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or would people start to ask why the wealth of knowledge and culture was being enclosed within restrictive laws, when “another world is possible” beyond the regime of artificial scarcity?
July 15, 2011 7:45 AM   Subscribe

Given the material abundance made possible by the replicator, how would it be possible to maintain a system based on money, profit, and class power? Towards an Anti-Star Trek.

From Peter Frase:
This is the quality of intellectual property law that provides an economic foundation for anti-Star Trek: the ability to tell others how to use copies of an idea that you “own”. In order to get access to a replicator, you have to buy one from a company that licenses you the right to use a replicator. (Someone can’t give you a replicator or make one with their replicator, because that would violate their license). What’s more, every time you make something with the replicator, you also need to pay a licensing fee to whoever owns the rights to that particular thing. So if the Captain Jean-Luc Picard of anti-Star Trek wanted “tea, Earl Grey, hot”, he would have to pay the company that has copyrighted the replicator pattern for hot Earl Grey tea. (Presumably some other company owns the rights to cold tea.)

...Thus it seems that the main problem confronting the society of anti-Star Trek is the problem of effective demand: that is, how to ensure that people are able to earn enough money to be able to pay the licensing fees on which private profit depends. Of course, this isn’t so different from the problem that confronted industrial capitalism, but it becomes more severe as human labor is increasingly squeezed out of the system, and human beings become superfluous as elements of production, even as they remain necessary as consumers.
posted by gerryblog (147 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
One theory I heard was that Gold-Pressed Latinum was considered to be valuable because it couldn't be replicated.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:47 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I forgot to give credit to Matt Yglesias, where I first saw this. His quatloos are in the mail.
posted by gerryblog at 7:48 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Chocolate Pickle, I think that's right. And it's also true of dilithium, if I remember correctly, which powers the warp drives and has to be mined.
posted by gerryblog at 7:48 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Uh, duh. Anti-Star Trek looks like regular Star Trek, but with a goatee.
posted by solistrato at 7:51 AM on July 15, 2011 [59 favorites]


A.K.A. "Star Trek and Ender's Game are the only science fiction I'm familiar with so I'm going to go ahead and ignore sixty years of post-scarcity SF exploring this exact question"
posted by theodolite at 7:54 AM on July 15, 2011 [33 favorites]


Accelerando aside, the post-scarcity SF I have read has been of the hand-waving "it will all work out because people are great when they don't have to farm potatoes" economic model. Even less attention is paid to the economy than to the science, and that is saying quite a bit.

I always felt Starfleet was the new society's way of getting the troublesome, adventurous elements out of the way, off to be killed in some distant solar system, leaving behind a population now more tractable, happy with producing soft glowing widgets and eager to be funneled down into some narrow pursuit. Or Starfleet members chase promotions and uniforms and power while performing the necessary but otherwise distasteful task of saving Earth from threats like the Borg (if you ignore the fact that Starfleet first researched and buried knowledge of the Borg, then managed to taunt a ridiculously powerful entity into an forcing an encounter with the Borg who wouldn't have made it to Earth for quite some time if Starfleet hadn't bumped into them in the first place).
posted by adipocere at 8:04 AM on July 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


theodolite, I took his point more to be that the replicator already exists and the anti-Star Trek is the digital intellectual property regime we live under...
posted by gerryblog at 8:05 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would love to see a fan-made TNG satire wherein post-Starfleet human society functions using this sort of dark, Stone Age capitalism instead of everything humming along on the usual dose of Roddenberry's endless optimism. The humour here—even just in Picard's request for tea being denied due to an expired contract—is endless.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 8:05 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


This sounds a lot like Diamond Age.
posted by adamrice at 8:15 AM on July 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Replicators can make everything except screws. In practice this limits them to making food and certain simple equipment.
posted by ryanrs at 8:23 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Star Trek isn't real. Its value to help us understand our own property relations is minimal due to it not being worked out except for to move teleplays along. It makes it too malleable.

The purpose of intellectual property is to drive innovation. The author's theory of the replicator patenting is a prime example. Since the computer can make anything, its copying reality, not someone's pattern. Its precisely the opposite of intellectual property in that its a device that makes matter patterns, not a reinvention of things already made. At best you'd use it to make a new type of phaser you'd patent.

Having said that, his understanding of IP is limited. IP is the right to economically control the expression of an original idea for a period of time. It exists to encourage innovation. The author is wrong when he says one has to pay a licensing fee to use a copy. This is a property right and, except in limited cases (music), the owner does not have to license to everyone, but can license to a single party, sell the property right outright, or choose not to license at all.

The purpose is to encourage innovation and commerce around new ideas so that there are incentives to technological change. The alternative is to let huge economic interests immediately capture any innovation and exploit their current market power without compensating the innovator, strongly disincentivising innovation and slowing the rate of technological change.

Why people are supporting changes in the law that will help the Goliaths of this world over the Davids, I don't know. People cite Disney as a behemoth who profits from its 'monopoly' and attack it because of the market power its trademarks give it. But imagine Disney made uber powerful by a decline in IP laws. South Park is a funny show. But with no IP protection, Disney could have completely copied South Park, put it on its own channel and used its superior marketing arm to wipe out the original--to our detriment.

Oftentimes the fact that a powerful interest is involved in obtaining something via a part of our law obscures the fact that in reality, on balance, that law protects the smaller against the larger, such as with the legal fiction of corporate personhood. Those demanding change are well-served by thinking out the implications all the way--does the change make it easier or harder for powerful interests to harm us?
posted by Ironmouth at 8:24 AM on July 15, 2011 [13 favorites]


So he's trying to imagine a non-post scarcity economy by imposing artificial scarcity?
posted by sotonohito at 8:34 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even less attention is paid to the economy than to the science

You say that as though it's some sort of failing on the writers' part, but I'd much rather read a novel (or watch a movie or TV show) that pays the bulk of its attention to story and character rather than economics. If I want to read about economics I'll read a fucking econ textbook, not a scifi novel. And I've never read an econ textbook, which tells you exactly how much interest I have in reading about any sort of economics, let alone those of a made-up space economy.
posted by dersins at 8:36 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thing is, we've never gotten to see human society in the 24th century outside of Star Fleet. Star Fleet has a certain communist mode because - like contemporary military bases - much of your daily needs are supplied by the organization. Soldiers don't have to pay for housing and rations when deployed today, either. And class structure is replaced by rank structure - note how lower ranked, unmarried personel have tiny quarters, middle ranked officers have medium, and the captain's suite is huge. I wonder if the higher ranks also get more time in the holodecks; they never seem to have to wait for one.

We get glimpses of life outside of Starfleet - restaurants on earth, colonists being evicted from the border with Cardassian space, Bajoran refugees who are very poor. We don't see human/earth based poverty; maybe it's been ameliorated, maybe not. I did find Babylon 5 much more interesting because they dealt with those sorts of issues, but I think you could say that economic-inequality in ST are more ignored/off-screen than implied to not exist.
posted by jb at 8:40 AM on July 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


tapesonthefloor: I would love to see a fan-made TNG satire wherein post-Starfleet human society functions using this sort of dark, Stone Age capitalism instead of everything humming along on the usual dose of Roddenberry's endless optimism. The humour here—even just in Picard's request for tea being denied due to an expired contract—is endless.

In lieue of that, perhaps a Michel Gondry adaptation of Ubik would do?
posted by lodurr at 8:43 AM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Gondry's doing Ubik? Ooooooh. Could be real good. I'm waiting for Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said and We Can Build You myself.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:46 AM on July 15, 2011


leaving behind a population now more tractable, happy with producing soft glowing widgets and eager to be funneled down into some narrow pursuit.

I can't actually recall ever seeing much about what non-Starfleet humans get up to, besides the colonists. But Earth humans, with replicators, wouldn't really need to work at all would they? They had weather control and automated everything.

Nancy Kress covered this, to some extent, in her Beggars series, although in her view, most people would all regress to fat, cheap-thrill-chasing idiots. Whereas Roddenberry assumed we'd all be following our bliss.
posted by emjaybee at 8:47 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Star Fleet has a certain communist mode because - like contemporary military bases - much of your daily needs are supplied by the organization.

