February 3rd, 2004


(no subject)

Gaming cancelled this evening, so I'm at home.

Feeling overtired and generally weary, so in many ways glad gaming wasn't on.

Oh for a life with more sleep in it.

(no subject)

I don't mean this to apply this to anyone specifically.

Just everyone generally.

Actually you have no sense about these things.  You have no vibe, you have terrible taste in men and your desire to be coupled up will always and forever drown out any small sense of self or self-worth that you have.

- The West Wing


(following on from an argument earlier at the LJ meetup)

We were discussing property and I stated my definition of property.  Lilian countered that this was nothing like the legal definition of property.  And I replied that I wasn't trying for a legal definition of property.  Law is something that arrives _after_ the fact - an attempt to codify the way that we believe society should work and to enforce that structure.  I wanted to talk about the way that people feel about property and the way they deal with it.  when people say "This is mine" what do they actually mean?  So, take the following with a large dose of IMHO and feel free to poke holes in it.

Oh, and I'm not talking about 'rights' here.  Right and Wrong aren't things that interest me particularly in the greater scheme of things, and the definitions of these have changed so much over time, while the way that your average person thinks about property hasn't, really.  

Property consists of two parts - access and control.  If you don't both have access and control other people's access to something you don't really own it.

Access - say, for instance, you buy a book.  If they didn't give you that book or let you take it away with you, you wouldn't really think you owned it.  If you bought a house but weren't allowed in, then it's not really yours, is it?  You can, obviously, pass on those rights to others, but unless they revert to you at some point in the future most people wouldn't consider you to really own it.

Control - Let's say you bought a house.  And you could go into it at any time.  But you couldn't stop others doing likewise and had no power to remove people from it.  Suddenly it wouldn't seem much like your house any more, would it?  Unless you can put a fence around it and say "hands off", it's a responsibility, not a property.  Similarly, if you can't stop someone wandering in and reading your books then you're a library, not a book owner.

So, taking a feudal example, everything is actually the property of the king, because it is he who controls the access to everything and he is never denied access to anything.  In the modern world, we _largely_ own our belongings, because we (indirectly) pay people to deter others from wandering off with 'our' belongings.  But when theft becomes endemic, property loses some of its meaning - in Amsterdam people virtually expect their bicycles to be stolen, to such an extent that they don't consider them to be their property in the normal manner.  I remember a friend saying "My bike got nicked, so I bought another one from a junkie." in the same way that I might mention running out of milk and getting some more from the corner shop.  In the UK you don't, in some ways, own the land you 'bought', because certain rights are withheld by the state (public footpaths, the right to roam, etc.) and you are charged a fee for the continued right to ownership.

The problem with intellectual property (which isn't property and thinking of it like property is what causes most of the mistakes people make when thinking of it) is that the control half of the equation has suddenly vanished.  It used to be that if you produced music you both had access to it and controlled other people's access.  Nowadays you _cannot_ stop other people accessing it, copying it, giving it to their friends and generally doing what they like with it.  You can make life more difficult for the occasional person, but by and large the battle's been lost - Napster and it's successors proved that the free movement of bits is inevitable.  And in the modern world virtually everything is made of bits.  If you can't stop people running off with 'your' music, is it yours any more?  Are we going to see a sea change in attitude over the next generation, to a point where people no longer think of music as beloning to anyone, any more than the sounds of birds tweeting does?  Or are they going to find a way to bring everything under control again?

I don't think they can.  But what do I know, I'm off to bed.