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Reading a transcript of Douglas recent speech tonight inspired me to share my little article - reproduced below - on the death of the .coms. Amongst other things, I was struck by Douglas trenchant thoughts on the obstcacles to social and socio-technical progress represented by the current intellectual property laws and the vested interests they protect.
As he puts it:"...we are passing increasingly draconian laws to protect the economic value of copies of information. In the US, we are even contemplating laws that would require hardware manufacturers to take steps to encrypt and protect copies (ref. 2) ...We are doing this while entering a digital era in which the marginal cost of a copy is zero - at a time where the very meaning and significance of the notion of "copy" has changed. It is as if we are trying to erect dikes, using laws, to keep the future from flooding in.. "
Here's my take on the issue:
The secret behind the death of the dot.coms.
Info tech is inherently a post-scarcity "communist" technology. Every Information technology insider knows this fact superficially in the sense that Information can be hard work to produce but is cheap or free to copy. But the implications are only beginning to manifest.
The death of the dot.coms; the difficulties of publishing and collecting cash for it on the net; the music and film industries fears and travials ala napster; the difficulties in getting people to pay for *any* online services; and last but not least the massive `piracy' of software, are just the early harbingers of the impacts.
This is not to say that people don't still have to work hard, at this juncture, to produce content or code. But, as `code' - in the broad sense of computer code, DNA code, and so forth - becomes ever more central in operating machines, generating knowledge, mediating human cooperation, and in the production of all forms of human wealth, the whole edifice of capitalism will be called into question.
This is a somewhat future prospect, but the indicatores are there.
There were premature expections of this `calling into question' in the late 1980's, but robotic technology in particular has taken longer, and involves far more research and complexitiy, than was then anticipated.
Still, research - on robotic vision, movement, distributed robotic intelligence, and so forth - marches on. And the advent of new biotechnological advances, albeit fraught with ethical and scientific complexity, adds impetus to the `march of the code'.
Moreover, to paraphrase the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, we are seeing the rise of `Two, three, many Napsters'. No sooner is one shut down than another one or two spring up
Similar `illegal' cloning of new biotechnological advances (themselves a form of cloning and modification of nature) and of all other forms of code are inevitable. Intellectual property laws are still useful in certain respects at this juncture. But they can no more constrain these developments than the old feudal laws and social forms could constrain the radically new relationships which arose with industrial capitalism.
The secret behind the death of the dot.coms was not simply that they lacked a `good business model'.
The real secret is this: they were in fact trying to constrain post-scarcity processes within a scarcity-based economics. Hence, the `race to the bottom' - one creates an online service with a relatively high cost; the next clones and perhaps improves on the first but charges less; and the third gives the thing away.
As *all* human wealth increasingly comes to rely on cooperation in the production, use, and sharing of code, information, and knowledge, the scarcity-based social relations of `information ownership' will be inexorably called into question.
At least, from my perspective, that's how it looks at the moment.