Woa there, military equals communist now? Please can we telll Sarah Palin this on live TV?
posted by londonmark at 8:48 AM on July 15, 2011


Since the computer can make anything, its copying reality, not someone's pattern. Its precisely the opposite of intellectual property in that its a device that makes matter patterns, not a reinvention of things already made. At best you'd use it to make a new type of phaser you'd patent.

This makes absolutely no sense. The first sentence in particular is completely non-sequitous.
posted by DU at 8:51 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Star Trek isn't real.
Sez you.
posted by Flunkie at 8:52 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Star Fleet has a certain communist mode because - like contemporary military bases - much of your daily needs are supplied by the organization.

Woa there, military equals communist now? Please can we telll Sarah Palin this on live TV?


There was a New Yorker article a decade ago about this. Free everything, subsidized prices on consumer goods. Medical care is free and plentiful. It is a vision of perfect communism.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:52 AM on July 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


It is a vision of perfect communism.

Not unless we all join the army.
posted by londonmark at 8:56 AM on July 15, 2011


My personal SF pet peeve is that having access to limitless resources will turn people into simpering eloi.
posted by The Whelk at 8:57 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


So...What process, in the Star Trek verse, explains the transition from the pseudo-capitalist world of TOS (i.e. Everyone trading with credits) to the everything-seemingly-free view of TNG (save for the Ferengi which, imho, seem to exist as a pantomime of free-market capitalism)?

I'm not a big-enough Trek nerd to know the answer to this.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:57 AM on July 15, 2011


Ironmouth, I am not going to do the Fixed That For You nonsense, but I would like to make some suggestions.

The purpose of intellectual property was to drive innovation. It is not any longer.

"IP is the right to economically control the expression of an original idea for a period of time." Agreed, but the period of time is growing at a rate faster than time elapses. "Until the Sun burns out" is technically a period of time but it places the expiration of the temporary monopoly, and therefore the dissemination of that property into the common culture (which was the tradeoff) out of reach.

"The purpose is to encourage innovation and commerce around new ideas so that there are incentives to technological change." See also patent trolls and Microsoft suing Google for every Android phone. That has slowed some technological change.

"The alternative is to let huge economic interests immediately capture any innovation and exploit their current market power without compensating the innovator, strongly disincentivising innovation and slowing the rate of technological change." Here you exclude the middle. We have a choice other than "scrap it all" and the status quo, namely IP reform.

Intellectual property was not just a right, it was also a responsibility. An inventor or artist has a temporary monopoly but the deal made was that We The People would eventually get hold of that after a reasonable period of time. The deal has been broken and the promises made no longer serve the original intents.
posted by adipocere at 8:58 AM on July 15, 2011 [20 favorites]


dersins -- there is a hell of a lot of good, character-driven Sci-Fi that also treats the realities of economics and inequality, like Babylon 5 and Firefly. In the literary world, there is Joan Vinge's Psion series, Neil Stevenson's Diamond Age - both of which are pretty harsh in their predictions re the power of corporations - but also Bujold's rich variety of planetary economies from the aristocratic & developing (Barrayar), social-democrat market-oriented (Beta Colony), to brutal and murderous anarcho-capitalism (Jackson's Whole).

Economics is an important part of everyone's lives, just like politics, technology and ideas. Why would this change in the future? Character driven stories need a realistic society as the soil in which to plant the characters - Bujold uses this really well, as her characters reflect strongly the expectations and culture they grew up with, as well as personal characteristics (eg Miles and Mark - one raised at the top of a aristocratic system, the other in a brutal capitalist one - versus their mother's social-democrat expectations).

Frankly, I think Star Trek's ignoring of socio-economic issues within the Federation and within the lives of the main characters holds the series back. Some of most interesting characters - like Worf, Ensign Ro - had a distinct cultural and economic background which continued to influence their world view within Starfleet.
posted by jb at 8:59 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I feel as though I'm missing a lot of the author's context, here, but all the ST discussion here obscures the fact that this article isn't about Star Trek at all.

It seems to me that his core assumption is that Capitalism will out, regardless of the facts of scarcity -- the purpose is to explain the means by which that might happen. His account, which seems plausible to me, is one of manufactured scarcity.

I haven't read a ton of what I'd regard as realistic post-scarcity SF. Most of it is pie in the sky stuff like Roddenberry's ST universe. Cyberpunks tended IMO to get it right; someone who used to workshop with Bruce Sterling told me once that he was a bear about nailing down the economics in your stories. He's said to have critiqued an early draft of Nancy Kress's "Beggars in Spain" by asking her "how do these people earn a living, Kress?" (She regularly thanks him for that in absentia.)

Damon Knight wrote a series of stories, later frankensteined into a novel (I think I read it as _'E' is for 'Everything'_, or maybe _'A' is for 'Anything'_), about a post-replicator world. Basically, society collapses and a regime of artificial scarcity is constructed to impose order. Sterling [redux] takes a similar tack in a novella from a few years back, the name of which escapes me but which I believe won a Nebula, about how more mundane buckeytube-based pseudo-replicators destroy the economy of a central european country. And I think Nancy Kress did a decent job with the 'Beggars...' stories. But in general I really think realistic approaches to post-scarcity economies are relatively rare by comparison with the happy-horsehit version of post-scarcity imaginings.

Anyway, as a pure thought-experiment, it's not very sustainably intereting to me. What this guy is doing with it is more akin to satire, I think -- but satire that isn't really meant to be funny, if there is such a thing.
posted by lodurr at 8:59 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Since the computer can make anything, its copying reality, not someone's pattern. Its precisely the opposite of intellectual property in that its a device that makes matter patterns, not a reinvention of things already made. At best you'd use it to make a new type of phaser you'd patent.

This makes absolutely no sense. The first sentence in particular is completely non-sequitous.


Ok, let me put it this way--can the replicator do this--computer, make a copy of that rock I saw on Tau Ceti V from this holocrystal?

If the computer is doing that, its not making a pattern of Earl Grey by Tea Patterns Inc. So the replicator fails to work in the manner theorized. This is the problem presented--you can make the technology malleable enough to make any point you want--so it tells us nothing.

What do you think about the larger points he makes and my larger point about the protective nature of IP. Think I'll write a dystopian novel about a no-iP world with three 'Thin White Duke'-Era Bowies, two completely identical to the original via plastic surgery. One hawks 7-UP blatently in the midst of singing Bowie songs, the other refuses to sell Coke in the same way and asks the real Bowie for help.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:00 AM on July 15, 2011


I would read the shit out of that, Ironmouth, but it must come with a video clip of your patented "tiny dance."
posted by adipocere at 9:02 AM on July 15, 2011


Free everything, subsidized prices on consumer goods. Medical care is free and plentiful.

And all you have to do is lay down your life for your rulers.

It is a vision of perfect communism.

...
posted by adamdschneider at 9:05 AM on July 15, 2011


I can't actually recall ever seeing much about what non-Starfleet humans get up to, besides the colonists.

Well, there was the episode where Picard visits his brother at the family vineyard. I forget why it was worthwhile making wine the old way, instead of just drinking replicated vintages.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:05 AM on July 15, 2011


Intellectual property was not just a right, it was also a responsibility. An inventor or artist has a temporary monopoly but the deal made was that We The People would eventually get hold of that after a reasonable period of time. The deal has been broken and the promises made no longer serve the original intents.

Really? Then why aren't there three versions of Mythbusters on TV? Why isn't there a 'Christian' version of South Park designed to undermine the original? And why aren't there 4 people pretending to be Lady GaGa and so hawking themelves out on the concert circuit? And why aren't there 15 things calling themselves the iPhone, all indistinguishable from the original all sold out of "Apple Stores" completely indistinguishable from one another?
posted by Ironmouth at 9:06 AM on July 15, 2011


Sigh.

The replicator doesn't just make stuff out of thin air. It takes raw materials and reconfigures them into finished products.

Duh.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:06 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]



Woa there, military equals communist now? Please can we telll Sarah Palin this on live TV?
posted by londonmark


Militaries do tend to be very communaliastic - the needs of the organization are more important than the individual, loyalty to the organization (and the country it serves) is extremely important, authority is strictly hierarchal, but at the same time, the organization provides you with clothing and food and shelter when deployed -- they take care of you.

Militaries couldn't function if they were organized as market-based relationships. Your commanding officer is not your employer, you are not just an employee.
posted by jb at 9:07 AM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's pretty simple, really. The IP cartel system in the future collapses once the population is educated and has unlimited access to machine guns via the replicators.
posted by mullingitover at 9:08 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would read the shit out of that, Ironmouth, but it must come with a video clip of your patented "tiny dance."

