I occasionally find myself talking with someone about facebook chat or google chat and I’ll say “I sorta invented that” and point them to my Feb 2002 blog entry where I built and released to the wild what was one of the earliest embeddable DHTML chat windows, using my also free and open what-was-not-yet-called-Ajax library I released in 2000, about 5 years before many people came along and pushed the state of the art much further down the road.
Invariably I am told that I should be rich and that all those sites and people “stole” my ideas. I disagree and say that these were all perfectly obvious inventions to me and all the others who came after me and that it was my duty to the net to feed my work back into it such that folks could stand on my shoulders as I had stood on those of others.
That is how the net works – or at least it used to. It still does in open development circles but the content and patent industries are fighting hard to brainwash everyone that knowledge is inherently owned.
This is what it’s all about, from a pure philosophical perspective:
Anything that is knowable is a part of the universe of truth that has no owner and no bounds. The invention or discovery of anything results in the exposure of one or more hitherto undocumented universal truths to the collected human record.
The true and original purpose of copyright and patents is to create a temporary legal fiction which acts in many respects like ownership, conferring upon an individual person rights to control the use and dissemination of morsels of universal truth which they had the luck and/or tenacity to first identify, so they can be recompensed for their contribution to the universe’s growing stockpile of exposed truth for the benefit of all humanity.
The legal expansion to include corporate personhood and subsequent term extensions tending towards permanence of the legal assignment of ownership equivalence amounts to the expropriation and destruction of large parts of humanity’s natural knowledge resources.
It’s not too much different from bulldozing the rainforest.