The military value of shortening copyright

post by DataPacRat · 2013-03-09T21:38:11.227Z · score: -7 (14 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 16 comments

A few ideas I've recently read (including this one) have sparked the following line of reasoning; and I'm curious what the general LW opinion on the idea chain might be.


If two neighbouring societies are unequally skilled at the art of war, then the worse one will soon come to resemble the better; either by being taken over outright, or out competed and displaced, or adopting their neighbour's attributes out of sheer self-defense. Thus, by knowing what is required to win a fight, and what it takes to support that requirement, you can make a reasonable guess about the shapes of the societies.

Part of the Agricultural Revolution, the shift from bands of hunter-gatherers to fixed settlements, was the development of formal standing armies. It took heavy taxes to support them, and a centralized bureaucracy to manage them, resulting in the Classical Empires: Babylon, Rome, and the Aztecs had a great deal in common. Later, improved metallurgy and arms resulted in heavily-armoured knights who could hold off any number of unskilled peasants... and the manors required to support them resulted in the feudal system. Later, around the Renaissance, crossbows, pikes, and guns unseated the knight from military dominance; and the system that best supported that sort of force turned out to be the republic. Later, the Industrial Revolution kicked this sort of thing into high gear, with new military paradigms arising every few decades: ironclads, tanks, planes, nukes. Supporting all of these required the economy to be cranked up to the maximum degree possible to make all that stuff, and scientific research as well to figure out the next trick. As it happens, the form of society that seems to work best at that is something resembling a liberal democracy. (At least, more than it resembles a military junta.)

Thus, if you want to predict what future societies will look like, a viable approach could be to examine this present-day societies which do the most and best science, and figuring out what lets them do that. For example - having enough freedom of expression to allow unpopular ideas to be evaluated on their merits.

This also begs the question, if that's what things will look like later, why don't they look that way already? One strong possibility for the answer: those powerful people who don't care about any of the above, but only about their own immediate short-term gain, regardless of what damage they do to the society surrounding them. Such entrenched interests act as a drag, preventing both the economy and scientific research from proceeding at maximum speed... And, thus, whether they are willing to admit it or not, their behaviour is sabotaging their society's odds of success in its next war; thus increasing the odds that the very social systems they exploited to enrich themselves will be replaced by force (instead of by gradual evolution as new social forms are demonstrated to work better).

Thus: as it has been mathematically proven that a copyright period of more than 15 years causes harm to the overall economy (while a small group reaps obscene profits)*, anyone who tries extending copyright beyond that length is traitorously allowing foreign powers to gain a military advantage, and risking the takeover of their countrymen's government by alien interests, for nothing more than their own personal aggrandizement.

The only rational conclusion: You must work to shorten copyright... to protect your children.




One of the best ways I know of to work towards a social change is to live that change yourself, accepting the negatives even though the positives don't exist yet. In this case - the above reasoning may lead me to decide to declare that, to the best of my ability, I will try not to pursue any copyright claims on any of my work that has been published more than 15 years previously (while still accepting any remuneration from anyone who wishes to thank me for such work anyway). While for me this is a symbolic gesture at best, as best as my back-of-the-envelope math can figure out, for people who actually have money-making copyright claims, the odds that their own gesture will have a positive effect scales roughly evenly with the potential profit they stand to lose.

I'm seeking out at least a couple of different perspectives, to get some further feedback on how erroneous my reasoning might be.



*: Source: http://www.rufuspollock.org/economics/papers/optimal_copyright.pdf , where, even when granting the longer-copyright side the benefit of the doubt on every questionable assumption, the maximum beneficial length of copyright was still found to be no more than 14 years.)

16 comments

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comment by gwern · 2013-03-09T22:46:50.708Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

So to summarize:

  1. long copyright terms slow economic growth
  2. slower economic growth reduces a country's growth in military power
  3. a reduction in growth of military power makes a country less safe

Even granting #1, #3 doesn't follow. An increase in absolute military power can make a country less safe by sparking arms races, destabilizing a regional balance of power, or just increasing the risks of the same number of military conflicts (eg. atomic bombs made no one safer even as they represented a quantum leap in military power for every country in the nuclear club). So, any increment of military power increase has no clear relation to safety.

Worse, what really matters is relative military power. It doesn't matter if North Korea has finally developed ICBM-sized nukes if in the same time period, the US has developed AGI-powered nanobots (with freaking lasers on their heads) and can infiltrate billions anywhere in North Korea. Reductions in copyright may favor another country by reducing the licensing fees they pay either directly or in legal actions and interference and speeding up their growth. We could imagine a tiny rich industrialized country eliminating copyright and aiding the transfer of all its IP to a neighboring poor behemoth - we would expect both to grow, but the poor neighbor will grow much faster as part of its convergence and may be able to field far more dangerous military forces than the small rich one.

comment by DataPacRat · 2013-03-09T23:16:19.219Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's a fair summary of my thought process, yes.

One term I thought about including was "Red Queen's Race" - on a decades-long scale, with the general pace of scientific progress worldwide, societies have to research as hard as they can just to stay in the same place.