That's just a fun thing I did at home. Its not patented. And it has nothing to do with any of the points we are making here.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:09 AM on July 15, 2011


can the replicator do this--computer, make a copy of that rock I saw on Tau Ceti V from this holocrystal?

If the computer is doing that, its not making a pattern of Earl Grey by Tea Patterns Inc.


Again, I don't see how this follows at all. The ability to copy reality does not preclude the ability to copy patterns. Or vice versa.
posted by DU at 9:12 AM on July 15, 2011


Thorzdad - there is a Wikipedia article about the existence of the "Federation credit". Amusingly, it's flagged as "disputed" -- presumably by fans who want to pretend that money never existed in the Star Trek universe :)

Also Cracked has summarized none to most of the post-scarcity debate.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:12 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Militaries couldn't function if they were organized as market-based relationships. Your commanding officer is not your employer, you are not just an employee.

Entire world wars have been fought with mercenaries. See Landsknecht http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landsknecht
posted by Ironmouth at 9:13 AM on July 15, 2011


can the replicator do this--computer, make a copy of that rock I saw on Tau Ceti V from this holocrystal?

If the computer is doing that, its not making a pattern of Earl Grey by Tea Patterns Inc.

Again, I don't see how this follows at all. The ability to copy reality does not preclude the ability to copy patterns. Or vice versa.


The entire theory of the article is that the replicator works on patented "patterns." Since there isn't evidence of that being the case, I'm arguing the idea of using Star Trek as an analogy here is bad.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:16 AM on July 15, 2011


Oh, and having now peeked at the article:

One of the intriguing things about the world of Star Trek, as Gene Roddenberry presented it in The Next Generation and subsequent series, is that it appears to be, in essence, a communist society. There is no money, everyone has access to whatever resources they need, and no-one is required to work.

Ugh. It's like he has never seen anything remotely connected to Star Trek. 'Cause you know who has a job in every incarnation of Star Trek? Everybody.

And, um, if his concept of Communism is a world where no-one is required to work, that's just ... extra-special.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:17 AM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


(I mean, Christ, Deep Space Nine is basically a mall in space.)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:18 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sys Rq : The replicator doesn't just make stuff out of thin air. It takes raw materials and reconfigures them into finished products.

Those unseen waste extraction units probably lend "raw materials" to the cause as well...
posted by dr_dank at 9:19 AM on July 15, 2011


Ugh. It's like he has never seen anything remotely connected to Star Trek. 'Cause you know who has a job in every incarnation of Star Trek? Everybody.

This is Roddenberrian optimism. He assumes (as others have before him -- Marx assumed this, as well, and I seem to recall echoes of it in Adam Smith) that people will want to work; Star Fleet requires allegiance because you can't make an organization like that work, otherwise, but no one back at home in the Human worlds is required to have a specific, explicit job. That's made very explicitly clear in several TNG and DS9 episodes. Working is a cultural requirement, not a practical one.
posted by lodurr at 9:22 AM on July 15, 2011


Thorzdad - there is a Wikipedia article about the existence of the "Federation credit". Amusingly, it's flagged as "disputed" -- presumably by fans who want to pretend that money never existed in the Star Trek universe :)

What a terrible article. It opens claiming that the term "credit" has never appeared onscreen, then goes on to detail several use of "credits" by Federation officers. It's as if the fact that we don't call money "the American dollar" means dollars don't exist.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:23 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


dersin: If I want to read about economics I'll read a fucking econ textbook, not a scifi novel.

What jb said. I also chime in with my love for the novel-turned-anime series Spice and Wolf: which is the (former) Trope Namer for I Watch It For The Economics.

in season two / novel three they invent the stock market AND IT IS AWESOME
posted by nicebookrack at 9:23 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here you exclude the middle. We have a choice other than "scrap it all" and the status quo, namely IP reform.

If only the opponents of IP agreed with you. All systems of law work imperfectly. And reform is always needed. But the idea expressed by this dude, in his own words is: Or would people start to ask why the wealth of knowledge and culture was being enclosed within restrictive laws, when “another world is possible” beyond the regime of artificial scarcity?"

These attacks go directly to IP's raison d'etre. Reform is good, but it must start by pointing out the benefits first.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:25 AM on July 15, 2011


Harry Mudd gives evidence of capitalism within the Federation.
posted by Flunkie at 9:27 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought the ideas expressed in the article about IP were better expressed, by of all things, the cracked article on bullshit and farts.
posted by zabuni at 9:29 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I forget why it was worthwhile making wine the old way, instead of just drinking replicated vintages.

I believe synthasised alcohol is generally considered inferior. Or am I confusing my sci-fi franchises? Is synthahol ST?
posted by londonmark at 9:30 AM on July 15, 2011


Yes, sythahol is ST, and it is terrible. (I think maybe it's impossible to get drunk on it?)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:35 AM on July 15, 2011


Why people are supporting changes in the law that will help the Goliaths of this world over the Davids, I don't know. People cite Disney as a behemoth who profits from its 'monopoly' and attack it because of the market power its trademarks give it. But imagine Disney made uber powerful by a decline in IP laws. South Park is a funny show. But with no IP protection, Disney could have completely copied South Park, put it on its own channel and used its superior marketing arm to wipe out the original--to our detriment.
I don't think you're thinking this all the way through. Disney could have made their own south park. But they wouldn't be able to make much money off of it, because their clones wouldn't have any copyright protection. And on top of that, people would only download them if they were better then the Parker/Stone versions, in which case we'd actually be better off.

And the irony of using southpark is that Parker/Stone have never enforced their copyright on non-profit users. People have always been able to trade copies online. When they were promoting the SouthPark movie, they made a joke about buying a pirated copy, so they could show the specific clip they wanted oo.
Really? Then why aren't there three versions of Mythbusters on TV? Why isn't there a 'Christian' version of South Park designed to undermine the original? And why aren't there 4 people pretending to be Lady GaGa and so hawking themelves out on the concert circuit?
Sounds like you're confusing copyright and trademark. You couldn't call a show Mythbusters because it's a violation of trademark law, not copyright. And on top of that, people want to see Adam and Jamie. Not some random assholes pretending to be them. But there is nothing stopping anyone from cloning the concept of the show.

Why aren't there 4 lady GaGa's? I'm sure there are hundreds of Lady GaGa cover bands out there. But people want to see the real Lady GaGa, not an imitator.

When it comes to things like the copyright protected video of Myth Busters, or the copyright protected Audio from Lady GaGa, people do copy those all the time. You just go on Pirate Bay and download them.

"Intellectual Property" isn't a legally defined term. There are copyrights, patents, and trademarks. The law for all of those things works differently.

---

Any discussion of IP rights without specifying whether you're talking about Copyright vs. Trademark is garbage. ALL of Ironmouth's examples have more to do with Trademarks then copyright. But the replicator thing deals with copyrights, not trademarks.
posted by delmoi at 9:36 AM on July 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


Seems like the better option for replacing alcohol in the future would be to use some type of benzodiazepine. The effects are very similar to alcohol, but without the wrecking-ball type of effect that alcohol has on the liver. As long as there's some way of avoiding the withdrawal symptoms...
posted by mullingitover at 9:38 AM on July 15, 2011


Synthahol is Star Trek - but it's the non-alcoholic alcohol substitute the replicators on starships are programmed to make. It's supposed to have the taste, but not the intoxicating effect. I believe the real thing can be made, but for some reason they don't allow them to out in space. Probably some variant of "it's not a good idea for the Navy to have an infinite supply of rum".

I think the real reason they make wine the old way is some handwavey "the replicators don't make it right" explanation. Which makes no sense, if you think about it.
posted by mrgoat at 9:38 AM on July 15, 2011


Synthahol is intoxicating, but the effects can be consciously dismissed in case of Borg attack or whatever.

Some characters do claim to be able to taste the difference between "real" and replicated food. Which kind of makes sense, if every "steak, medium rare" you ever order is replicated from the same pattern, and therefore identical on the molecular level. Variety is the spice of etc.

