Boundaries of Ownership
It is important that I make this very clear and that I do so at the earliest possible moment. I must do this because the essay that you are reading is about intellectual property, and that means that this essay must be self-referential. When one writes or speaks or communicates in any way about intellectual property, one is dealing with some of the most basic rules of the very medium in which one is operating. There is no neutral ground here, no possibility of genuine detachment or objectivity. Either I am going to claim the protection of the current laws that apply in the United States and under the World Intellectual Property Organization, or I am not.
So here it is: I am not.
There is a name just under the title of this essay, but that name has no connection with any concept of ownership. What you read here is not controlled by any copyrights, trademarks, service marks, patents, trade secrets, or any other kind of intellectual property. The words on this page are not an "authoritative" version of this essay; no such version exists, and--as far as I am concerned--no such version ever will exist. The only limits on what you can do with this essay and the words in it are the limits imposed by the laws of physics and the extent of your imagination. As the available technologies advance, the limits will move outward, and you will be able to do more and more things with these words. No matter what you do with this material, I will not send lawyers chasing after you demanding royalties or anything else. If you do get into some sort of trouble for using something from this paper, that trouble won't be started by me.
Why am I doing this? Why am I abandoning copyright protection for my own creation, for something that I might eventually be able to make some money from? I am not an independently wealthy dilettante doing all of my writing purely as some sort of hobby; my wife and I are both struggling along on the meager money we get paid for teaching. My bachelor's degree is in writing (technical writing, to be precise), and I am working on a master's degree in the same field--so why don't I act the way that you would expect a writer to act? Why should I toss away control over my own work with such apparent recklessness?
The simplest answer is this: I don't think that I actually have any control in the first place. Any person with a cheap personal computer, a cheap Internet connection, and extremely cheap software has the ability to take anything that can be seen or heard, modify it in any way they choose, make unlimited numbers of copies, and send those copies anywhere in the world. If one reads the previous sentence carefully, one can find details to quibble over; but the proof of its basic truth stands in front of millions of people every time that they turn their computers on, whether these people notice it or not. I see the obviousness of it every day that I use a computer, which is practically every day. It is...