world, allowing vast quantities of data to be saved for everyone over the entire span of human existence.

Each one of us owes a debt of gratitude to the ones who came before us that took the time to document their lives. In the end, all we are, is what impact we make on the world. For some of us, having children is our way of passing on information, for others, they give lectures, and still for others they write things down.

Much of the technology that has been invented came through the process of replication, thoughts turn into ideas, ideas into concepts and concepts into inventions. What you may not think about is where do these great ideas come from? Well for most of us, original thought is as unlikely as a pig that can fly, and for that reason alone, most of the inventions you are using today, came not from original thought but from the ideas of others.

Thomas Edison was a great inventor and often credited with the invention of the electric light bulb, however Edison did not invent the light bulb, but merely copied the idea from Humphry Davy. Henry Ford, often wrongly credited with the invention of the self-propelled automobile, was actually invented by Karl Benz. Nikola Tesla, often referred to as the “Father of Wireless Telegraphy”, didn't start out being called that, that's because for a long time the radio was thought to be invented by Guglielmo Marconi, but Tesla's radio actually came years before. Powered flight is often, mistakenly credited with being invented by Orville and Wilbur Wright, however only nine months before, Richard Pearse achieved the same thing.

The difference between the persons who were credited with the inventions and the persons who actually invented them is often merely a matter of timing and marketing. Often inventors show their inventions off to the world, only to find no one is watching or listening. Very often the best inventors are also the best showmen.

A prime example of this is the case of Thomas Edison who is well known all over the world and considered to be one of the most prolific of all time. Thomas Edison was a master showmen, and also quite the business man. So it comes to most a surprise that he had nothing to do with electricity, at least not the modern kind. In truth we owe our modern lives to a not well known, and often misunderstood man, named Nikola Tesla. Tesla's invention of the AC Current that flows in all of our homes and is responsible for powering all the technologies we have today, did not win him any awards, in fact he was not even recognized as the inventor at the time. Tesla was working for George Westinghouse at the time, and Westinghouse took credit for Tesla's work.

Putting the actual inventions aside for a moment, we are left with original thought. This concept is about as foreign to a human as is a human breathing under water. Even the actual inventors, can't truly have invented the product themselves because that would imply that the invention came from an original thought. But as I've already addressed, humans don't really have original thoughts, we are all products of replication, even down to what we wear, drive, drink and eat.

All of us are passed ideas, subliminally, without even knowing, that dictate the functions of our lives. When you see someone eating a slice of pizza, you get a craving to want to have a slice too. You didn't think this up yourself, it came from the deepest recesses of your mind, having tasted or smelled pizza at least once before. The information was copied into your subconscious to be accessed whenever you came in contact with pizza. But what about when I don't see a slice of pizza but suddenly get a craving to eat it? That is still part of the subconscious mind at work, because information in the mind is tied together like strings. You can think of the mind like a large ball of yarn where all the parts of the yarn are touching each other.

You have absolutely no idea in your brain how anything is linked together, this is entirely done automatically by the brain, but you will probably know the second it happens. For some people, seeing that slice of pizza, brings back a childhood memory of their mother slaving over a hot stove, smells of pizza in the air as their mother bakes it, for others it brings back a memory of a time spent in Italy, or of a time when you just had a fantastic slice of pizza. We never really know when this will happen or if it will happen, because most of the inner workings of the mind is still a great mystery to us.

But what we know is that the things we learn, experienced through our own discovery or through the action of others, is stored in our brains through replication. Because of this the idea that any person can truly own a thought is ridiculous beyond comprehension. We are all products of the ideas that came from others before us, and others before them, and so on and so forth. So the things that were done thousands of years before you were born all aided in someway to the knowledge contained in your brain. Intellectual Property is the perceived ownership of an original thought.

The problem with this idea, is how do you really know that the thought you had was original at all? Looking back at that ball of yarn, its easy to understand that an idea which you believed to be original, actually came from the recesses of your mind, conceived in part by sensory input. That is to say, eating a slice of pizza, made me think about inventing a new kind of pizza oven. Even if the pizza oven is new, the idea is not, and you can't possibly claim ownership of an idea, because you didn't invent pizza, ovens, cooking, or fire for that matter. And you didn't invent all the little things that went into making those things possible.

But neither did the inventors who were credited with those inventions, because they too would also be influenced by sensory input, causing them to believe they had an original thought. This cycle continues on until all we are left with are maybe the first humans to ever stand up, pick up a stick and use it to build something.