Replicators don't make stuff out of thin air, though: the ship carries tanks of raw matter that the replicator configures into what you've ordered on demand. Dirty dishes and other waste are broken down and sent back to the tanks, and I think the tanks also get topped up at Starbases. Replicating also requires a non-trivial amount of energy, which is why starships are still assembled, not called into being at the touch of a button.

And finally, civilians on Earth are shown to have jobs: Sisko's father runs a restaurant—where the meals are cooked, not replicated.

(All of this is off the top of my head. Sigh.)
posted by Zozo at 9:45 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Before there were replicators, there was the transporter. Has anyone written about the socio-economic chaos the introduction of that technology would create?

Immediate loss of almost all transportation jobs. Weird new types of crime. Orders of magnitude more tourism in already high traffic or ecologically sensitive places. Transportation of invasive species. The list goes on.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:49 AM on July 15, 2011


Can't we all just read the cheesy retro-futurist exploration of production/consumption/human resentment in Midas World?
posted by Gucky at 9:49 AM on July 15, 2011


I forget why it was worthwhile making wine the old way

It's because Picard's brother is a stubborn luddite. Dude probably shits outdoors because he doesn't trust plumbing.
posted by ryanrs at 9:50 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tea.
Open Source.
Hot.
posted by rocket88 at 9:51 AM on July 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


Accelerando aside, the post-scarcity SF I have read has been of the hand-waving "it will all work out because people are great when they don't have to farm potatoes" economic model. Even less attention is paid to the economy than to the science, and that is saying quite a bit.

Ian Banks called. He has a few books for you to read.
posted by The Bellman at 9:53 AM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Really? Then why aren't there three versions of Mythbusters on TV? Why isn't there a 'Christian' version of South Park designed to undermine the original? And why aren't there 4 people pretending to be Lady GaGa and so hawking themelves out on the concert circuit? And why aren't there 15 things calling themselves the iPhone, all indistinguishable from the original all sold out of "Apple Stores" completely indistinguishable from one another?

You got me on South Park, but I think it's because that concept wouldn't work.

Aside from trademark-related issues, I'm fine with all of these things.
posted by Serf at 9:53 AM on July 15, 2011


Before there were replicators, there was the transporter. Has anyone written about the socio-economic chaos the introduction of that technology would create?

Larry Niven has a whole series of stories that deal with this- maybe start with The Last Days of the Permanent Floating Riot Club.
posted by jenkinsEar at 9:57 AM on July 15, 2011


I think the real reason they make wine the old way is some handwavey "the replicators don't make it right" explanation. Which makes no sense, if you think about it.

Actually, it makes perfect sense if you've ever heard a French vintner talk about terroir.
posted by londonmark at 10:01 AM on July 15, 2011


Ironmouth: ...why aren't there three versions of Mythbusters on TV? Why isn't there a 'Christian' version of South Park designed to undermine the original? And why aren't there 4 people pretending to be Lady GaGa and so hawking themelves out on the concert circuit? And why aren't there 15 things calling themselves the iPhone, all indistinguishable from the original all sold out of "Apple Stores" completely indistinguishable from one another?
Counterfeit goods of all sorts are manufactured and sold profitably, in spite of the law. Entertainments of all sorts are conceived as blatant copy-cats of each other all the time.

Something like the manufacturing and distribution chain for Apple products is too big, complicated, and expensive to be practical to rip off. In an IP-free environment, Apple would still have many opportunities to distinguish their goods and stores from the knock-offs, through the use of DRM (as in fact they do now), service, design and style changes, etc. Which makes the huge capital investment required to create a complete copy-cat system a doomed one. Who's going to sink millions into such a venture?

Who's going to pay to watch that other Mythbusters, the one without the walrus mustache guy? What TV station is going to buy it? What concert promoter or venue manager would book the fake Lady Gaga? Who would pay money to go see her? What hard-core Christian family would buy a pro-Christian cartoon called "South Park?" Who would fund the creation of such a thing?
posted by Western Infidels at 10:01 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


This shakes out to an Orwellian artificial imposition of scarcity similar to "1984."
Given processor power and robot labor you don't need many humans to do research or do guard/lawyer work which is pretty much only conflict to preserve some sort of advantage over another.
If the advantage is artificial in the first place, the conflict over it is even more baseless.

Most of this seems to be a failure of the imagination. Most particularly in how to just live.

Here we posit vast sweeping changes in the human condition given machines that can replicate nearly anything, nearly limitless power sources and gigantic processing speed and AI (Data, Star Trek computers in general seem to be capable of AI, in fact it seems to be something that actively has to be engineered out of them) holographic replication of temporary events/items, etc. - and we're still looking at ways people are going to go to work in the morning.

This is also about our presumptions about time. Leisure time is not only, now, considered nearly vulgar, but transvalued into an economic experience. Even the name in the U.S. "vacation" isn't about time taken for learning and relaxation and self-development, but an empty hole in a labor schedule.

I mean whether Frase's ideas are sound or goofy - the whole conceptual basis here is flawed and not because it's predicated on a work of fiction.
I'm reminded of Paul Goodman (from New Reformation): "Whether or not it draws on new scientific research, technology is a branch of moral philosophy, not of science."

I have had some misgivings about what Goodman says there, but it seems to line up with what Thoreau was saying way back when (in Life Without Principle *pdf) - "that so many are willing to live by luck, and so get the means of commanding the labor of others less lucky, without contributing any value to society. And that is called enterprise!"

Spending time refining the art of living is not a waste of time. There are people who are very industrious who do not spend their time well. Why should people be prodded to do make-work bullshit jobs? Why is it assumed everyone would be lazy gadabouts without jobs?
Economics boils down to time and energy. Freed from the constraint to labor for those things, there's no need for profit, unless it's arbitrary.
I have to take Socrates' and Salk's ( who was into doing things for society rather than cashing a big paycheck apparently) perspective - the ultimate purpose of science, humanism and the arts, in his judgment, is the freeing of each individual to cultivate his full creativity, in whichever direction it leads.

Of course the Anti-Star Trek world opposes this vision in favor of oppression and artificial scarcity - that's why they're evil.
All they really need are the robot thugs.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:10 AM on July 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


Before there were replicators, there was the transporter. Has anyone written about the socio-economic chaos the introduction of that technology would create?

In addition to Niven, go back a little farther to Alfred Bester's The Stars, My Destination, which is set at a time in the future when perfect instant transportation has already re-formed human society, and is poised to do so again. Very under-rated work.
posted by lodurr at 10:16 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also - Transmetropolitan seems to have done a good (anti-star trek) type job with the replicator concept. They're called 'makers,' they require codes to use, they're powered by a - very expensive - superdense base block or by garbage.
The practical upshot there is the rich have the base blocks and can make anything. The poor don't have makers and have to buy crap. And the middle class go through the streets picking up garbage before the streets are robot cleaned in order to power their makers.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:20 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Who's going to pay to watch that other Mythbusters, the one without the walrus mustache guy? What TV station is going to buy it? What concert promoter or venue manager would book the fake Lady Gaga? Who would pay money to go see her? What hard-core Christian family would buy a pro-Christian cartoon called "South Park?" Who would fund the creation of such a thing?

Interesting. You've thrown up examples of not manufactured scarcity but the real thing. That is, there only is one Lady Gaga, South Park, Mythbusters without the walrus mustache guy. And this kind of value is impossible to fake, though there's always someone trying.

The example I always come back to is Led Zeppelin and the many, many bands who've tried to copy them, which usually means ripping off their riffs, their vocal sound, their sense of dynamics etc. Which only works in a surface sort of way, whereas the real magic of Led Zep is the multiplicity of influences and passions that led to their riffs, their vocal sound, their sense of dynamics (the endless blues records they listened to in their youth, and the folk, and the various exotic so-called "world musics" they encountered in their travels, the James Brown funk grooves that John Bonham and John Paul Jones couldn't get enough of). Such that any rip-off band who actually went to the trouble to explore all of that would inevitably end up not sounding like Zeppelin at all, but would end up fusing together their own unique polyglot. Thus, another unique and naturally scarce entity.

As for the various Star Treks, it's not the economics that's always bugged me, it's the uniforms -- all those ugly, tight-fitting pajama-like outfits. Centuries from now and we're still not allowed to be both comfortable and stylin'!?!? I've got no time for that future.
posted by philip-random at 10:20 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tea.
Open Source.
Hot.
Sorry, but under the provisions of the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998 Extension Act of 2214, "Hot" and all of its derivative works are universally and permanently copyright Mousecorp Incorporated.
posted by Flunkie at 10:20 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


As for the various Star Treks, it's not the economics that's always bugged me, it's the uniforms -- all those ugly, tight-fitting pajama-like outfits. Centuries from now and we're still not allowed to be both comfortable and stylin'!?!?

