A history of copyright.

The events I am about to tell you happened in a place not too far away from here, the nation of Noledge.

The tragic and absurd history of Noledge is well known across all the close nations and it is still thought today in all the schools hoping that future generations won’t make the same mistakes.
Noledge was a flourishing nation, many recent studies provided evidences that the seed of civilisation and culture was indeed in the “enlightened nation” (that is how Noledge was called at the time).

But on the year 1036 something happened that would change their fate for ever.

Stobs, a carpenter, was preparing the usual jelly solution used to reduce the friction between two rubbing objects. It was a composite known to any carpenter, manual worker or builder, it was enough to apply a thin layer of the solution on both side of two objects and the friction between them was substantially reduced. That allowed to move big object (like stones, trees and even small construction) by simply dragging them.
That morning Stobs, probably not fully awakened and still recovering from the night out, made a mistake when mixing the base ingredients of the solution.
Instead of blending water, chaol powder and litmo, he mixed the chaol with flota and blended the composition with spirit (same colour as water).
He realised he had done something wrong when noticing that the composition didn’t have the usual blackish nuance and was fluffy instead of greasy.
At the first time he didn’t give much importance to what he had done, poured the wrong mix in the sink and started over, mistakes can always happen after all.
This time he did everything in the right way and when he was done poured the solution in his work bucket and placed the rest in the same sink where he had just disposed of the fluffy mistake.
While sharpening his working chisel he noticed something very unusual, the pot and sleeve used to prepare the mix were floating over the sink.

They stayed in mid-air like if they were hanging from invisible threads.

Stobs was astonished, he waved a hand under the pot and found no resistance, the only thing he could feel was air and so when waving over it.
He sat down on a stool and started thinking, the first logical explanation that came to his mind was magic, and the objects were floating because of some magic spell. He quickly dismissed this idea since the last remnants of magic arts had disappeared after the last war (1036 year ago).
He looked again in the sink and remembered the fluffy greyish substance spread all over the bottom right under the flying utensils.
He quickly took another pot a prepared the same wrong solution he had done earlier: chaol, flota and spirit. He spread the composition on a wooden plan and placed some utensils over it, and waited.
After few moments the utensils started to float.
He fell on his knees, speechless, he just invented something that would have changed the world.
He spent the entire morning doing tests and discovered other interesting properties of his invention, the thicker the layer of solution the heavier the floating objects could be; with a two fingers layer under his feet he managed to float in the air himself.
He even gave a name to his invention, iFly.

What to do now? Off course, make money.

The following weeks the name Stobs and his iFly was all over the city and it shouldn’t be surprising since his invention revolutionised transportation, manufacturing, building and many other things.

A horse could drag up to 20 people on it sited on a carriage without wheels, a floating carriage.
Manual workers could move big loads or pack of materials simply pushing them, like they were floating on a pool of salt water.

In a month Stobs became one of the richest person in all Noledge.
But, there is always a “but”, other carpenters didn’t simply sit down and admire how their friend/competitor was booming, they started to reproduce the solution themselves.
After many trials Fato succeeded and made his own floating paste.

Wealth often creates avidity and Stobs didn’t like the idea that someone else was taking advantage of his invention and stealing his potential profits.
He went to the city government and demanded Fato to be prohibited of producing and selling the surrogate of his solution.
The government couldn’t do much since there weren’t any laws impeding people to make their own business.
“Well, what can we do about it? He found out how to make another version of your iFly, probably he was as good, or as lucky, as you.” This was the answer he got from the governor.

Things started to degenerate when Fato gave out for free the instructions on how to produce the floating paste to a friend of his, a farmer.

Stobs took another action, he went to meet the governor again and proposed him to make a new law, a law prohibiting anyone to produce and commercialise his floating solution. The governor, sceptic in the beginning about the possibility of making such a law, quickly changed his mind when Stobs placed in front of him a chest full of Tokens (the currency used in Noledge).

Three days later a new law was promulgated across the city: the Copyright law.
The law sanctioned that anyone was able to put a patent on a new invention, be it physical or intellectual. The patent was then displayed at the ground floor of the central government building.
A typical patent contained the name of the invention, the name of the inventors and the following statement:

All rights reserved. No part of this invention may be reproduced, distributed, or transferred in any form or by any means, including speaking, drawing, or other verbal or written methods, without the prior written permission of the inventor, except in the case of brief shows and certain other uses permitted by copyright law.

Infringement of the copyright law was punished with a pecuniary sanction, the owner of the patent was to be given all the money gained by taking advantage of the copied invention.
The governor soon tasted the possibility to exploit this situation to make more money on its own and agreed to create a special copyright police assigned to control the entire city and prosecute any copyright infringement.
The copyright police would receive 10% of the retrieved sum.

