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Your thoughts on intellectual property, maps, the military, and more
August 1, 2005

Who Will Own Ideas?
Lawrence Lessig seems to be championing a world that would trend toward stasis (“The People Own Ideas!”). Creative thinking would be the territory of those who were independently wealthy or premeditatedly poor. People desiring to support their families would live in a world where the norm involved applying the equivalent of every filter on Photoshop and GarageBand to bits of someone else’s work. Altruism may feel good in the abstract, but living it rubs human nature the wrong way. If everybody owns ideas, no one owns ideas. And perhaps no one has ideas – or at least any they are willing to share. A generation from now, there will be an underground and then a groundswell of superb proprietary software (and music and art) created by people who value their work and are not willing to cast it into the faceless “open” sea.

James Wish
Medway, MA

There is no such thing as “free.” Somewhere, someone paid the electric bill for that education. As Americans, we have built our world on our capitalist ways: you build, I buy. From Disney to Microsoft, it works. Even the giant of socialism, China, has caught on. Capitalism grows because people love more money (stuff). Giving stuff away promotes only a free-lunch crowd. Promoting the “free” may leave us on the ash heap of history.

York T. Somerville
Pinellas Park, FL

Rather than give Lessig both the first and last word in the intellectual-property debate with Richard Epstein, it would have been fairer to follow his “Rebuttal!” with a final counterpoint. Editor in chief Jason Pontin’s excellent essay (“Digital Properties, June 2005”), which raised points that both Lessig and Epstein missed and brought needed perspective to the subject, accomplished that. I hope that everyone who took the time to read the debate articles also found and read that piece.

Benjamin Philips
Culver City, CA

Jason Pontin asserts that digital rights management is “a useful innovation for digital economies: someone who wanted to keep an e-book, for example, could be charged more than someone who only wanted to read it once.” What about someone like me? I won’t know until I read/view/listen to a work whether or not I want to keep it. What about this situation: I just gave away a Ken Follett book that I had read twice. On beginning the third reading, I realized that it wasn’t worth it to me and I don’t want it taking up space on my bookshelves anymore. People have always been able to give away books legally. Why not digital media? And what price should be charged to the original purchaser in a scenario like the one I just mentioned – considering that he had no idea how long he was going to retain his original copy?

Marc Erickson
Edmonton, Alberta

Open Source on the March
There’s no basis for the mischaracterization of Richard Stallman as having an “antipathy for business” (“How Linux Could Overthrow Microsoft,” June 2005). On the contrary, he has always promoted the idea that free software benefits businesses and users alike. In fact, the GNU General Public License (GPL) has specific provisions for business and sets no restrictions on the price of bundled software–other than that the source code must be made available and be freely redistributable.

Guy Mac
Tucson, AZ

Of Maps and Morals
Maps most certainly have morals (“Do Maps Have Morals?” June 2005). For evidence, just try a Google search on “gerrymander.” Modern political-demographic software has created U.S. congressional districting maps of previously unthinkable refinement in favoring the incumbent. In fact, half the competitive seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2004 election were in one state: Iowa. Why? Well, among other factors, Iowa set rules establishing that when redistricting, “no district shall be drawn for the purpose of augmenting or diluting the voting strength of a language or racial minority group.”

Jonathan Fisher
Clarksville, TN

Wanted: Technology Moonshots
As long as venture capitalists get excited only by things like social networking, we will have only lousy marginal innovations, with returns to match (“Good-Bye to Venture Capital,” June 2005). Where are the “man on the moon” kinds of projects?

Nari Kannan
Pleasanton, CA

The Technology of Killing
I love your magazine, but I have one huge complaint: too often, your articles celebrate the military. I am thinking in particular of the stories about technology used in the Iraq War (“How Technology Failed in Iraq,” November 2004), development of robotic aircraft (“The Ascent of the Robotic Attack Jet,” March 2005), and the U.S. Central Command (“Online at Centcom,” April 2005). The United States spends more than every other country combined on mechanisms of death. I want Technology Review to come out and state that – and to state further that it is wrong to work toward more-efficient killing. I am not some Berkeley hippie with his head in the clouds, but a guy raising a couple kids as a computer consultant. My funding of my government’s killing spree makes me nauseous.

Jason Sjobeck
Portland, OR

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