Aww, yeah.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:26 AM on July 15, 2011


Since the computer can make anything, its copying reality, not someone's pattern. Its precisely the opposite of intellectual property in that its a device that makes matter patterns, not a reinvention of things already made

If you already admit an exception with music, you'll have to admit that between now and the 24th century highly creative lawmakers will find numerous ways of bridging the gap between IP law and property rights. Defining the genes of a living organism as intellectual property, for instance—something that has been thankfully fought off by various legal and legislative means, so far, not that the fight will ever, ever be over—might cover not only the instruction, but the iteration. Unless I'm wrong. I haven't yet overestimated the creativity of corporate legal departments, but, then, I Am Not Picard's Lawyer.

The Gondry news is awesome, though. Thanks so much for putting that on my radar.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 10:32 AM on July 15, 2011


SISKO: Do you know what the trouble is?
KIRA: No.
SISKO: The trouble is Earth.
KIRA: Really?
SISKO: On Earth there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet headquarters and you see paradise. Well, it's easy to be a saint in paradise, but the Maquis do not live in paradise. Out there in the Demilitarised zone, all the problems haven't been solved yet. Out there, there are no saints, just people. Angry, scared, determined people who are going to do whatever it takes to survive whether it meets with Federation approval or not.
KIRA: Makes sense to me.
SISKO: I'm glad someone understands.

The Maquis, part 2
May 1, 1994

posted by General Tonic at 10:32 AM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh! I meant to add: I've enjoyed this thread very much indeed. One of the best conversations on the blue in recent memory.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 10:32 AM on July 15, 2011


Ian Banks called. He has a few books for you to read.

He's only called that when he is writing The Wasp Factory, otherwise, throw in an extra I. Take a close look at The Culture. For one, they're far, far past Star Trek in terms of technical evolution, taking them into the whole new ballgame territory, because their post-scarcity is not merely material. Land, labor, time (as a function of lifespan), all radically extended. Even then, though, they still have Minds to run the show; Minds spend a lot of CPU time diverting resource-intensive humans into more controllable pursuits. I think they built a Dyson Belt system just to placate egomaniacs who want their own worlds to run.

Still, dig about ... there's just not a lot of discussion given to economy there. And I have yet to recall a mention of intellectual property in the series. Arguably, their post-scarcity economy was only tenable because the citizens gave up property rights, intellectual or otherwise.

It was probably addressed in the various novels, but what does happen in Star Trek if someone just wants to hang out in the holodeck and not work?
posted by adipocere at 10:34 AM on July 15, 2011


Defining the genes of a living organism as intellectual property, for instance—something that has been thankfully fought off by various legal and legislative means, so far, not that the fight will ever, ever be over—might cover not only the instruction, but the iteration. Unless I'm wrong. I haven't yet overestimated the creativity of corporate legal departments, but, then, I Am Not Picard's Lawyer.


I agree that the PCR stuff was carried way too far. I'm no expert but you can't patent a rock and they seemed to be using basically the same technique over and over again to "patent the ability to replicate this gene in the laboratory" and carried the concept waaay too far.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:42 AM on July 15, 2011


Interesting. You've thrown up examples of not manufactured scarcity but the real thing. That is, there only is one Lady Gaga, South Park, Mythbusters without the walrus mustache guy. And this kind of value is impossible to fake, though there's always someone trying.


Well there was that episode where they made masks of each other . . .

Kidding aside, I think it isn't impossible to fake at all. Plastic surgery, for example. And cartoons? Easily "faked." But you ignore my iPhone example, complete with the same pirated code and the like, sold out of the "Apple" store that looks exactly like the "real" Apple Store.

IP has problems, but you can't just throw the baby out with the bath water.

But as long as everyone admits downloading music and videos illegally is wrong. . . I've always had the sense that the valiant warriors against IP just wanted free music. Why else is there a sudden fight for who controls Mickey Mouse? None of this came up until easy pirating occured. It certainly wasn't a cause du jour amongst the pimple-faced crowd until Napster.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:46 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Something like the manufacturing and distribution chain for Apple products is too big, complicated, and expensive to be practical to rip off. In an IP-free environment, Apple would still have many opportunities to distinguish their goods and stores from the knock-offs, through the use of DRM (as in fact they do now), service, design and style changes, etc. Which makes the huge capital investment required to create a complete copy-cat system a doomed one. Who's going to sink millions into such a venture?

Chinese mega corporations. The same people who are doing it now, except that a lack of IP would make it quite difficult for Apple to fight this. Whose going to stop the "Apple" Store? You over estimate the requirements. The entire chain does not need to be replicated. It just has to look like Apple. It is indistinguishable from the original. You can't with one breath say that it is done now with ease and then say--its so hard to do it. Those are mutually incompatible positions.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:49 AM on July 15, 2011


Why else is there a sudden fight for who controls Mickey Mouse? None of this came up until easy pirating occured. It certainly wasn't a cause du jour amongst the pimple-faced crowd until Napster.

Disney had been lobbying to have the public domain given to them cost-free (i.e., copyright extension) for quite a while before Napster came along.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:53 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the modern era IP is increasingly about maintaining balance-of-trade with manufacturing countries like China.

Best Buy orders a container of DVD players from a Chinese company. For sake of argument the unit price extended is $10/player.

Balance of trade so far:
- USA: +N DVD players, -$10*N cash
- CHINA: -N DVD players, +$10*N cash

Now throw in patent licenses: for sake of argument, there's $2 total licensing fees that must be paid per DVD player for it to be legal to sell those DVD players in the USA. With that change, balance-of-trade looks like:
- USA: +N DVD players, -$10*N cash, +$2*N cash (net -$8 cash)
- CHINA: -N DVD players, +$10*N cash, -$2*N cash (net +$8 cash)

Just like that, the trade deficit is cut ~20%. These numbers are hypotheticals, and the actual amount of cash outflow that gets sucked back in via license payments varies from sector to sector and product to product.

In any case that's why, at this point, IP rights are considered a strong national priority and why the first world nations put so much effort into global intellectual property enforcement agreements. Stuff about protecting independent inventors or creative types is mostly feel-good marketing for the general public and only very rarely comes up in any serious policy discussion amongst those actually crafting policy.
posted by hoople at 10:55 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


what does happen in Star Trek if someone just wants to hang out in the holodeck and not work?

Snow Crash? Or, arguably, a conscious version of The Matrix.

I'm surprised that no one's yet mentioned my favorite Star Trek center of copyright murkiness: The Doctor, who is simultaneously a reproducible computer program, holographic reproduction of a real person's likeness, and sentient individual entity. When the USS Voyager makes it back from the Delta Quadrant, Starfleet's Emergency Medical Hologram division is going to be tied up in litigation for YEARS.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:59 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why else is there a sudden fight for who controls Mickey Mouse? None of this came up until easy pirating occured. It certainly wasn't a cause du jour amongst the pimple-faced crowd until Napster.

Disney had been lobbying to have the public domain given to them cost-free (i.e., copyright extension) for quite a while before Napster came along.


That's my point. The whole computer crowd complained not a whit. Why suddenly now? Because it fits in nicely with downloading free music.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:02 AM on July 15, 2011


Why else is there a sudden fight for who controls Mickey Mouse? None of this came up until easy pirating occured. It certainly wasn't a cause du jour amongst the pimple-faced crowd until Napster.

Well, the easy means weren't there until Napster etc came along. I, for one, had a hate on for big corporations and their copyright (ie: culture) control initiatives long before Napster. In fact, though I can't put an exact date on it (sometime around 1986-87?), I remember precisely when I realized that the music-biz as we knew it was doomed, and I was delighted. I was coming down from some LSD, hanging with a DJ friend who mentioned to me these things called DAT tapes, which couldn't just copy a CD, they could copy it without adding any hiss/distortion to the original as cassettes always had.

I said, "You mean you could copy the CD, then copy the copy, then copy that copy and so on forever, without ever losing sound quality?"

"I guess," he said.