Fato was condemned to pay a fine so high that he was forced to sell almost all his belongings, similar sort happened to the farmer he gave the solution to.
Having nothing left but some old clothes and useless utensils, Fato moved from Noledge to a nearby small yet developing city, Shair.

The law created a vicious circle that in no more than 30 years destroyed the city of Noledge.

After the law became effective people radically changed their way of thinking and working.

Every manufacture or artisan started to produce mass utensils and products only for the purpose of putting them under the copyright protection and hopping someone would infringe the law allowing them to make money out of it.
The quality of the products got worst and worst, it was not important anymore that a product would function correctly and produce value for its users. The main goal now was to produce something that was alike not anything already existed and put a patent on it.

It was mad rush to the copyright abyss.

The worst thing was that once a product was patented anyone who wanted to use it had to pay a given sum of money (I don’t remember now how it was calculated) and the more the products fell under the copyright law and the less the poorer people could afford to buy them.
The copyright cancer soon infected the food production as well including the methods for preparing meals.
Rolbad was very smart, during the night he produced 10 forms of bread loaf with white flour and 10 with brown flour, the day after he had already patented 20 breads forms.
From one day to another the price of a 500g bread loaf raised from 3 tokens to 5.

I remember when Alob, a blacksmith I have known for long time, produced a simple metal bucket a painted it in red, he liked the colour and decided to make 15 of them. Setab, a woman working at the training centre passed by and noticed the buckets, she didn’t lose time and run to the government building to check whether the red buckets haven’t patented yet.
The wall, initially intended to contain the patent posters, was not enough to contain all the growing papers, the governor was forced to dedicate four entire rooms for that purpose.
Well, the bucket were not patented and Setab didn’t hesitate a second to exploit the situation. She run home took a paper and a pencil a started to sketch different buckets in different red nuances.
That was enough to prove the copyright office that Alob the blacksmith had stolen her idea and demanded compensation. Meanwhile Alob has sold three of the buckets he had produced and was forced to give the corresponding money to Setab, and off course he couldn’t do anything but dispose of all the other buckets he had already made.

I remember telling him not to get discouraged and produce other buckets of different colours and put a patent on all of them but he didn’t want to have anything to do it and he let go. I remember he closed his shop short after.

Final consumers were often caught in a situation of captive demand, everything they needed from food to working materials were over-priced because of the copyright compensation.

And this was only the beginning, the copyright cancer didn’t just destroyed products and food, the infection propagated to medical care and, I am not joking, to the very culture of Noledge.

Medical treatments were patented, simple herbal solutions used by almost anyone who suffered stomach or head ache were patented and priced.
The infusion of Tef leaves was an excellent remedy for head ache and you could find Tef leaves anywhere around Noledge. That was over, if the copyright police caught you making an infusion without paying the corresponding fee you would have been in trouble.

School and universities were in chaos since the patenting madness didn’t spare words and sentences.
Now, this might seem absurd, but saying “How is life?” or “May I help you?” or “Enjoy!” to someone was a copyright infringement.

The level of alphabetisation dropped constantly, every journal or book became much more expensive because of the copyright law. People who couldn’t afford to buy their right to use all the words they wanted gave up the language of Noledge and started speaking the languages from the nearby nations.

The central government realised what was happening to late, the power of the corporations owning most of the patents had become so big that the government itself was powerless.

It was the end, after less than 30 years from the creation of the copyright law the city of Noledge, the most important cultural centre among all the nations was reduced to a desolate void.

Today Noledge is a ghost town, the population migrated to the nearby nations while members of the government and the most important corporations that gained so much power during the copyright madness disappeared and still their whereabouts is unknown.
Since the city has been abandoned no attempts have been made to reconstruct or make it liveable again, people are still scared about the city and don’t even dare to get into it.
There is a legend saying the last thing to be patented was the oxygen and those who couldn’t afford to pay for the use of oxygen died of asphyxia, moreover the patent is still valid today and whoever enter the city will chock to death, but it is a legend.

As a governor of the city of Shair, I will make sure that the history of Noledge will never be forgotten as proof of the risk of not letting ideas circulate freely.
The city of Shair doesn’t allow any form of copyright or patenting, any new invention or ideas must be shared with the rest of the population. As a central government we finance all innovations and inventions and make sure anyone can benefit from them. No one loses profit and no one loses utility.
Some people still ask me where we get the money to finance all the developments and researches, and for the hundredth time I need to remind them than we, the central government, issue our own fiat tokens (the money), we create them out of thin air and cannot run out of them.

Next time I will tell you about the current law in Shair, the RightToCopy law.
The very essence of our civilisation, what allowed us to develop from beasts to humans, sharing knowledge.

 

 Fato, Governor of Shair

 

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