Another complication worth considering is that not all data is copyrighted; the problem copyright is claimed to have been initially developed to solve was too many people keeping their information as unpublished trade secrets. When Enigma was cracked, that was kept as an unpublished secret for quite some time; as are a number of present-day secrets, such as nuclear warhead designs. So even if copyright was shrunk to a single year, or less, that doesn't necessarily imply the immediate spread of next-generation military technology to one's neighbours.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-03-09T23:22:11.746Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

on a decades-long scale, with the general pace of scientific progress worldwide, societies have to research as hard as they can just to stay in the same place.

Anyone who has played the Civilization series (on any real difficulty level) has no doubt experienced this first hand.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-03-10T08:09:54.107Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Anyone who has played the Civilization series (on any real difficulty level) has no doubt experienced this first hand.

I learned while playing those games that it is possible to stay ahead in technological advancement without doing any research of my own. Being the middle man is incredibly rewarding.

comment by gwern · 2013-03-09T23:19:39.511Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So even if copyright was shrunk to a single year, or less, that doesn't necessarily imply the immediate spread of next-generation military technology to one's neighbours.

I never said it did; I was speaking of material in general, such as civilian information - if it makes the economy grow faster, well, now they have more resources to spend on R&D themselves or to produce more of their existing arsenal or to buy more advanced weaponry from other countries.

If IP abolition did directly convey next-gen military tech to the neighboring country, that would be an even stronger argument against it, of course.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-03-10T11:07:23.002Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Geopolitics and history are, like, really, really hard. I feel like you're expecting them to be approximately as easy as physics and this is deeply misguided. Among other things, there's a lack of controlled experiments (and trying to use causal diagrams sounds like it's computationally intractable).

comment by Decius · 2013-03-10T05:44:37.179Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

this also begs the question, if that's what things will look like later, why don't they look that way already?

Take that argument to genetic evolution via natural selection:

if you want to predict what future [organisms] will look like, a viable approach could be to examine this present-day [organisms] which do the [best adaptation to the current environment], and figuring out what lets them do that.

It's that memes are slow to change and cannot be forced to change much faster by active effort.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-03-10T04:29:14.502Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting, but is it a bit off-topic?

comment by DataPacRat · 2013-03-10T05:18:03.088Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm trying to apply some of the lessons in rationality I've picked up here at LessWrong. Like MoR!Draco, just because I've had one clever idea doesn't mean I've gotten the hang of cleverness - or that the idea I've had is actually right. It doesn't mean I'm wrong, either; so I'm trying to collect some data on other aspiring rationalists' opinion, to use to update my own confidence-level, even if I don't necessarily trust them to be fully rational in the sense of Aumann's Agreement Theorem.

comment by Elithrion · 2013-03-09T23:01:08.763Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're considerably misreading history. It's not that certain societies were more favourable to certain military styles and were thus selected for, but rather that certain distributions of military power gave particular groups of people the power to create particular social arrangements. So, for example, a republic is not particularly better at having lots of people with guns than a monarchy, but once you have a lot of people with guns they're more likely to create a republic than a monarchy. A lot of other points sound dubious as well, but I think that primary concern (if correct) invalidates the argument completely =/

I also recently wrote a related post on my blog that I never update (basically arguing that democracy will decline as automated weapons overtake human soldiers if we somehow don't have a singularity-like thing, and positing a supporting social theory). You may find it interesting.

comment by DataPacRat · 2013-03-09T23:25:58.822Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Your blog post parallels ideas that I've been musing about myself. An artist I know turned my thoughts on democracy into a comic, the second one of the set here. And my pet hard-SF setting assumes much of what you describe at the end of your post - remote-controlled infantry allowing the powers-that-be to ignore popular disapproval (including having put down the 'Blue Revolution' across most of the planet), leading to an oligarchy in fact if not in name.

comment by prase · 2013-03-12T23:57:39.176Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Babylon, Rome, and the Aztecs had a great deal in common.

Apart from being great empires, what else did they have in common?

Later, around the Renaissance, crossbows, pikes, and guns unseated the knight from military dominance; and the system that best supported that sort of force turned out to be the republic.

As late as 1914, most countries in the Old World were still monarchies. The republics that happened to exist during the Renaissance (Genoa, Venice) were mainly maritime powers, so no crossbows and pikes.

Later, the Industrial Revolution kicked this sort of thing into high gear, with new military paradigms arising every few decades: ironclads, tanks, planes, nukes. Supporting all of these required the economy to be cranked up to the maximum degree possible to make all that stuff, and scientific research as well to figure out the next trick. As it happens, the form of society that seems to work best at that is something resembling a liberal democracy.

The Nazis and Soviets were quite good at military technologies. At least the latter collapsed for reasons unrelated to having weaker army than their competitors.

comment by savageorange · 2013-03-09T22:39:21.814Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

AFAIK knowingly failing to defend your copyright causes it to lapse (for example, Hasbro has been pretty cool about tolerating MLP:FiM fangames etc, but as soon as Fighting is Magic started getting major public exposure they were obligated to send a Cease and Desist or lose the property).

This might work for such a plan -- I haven't thought it out fully and obviously I Am Not A Lawyer.

comment by DataPacRat · 2013-03-09T22:43:27.398Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

IIRC, that applies to trademark, but not necessarily to copyright. (IANAL, either.)

comment by gwern · 2013-03-09T22:48:18.708Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I too have never heard that this applies to copyright; just trademarks.

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-03-10T10:09:29.109Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

AFAIK knowingly failing to defend your copyright causes it to lapse

This is completely incorrect, or we wouldn't have an orphan works problem.