"Then the music biz is finished," I said, extrapolating.

In my accelerated mind, what I saw were people mailing these various copies around to each other. Specifically, I was thinking of a high school friend who'd ended up in Singapore and how I could, with one parcel, give him all the albums I'd bought in the last six months, and then he could pass them on to his friends all over Asia ... and so on.

Internet-Filesharing-mp3-compression-Napster just accelerated the hell out of everything. The desire was already there.
posted by philip-random at 11:03 AM on July 15, 2011


That's my point. The whole computer crowd complained not a whit. Why suddenly now? Because it fits in nicely with downloading free music.

I think that's an oversimplification. Music piracy may have served as a catalyst of awareness, but I don't think the whole thing boils down to "give me free music". I mean, I buy music, but I also care about not getting stomped on by powerful interests, just as you seem to. I think it's fairer and more accurate to say that the internet served to both make violating copyright and knowing about/understanding the issues behind it easier, as it has made so many things easier.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:06 AM on July 15, 2011


Ironmouth, you're still talking nonsense until you stop using the bogus term "IP" and start using terms with actual meanings like "copyright," "patent," and "trademark".

In your iPhone example, you're confusing two completely different issues.

1. What harm is there in a company producing an iPhone knockoff (violating Apple's patents)?

2. What harm is there in a company telling lies, claiming falsely that their iPhone knockoff was actually manufactured by Apple (violating Apple's trademark)?
posted by straight at 11:10 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


What harm is there in a company telling lies, claiming falsely that their iPhone knockoff was actually manufactured by Apple (violating Apple's trademark)?

What, really? You see no harm in companies legally being able to lie?
posted by adamdschneider at 11:12 AM on July 15, 2011


I don't think that it was ever addressed in Star Trek directly--even in DS9, which as has been noted regularly interacted with money-based cultures like the Ferengi--but one possible solution (which was also used in The Diamond Age, and mentioned at the end of Alan Moore's Miracleman run, in which the title character establishes a Utopia on earth, which he and his fellow superhumans run in a sort of benevolent dictatorship) is the idea of a minimum income/standard of living. Food, clothing, shelter, probably some sort of entertainment/communication/computer access are all guaranteed--if you don't mind the generic Earl Grey, hot, or the generic jumpsuits or twenty-third or -fourth-century version of FEMA trailers. If you want something more, then you have to work for it, whether it's Chateau Picard pinot noir or a bespoke suit from Garak's or the latest episode of Vulcan Love Slaves in one of Quark'sholosuites.

The question then arises as to what medium of exchange the Federation uses, since it's canon (in at least one TNG episode, "The Neutral Zone") that they don't use money; one solution is to say that that's bullshit, as Federation citizens are shown to be purchasing things with money in DS9 on more than one occasion. Another is to say that the Federation doesn't issue its own currency, but will sell goods and services to other cultures and distribute currency to its officials and employees, like Starfleet, to use in their contacts with other cultures, even if that means that they end up blowing it all at the dabo table in Quark's. They could also have the right to exchange goods and services with each other either on a straight-up barter basis or using some other non-Federation medium of exchange like latinum. I have no idea if that makes any sense economics-wise because IANAE.

As to why people don't just replicate latinum or Chateau Picard by the case, well, Star Trek gets around that with a lot of handwaving, like replicators not being able to make absolutely perfect copies of things (this is why you can't replicate people--the stored patterns aren't as high resolution as they are for the transporters, which can only store a person's pattern for a limited amount of time) and some elements like latinum being unable to be replicated. This is also true, I think, for elements like dilithium and verterium, used in the warp drive of starships, which is one reason why starships aren't replicated, another being that you can't make a replicator that big--the largest "industrial" sized replicator on the show was about the size of a medium closet. (For an alternative look at a replicator society--in which the replicators can replicate anything, including other replicators and people, locate a copy of Damon Knight's A for Anything.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:13 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's my point. The whole computer crowd complained not a whit. Why suddenly now? Because it fits in nicely with downloading free music.

That became an issue once it became possible, yes.

Copyrights on infinitely copyable goods is a pretty pointless, if onerous, thing.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:20 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Federation citizens are shown to be purchasing things with money in DS9 on more than one occasion.

Right, but they're purchasing from non-Federation cultures, like the Ferengi and the Cardassians. Presumably if you're a Federation citizen who wants to purchase something from a non-Federation person, you can sell something you own to get latinum, and use then that. Or just try to barter for things you have, which happens all the time on Voyager.

So on DS9, you can get anything you want from the replicators, but if you want something from a non-Federation source, you have to figure out how to pay/trade or otherwise use your ingenuity. That's part of the point of the scene quoted by General Tonic.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 11:29 AM on July 15, 2011


@ Halloween Jack: (this is why you can't replicate people--the stored patterns aren't as high resolution as they are for the transporters, which can only store a person's pattern for a limited amount of time

Maybe they do replicate people... Quite a lot of SF authors have tackled the possibility that transporters work by creating a duplicate at the destination and killing the original. On ST, maybe all the sparkly effects hide the reality that the originals are being dropped through the floor of the transporter into a mincer, to provide organic source material for the food replicators. This is why Dr McCoy is so anti-transporter.
posted by raygirvan at 11:29 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe they do replicate people... Quite a lot of SF authors have tackled the possibility that transporters work by creating a duplicate at the destination and killing the original. On ST, maybe all the sparkly effects hide the reality that the originals are being dropped through the floor of the transporter into a mincer, to provide organic source material for the food replicators. This is why Dr McCoy is so anti-transporter.

Heh. Soylent green is Tom Riker?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:33 AM on July 15, 2011


Strangely enough, Galaxy Quest's take on the transporter avoids this.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:34 AM on July 15, 2011


delmoi - I don't think you're thinking this all the way through. Disney could have made their own south park. But they wouldn't be able to make much money off of it, because their clones wouldn't have any copyright protection. And on top of that, people would only download them if they were better then the Parker/Stone versions, in which case we'd actually be better off.

The idea that market forces will always send the best products to the top while keeping costs down assumes an efficient market with (near-)perfectly informed, rational consumers. When one party has a huge marketing arm and delivery system already set up (Disney and its TV channels), it has a clear advantage in its ability to make consumers aware of its product and to make its product easier to get hold of than its alternatives. Added to that, people aren't rational: when we see that something is becoming popular, we tend to jump on the bandwagon and favour that option over others.* So it seems likely that a quick-thinking organisation with deep pockets (oxymoron?) could very easily spot an interesting new idea, clone it and successfully claim the market niche as its own.

I have a related rant about market-based healthcare provision (a system in which, almost by definition, the vast majority of customers can be neither informed nor rational), but this probably isn't the place.

*There was a lovely little study done using several groups of people exposed to a collection of new music tracks and, in a simulation of the music charts, able to see which tracks others in their group were buying. For every group, tracks that seemed very slightly ahead of the pack early on would rapidly gain momentum to become chart toppers by a wide margain, but the winners were very different for every group. Fudging the numbers to make it look like a particular track was popular was also shown to make people much more likely to start buying that track and propel it to the top, even if it was being largely ignored in all other groups. By contrast, in groups where participants couldn't see sales figures, the distribution of music sales was dramatically flatter, with no clear winners. Everyone claims that they choose the tracks they buy on their own merits, but it seems clear that an item's perceived popularity among our peers is a strong influencing factor in how much we like it in the first place.

Zozo - Some characters do claim to be able to taste the difference between "real" and replicated food. Which kind of makes sense, if every "steak, medium rare" you ever order is replicated from the same pattern, and therefore identical on the molecular level. Variety is the spice of etc.

Hah, one way of interpreting these characters is that they're simply having the CD/Vinyl debate, updated for the 24th century. They want the "authenticity" and nostalgia of the imperfections in the experience.

Replicators certainly are limited though: they can't produce anything living (that Klingon dish with the living worms can't be Replicated) and IIRC there are some technological widgets that they couldn't produce when the plot demanded scarcity. Presumably, they also can't produce Dilithium with any reasonable efficiency otherwise the starships could be effectively solar powered.