So while the invention of the computer is certainly a momentous occasion in history, it too owes its very existence to all the inventions and ideas that came before it. Computers are sometimes referred to by intellectual property lawyers as “Theft facilitation devices.” This couldn't be farther from the truth. Computers were invented by humans, and so it would make sense that the knowledge that goes into a computer would be very human like. I'm not saying computers are the same as humans, only that computers are merely an extension of human evolution.

Much like the spoken and written words that came long ago that were used to replicate information, so to is the computer. Computers were never designed with the idea that they would be copying machines, its simply a function of human evolution that found its way intertwined into the design of the computer. We humans are biological replicating machines, wouldn't it make sense that the machines we make to handle our everyday lives might also replicate human behavior. Intellectual property holders like to complain that the computer's primary function is to steal their property by allowing any data to be copied. This has a much less sinister reason than the theft of your intellectual property.

The reality is everything that functions will eventually function no more. Computers typically last ten years, but the disks contained within them, used to store data last even less time, sometimes only a few years. The primary reason why data can be copied on a computer is the same reason why it can be copied from human to human, redundancy. If I sit in front of my computer and type out a long book on my obsession with eating shellfish, a staggering set of 250 pages on the subject, and my computer dies after I finish it, I will have lost all the time, and maybe some of the thoughts I only had while typing away. That information is lost forever, except maybe, the copy that was contained in my mind, parts of which can be recalled maybe only by eating my beloved shellfish.

But computers don't work like that, because if they did we wouldn't be using them as a tool of our everyday lives. Instead, we save a copy of the book on shellfish to the computer's internal disk, we save a copy to a flashdrive, and we also save a copy somewhere in the cloud. You see if we lose any one of these copies we are still okay, and the more we copy, the more redundancy we get. We don't do this just on computers, its really a way of life for most of us.

The government stores endless amounts of paperwork here, there and everywhere, copies of copies all over for everyone to have. We mass produce products all the time, copying over and over again, so if one breaks we have another to take its place. The fact is replication is one of foundations of our existence. Asking a human if he wants to copy and share something is like asking a dog if he wants a bone.

So why is it that 95 % of humans understand that copying and sharing are simply a part of our nature, but that 5% of us who consider themselves intellectual property holders get to dictate what the other 95% of us do? Intellectual property holders are very good showmen. This all goes back to showmanship and marketing. Large corporations with vast amounts of wealth are allowed to use that wealth to indoctrinate others to their ideas. Through much whining, corporations like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have tried to convince people they are suffering.

Let's be clear, the RIAA and MPAA don't create anything, unless you count headaches. They are representatives of others who create content and hold these so-called intellectual properties. The problem is that all their attempts at convincing the general public to follow their way of thinking has largely fallen on deaf ears. The reason for this is 95% of us are not greedy, rich corporations and so the complaints they have are largely ignored.

These corporations know that what they really need are like minded individuals, not people who feel the same way about intellectual property mind you, but rather immoral, greedy, whining, rich folks...our Congress. That's right Washington D.C. the place where you can get anything written into law, for the right price. The place where a sense of right and wrong are dictated by the amount of cash funneled into so-called campaign contributions. And so our government who fall in that 5% are allowed to dictate what the other 95% of us are allowed to do. But I can't blame our government entirely, after all this is happening all over the world. Many governments, usually forced on by the US government, are trying to force laws upon their people that contradict human nature.

Copying is not theft. When you copy something, you have a copy and now I have a copy, theft implies that something is taken away. Theft is when I take something from you and I have it and now you have nothing. When I copy something, you still have your copy of it, having suffered no loss at all. In fact in terms of whats good for society, by replicating it, we both have copies and are now better for each having our own copy.

When this country was founded, laws were put into place that protected intellectual property, but only for 14 years, before it went into the public domain. The public domain can be likened to the Internet, in so much as all the knowledge of human existence can be found somewhere on the Internet. The point of the public domain is that all the thoughts, ideas, and inventions of human existence really came from everyone working together to begin with, and really belong to everyone as a whole.

Things in the public domain are saved for eternity to be used by anyone and everyone.

Unfortunately, as we have progressed as a society the ideas of old have gotten lost, mixed in with new ideas that are bad ideas, detrimental to the function of human existence. We are products of replication, we owe everything to it, we must set aside our need to own everything as individuals, and instead think of humanity as a whole. If we continue to hold onto our thoughts, locking them away safely from the prying eyes of others, content in the fact that we own them, we will not learn anything new. It is only through replicated ideas that we evolve, and the second we stop sharing is the second that we stop learning, until one day we all die off, and there are no ideas left to share.

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