In that sense, I've always wondered about the disconnect between the Transporters (which appear to have no limits on what they can deal with, but the information describing the object it is lost when the object is materialised and can't be stored without "pattern degradation") and the Replicators (produce imperfect versions of a limited range of objects, but can keep and re-use the requisite information indefinitely). I assume that there's some sort of frightfully detailed explanation on a wiki somewhere, but I just can't face going into it.
posted by metaBugs at 11:35 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have a related rant about market-based healthcare provision (a system in which, almost by definition, the vast majority of customers can be neither informed nor rational), but this probably isn't the place.

You should definitely put it somewhere. I'd read it.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:36 AM on July 15, 2011


Regarding why no one has tried to copy mythbusters:

Effin' Science


Dude, What Would Happen?


Bang goes the Theory



And just to be clear on why infinite copyright is bad, here's a selection of movies Disney did not create themselves or based on existing stories to the degree where it's impossible to claim coincidence, generally stories in the public domain : Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid. Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan and Tarzan : The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow), Robin Hood, and Oliver and Company, Treasure Planet. (source)

Many of these movies are FANTASTIC films that would never have happened if Disney'd had to license them. Other, different great films might have happened, we don't know.

My personal take is that the person who works to create something deserves to be compensated for it. Not their son, not their girlfriend, not their crotchety grandson a hundred years after they die, and absolutely under no circumstances do a bunch of lawyers who bought it from some other lawyers who bought it from the actual, art-producing work-creating artist's sister who didn't even copyright it until more than a decade after the real artist died or whatever sinuous path deserve a cut.



On topic, I think the post makes decent enough satire but if physics breaks and free energy/molecule-resolution 3D printers become available, there's no way people are going to respect the copyrights on nike shoes or pizza hut pizzas any more than they respect Led Zeppelin's or Michael Bay's copyrights.
posted by sandswipe at 11:38 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ironmouth: You over estimate the requirements. The entire chain does not need to be replicated. It just has to look like Apple. It is indistinguishable from the original.
If all the features of the buying and using experience aren't duplicated, the end product won't work the same way as the genuine article, and it therefore will not be indistinguishable. If it's not indistinguishable, it won't be a status symbol and mark of affluence like the original but rather an object of derision, a marker of the clueless. So the knock-off will have to be sold more cheaply, making it distinct from the genuine article, a marker of the owner's lower economic status, and a low-margin sales proposition all at once. Which makes the very expensive enterprise of attempting to copy it exactly a ridiculous thing to attempt in the first place.
You can't with one breath say that it is done now with ease and then say--its so hard to do it. Those are mutually incompatible positions.
What I'm trying to say is: In some cases blatant copy-catting is easy and rampant (music, television, movies) and legal. In some cases outright counterfeiting is easy and rampant (fashion, digital media, auto and aircraft parts) in spite of IP law. In some cases (smart-phones, automobiles, individual entertainment acts) counterfeiting would be ridiculously hard and probably wouldn't happen even without the IP laws that supposedly prevent it.

I'm not an anti-copyright crusader. I think creators should be able to make a living creating, and I don't think copyright and trademark are inherently bad or evil ideas. I just don't think it's quite so easy to come up with examples of disasters that IP laws have helped us avoid. IP law isn't so powerful by itself. Like any body of law, the power of the wielder is more important. It serves the little guy to the extent that the sphere of business in question is controlled by little guys, i.e., not very much at all anymore.
posted by Western Infidels at 11:40 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


raygirvan: Quite a lot of SF authors have tackled the possibility that transporters work by creating a duplicate at the destination and killing the original. On ST, maybe all the sparkly effects hide the reality that the originals are being dropped through the floor of the transporter into a mincer, to provide organic source material for the food replicators.

Kraken by Miéville and The Prestige could mate to have particularly evil bookbabies in this vein.

At least one "transporter accident"--so convenient for plot devices and Fridge Horror--resulted in two characters (Tuvok & Neelix) being merged into one person, who other than being incredibly annoying as a person made a persuasive argument for his right to continued existence. By the end of the episode he was split apart anyway; presumably Tuvok & Neelix's predating rights to exist overrode his.
posted by nicebookrack at 11:47 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


As a bonus: Ironmouth's phaser patent is an interesting example of not really getting the premise, so I'll point out why it's such a non-sequitur.

When you assume as a thought experiment the non-scarcity, replicator-world premise, you have to not only assume "here be replicators" but also follow-through on the implications.

Suppose we live in that world and Ironmouth invents a better phaser. Suppose further this world has no patents. Will Ironmouth starve in the gutter, cold and forgotten, while EvilBigCo makes a fortune running off new-and-improved phasers?

It's hard to see how, unless future-Ironmouth is truly a moron. If he's hungry, he can go replicate some food. If he's cold, he can replicate himself some suitable clothes, or a suitable shelter. The same goes, by the very premise, for the rest of his material needs: if you need it, you replicate it, end of story. You could starve, or freeze to death, but only voluntarily or out of idiocy.

What about EvilBigCo: will EvilBigCo make a fortune off of Ironmouth's invention? Unlikely, b/c by assumption anyone and everyone can replicate this stuff too, so it's not like there's really a fortune to be made here anyways. If it's a good phaser and people need phasers a lot of phasers will be replicated. and that's the end of the story. It's not even clear EvilBigCo would exist in replicator world; what's the point?

Does Ironmouth miss out on a fortune? Hard to see how, since after all even before he invented his phaser he could've replicated whatever he wanted whenever he wanted, and that'll still be true after he invents his phaser.

So in the replicator world with no patents, the entire "what if I invent something but get ripped off?" line of thought is nonsensical in the context of the premise. And, if it's nonsensical, it's not clear why anyone in that world would want to waste their time -- one of the true scarce resources -- trying to set up a legal apparatus that solves a problem that isn't actually a problem.

That's at least in part why the post-scarcity paradigm is so boring, but it's still worth looking at as the "far end of the spectrum"; the extreme cases help expose the ranges over which the parameters can vary as you move through the space of possiblities.
posted by hoople at 11:50 AM on July 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


Ironmouth: Really? Then why aren't there three versions of Mythbusters on TV? Why isn't there a 'Christian' version of South Park designed to undermine the original? And why aren't there 4 people pretending to be Lady GaGa and so hawking themelves out on the concert circuit? And why aren't there 15 things calling themselves the iPhone, all indistinguishable from the original all sold out of "Apple Stores" completely indistinguishable from one another?

Pardon me if I'm being stupid, but what? You give this like it's some kind of refutation. Here's the comment which you quoted, and I assume you were replying to:

adicopere: Intellectual property was not just a right, it was also a responsibility. An inventor or artist has a temporary monopoly but the deal made was that We The People would eventually get hold of that after a reasonable period of time. The deal has been broken and the promises made no longer serve the original intents.

You are misunderstanding adicopere's comment. He is not claiming that the restriction on availability part has been ineffective, but rather that it has been too effective. The counterbalance, that eventually such things will enter the public domain and thus be exploitable by all and built upon for derivative works, has been neglected, thus locking up the rights to many things written before World War I. This is ridiculous and is the result, not of copyright law scholars tirelessly working to protect the rights of the Little Guy, but of the financial largess of DisneyCo.
posted by JHarris at 11:50 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


me - I have a related rant...
adamschneider - You should definitely put it somewhere.

I don't know whether that was deliberate, but without the second sentence that's one of the best could-go-either-way responses I've ever read. It's up there with a line in a recent email from an ex, who wrote "don't die, no-one would want to go to your funeral".
posted by metaBugs at 11:52 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


If all the features of the buying and using experience aren't duplicated, the end product won't work the same way as the genuine article.

Why would you think that?

First, if we stipulate that you can't tell the difference by looking at it, and stipulate further that the software UI is identical (because it's the same software), then it pretty much will in fact work the same as the genuine article, for most people's purposes. The holistic back story don't mean sheeit, if (as stipulated) there's no observable difference between the artifacts.

If your argument is that there would be an observable difference, then you'd have to also make the argument that the difference would matter critically in some way: Either people would immediately recognize the difference, and it would sufficiently harsh their buzz as to TOTALLY ruin the Apple Experience for them, or the small differences, whether noticed or not, would somehow magically kill the buzz regardless. I have much more sympathy for the former than the latter, and for markets where they're not that familiar with Apple products ("Look, it's a genuine Magnetbox!") it makes little sense at all.

As far as the "buying and" part, you seem to be hung up on the experience of visiting Apple stores or ordering from Apple.com. Which, I daresay, is not where most people get their iProducts.
posted by lodurr at 11:55 AM on July 15, 2011


> Why people are supporting changes in the law that will help the Goliaths of this world over the Davids, I don't know. People cite Disney as a behemoth who profits from its 'monopoly' and attack it because of the market power its trademarks give it. But imagine Disney made uber powerful by a decline in IP laws. South Park is a funny show. But with no IP protection, Disney could have completely copied South Park, put it on its own channel and used its superior marketing arm to wipe out the original--to our detriment.

Except... Disney became powerul - in part - because of the "weak" copyright surrounding the Grimm Brother's fairy tales.

If weaker IP protection was in Disney's interest, why have the spent they last forty years or so, buying laws to ratchet up copyright protection?
posted by mmrtnt at 11:55 AM on July 15, 2011


Damon Knight wrote a series of stories, later frankensteined into a novel (I think I read it as _'E' is for 'Everything'_, or maybe _'A' is for 'Anything'_)

The fixup A for Anything aka The People Maker was published in 1959; the short story “A for Anything” in 1957. It's pretty dystopic.

Less dystopic but still not Roddenberry-optimistic is the replicator story arc from George O. Smith's Venus Equilateral series. This one is more about economic upset rather than the utter collapse of society. Published in 1945, apparently.

I have a vague memory of a similar but less fully developed story from the 1930s as well. These aren't outliers; these are classics of SF. The importance of scarcity and the idea of imposing artificial scarcity to preserve our current way of life were not obscure concepts. (I'm also reminded of Fitzgerald's “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”.)

This is why Dr McCoy is so anti-transporter.

He just needs to learn to think like a dinosaur.
posted by hattifattener at 11:55 AM on July 15, 2011


The main classic SF story I can think of is Pohl's "The Midas Plague," where rather than manufacturing scarcity, they enforce required consumption -- as you advance to a higher status in life, you have to consume less, so that by the time you retire you're allowed to live a simple life with the heat turned down, wearing worn but comfortable clothes, and having just a salad for dinner.
posted by lodurr at 12:03 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


All these post-scarcity thought experiments are only really interesting to me for what they have to say about non-post-scarcity living. The nature of the way a lot of people approach and consume SF is that to a greater or lesser extent they think of it as predictive. Even when we think of it as a thought experiment, we usually have a littel bit of a predictive mindset about it.

When it comes to scarcity and post-scarcity, this has come to me to seem particularly dangerous. It's of a piece with the general Positivist-SF assumption that with better technology comes a solution to all our problems, as long as we're rational enough about it. (And if we're not, then we don't deserve teh solution.) But as much as I would argue that we treat SF futures predicatively, people who read a lot of SF are still a lot better about understanding the limitations of prediction than people who aren't really "one of ours", as an SF-writer acquaintance likes to put it. The whole DotCom bubble, for example, was fueled by a particularly egregious bit of absurd post-scarcity fantasy that somehow equated perfect digital copies of digital files with an end to scarcity.

So, 'what would happen in a post-scarcity world' is an interesting question to me only when you put it into an at least nominally realist perspective: A world with 5B, 6B, 8B people in it, with dwindling energy reserves (remember, energy=food), where here in the west we have such a wealth of resources that we can eat ourselves to an early grave and casually throw away electronic devices that could change the life of someone somewhere else in the world.

What I'm saying is that we already live in a world that could be post-scarcity, but we already have manufactured scarcity. We don't need replicators or transporters, and they really just muddy up the discussion.
posted by lodurr at 12:14 PM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


What about EvilBigCo: will EvilBigCo make a fortune off of Ironmouth's invention? Unlikely, b/c by assumption anyone and everyone can replicate this stuff too, so it's not like there's really a fortune to be made here anyways. If it's a good phaser and people need phasers a lot of phasers will be replicated. and that's the end of the story. It's not even clear EvilBigCo would exist in replicator world; what's the point?

Does Ironmouth miss out on a fortune? Hard to see how, since after all even before he invented his phaser he could've replicated whatever he wanted whenever he wanted, and that'll still be true after he invents his phaser.

I was just writing something similar (although not quite as well said). I'd point out that Ironmouth not only doesn't miss out on a fortune, he gets a huge shot of the most valuable thing in the world -- reputation -- since he's the genius who invented a better phaser.

I think it's important to consider that post-scarcity only refers to physical scarcity. In the ST world, there are only so many people who can be Jean-Luc Picard, or even Joe Crewmember on the Enterprise. And I don't doubt that Starfleet's doors would be crowded with people willing to give years of work for a chance for that sort of distinction, rather than lounging in comfortable obscurity for their whole lives.
posted by bjrubble at 12:17 PM on July 15, 2011


Question: It's like he has never seen anything remotely connected to Star Trek. 'Cause you know who has a job in every incarnation of Star Trek? Everybody.

And, um, if his concept of Communism is a world where no-one is required to work, that's just ... extra-special.


Response: This is Roddenberrian optimism. He assumes (as others have before him -- Marx assumed this, as well, and I seem to recall echoes of it in Adam Smith) that people will want to work; Star Fleet requires allegiance because you can't make an organization like that work, otherwise, but no one back at home in the Human worlds is required to have a specific, explicit job. That's made very explicitly clear in several TNG and DS9 episodes. Working is a cultural requirement, not a practical one.

Some random thoughts inspired by this conversation and the thread in general:

Marxist communism is not, despite what many Americans seem to think, a bunch of hippies hanging out doing nothing or a throwback to some sort of "noble savage" paradigm. A communist society is one in which the individual worker is not alienated from the product of his/her work. That is, you aren't working for The Man with the product of your labor going into someone else's pocket.

In a Marxist utopia, one no longer desires more physical property than needed to support your life because rather than finding value in things one finds value in doing and being to full human potential. Like in Star Trek: why the fuck would I want to work 12 hours a day to buy some doodad to look at, when I could explore the universe/make wine/play the trombone/study alien plants/whatever. The human no longer finds (false & temporary) satisfaction in the external object but in fulfilling human potential. In a world where a scarcity of resources still exists, this means that "enforced labor" (labor that does is not an expression of YOU but in which the product of that labor goes elsewhere) is minimized in order to share equitably the burden of providing for all.

I imagine that if Marx knew what technological advances were going to be made in the 20th-21st century, he'd be a little bit surprised to learn that we still live in a capitalist/oligarchical world. "You have robots and computers and the internet and satellites and shit? Why doesn't everyone just work for 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, from home to control some robots on the other side of the world to harvest some corn and then spend the rest of your time doing whatever you want? You can provide for everyone to live comfortably, capitalism has done its job, why haven't you gone to the next step?" In many respects we live in a post-scarcity world -- we have the capacity to produce more than enough food to feed every single person on the planet a nutritious diet throughout their lives. But, all the pre-existing divisions -- national, corporate, religious, political, gender, sexual, etc. -- enforce artificial scarcity by giving a few control over all the resources.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:31 PM on July 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


lodurr: The holistic back story don't mean sheeit, if (as stipulated) there's no observable difference between the artifacts.
There is no "holistic back story" at all, even for the genuine article, as far as I know. That's not why the complexity of the process is important.

You're approaching the question as if a smart-phone is equivalent to low-tech manufactured objects, like a pencil or a plow, which, once manufactured, are functional for their owners/users independent of the actions of or fate of the manufacturer. But telephones in particular have never been like that; the phone is just the visible end-point of an enormous network of human, organizational, and electronic infrastructure.

The postulated iPhone counterfeiters would have to hire, train, and pay counterfeit "Apple geniuses" at their fake Apple stores. As you point out, the phone would have to run exactly the same software - but wouldn't the DRM prevent that? To run the same software, it would have to have the same CPU and ASICs - why would the manufacturers of of such parts deal with the counterfeiters, when they've already got a fat contract on the real thing? The phone would have to connect to the same cell network - but why would the carrier, already making money hand over fist with the real thing, allow that to happen? It would have to run the same apps, purchased from the same app store - but why would Apple allow the counterfeit phones access to their store? To keep their products indistinguishable, the counterfeiters would have to move in perfect unison with Apple's updates, meaning they'd have to have a system of spies inside Apple.

Maybe the counterfeiters could build their own counterfeit cellular system and app store to run the whole thing on. But at that point, they'd be doing more work than Apple did developing the phone in the first place. Why bother piggybacking on someone else's name, if you've got that kind of wherewithal?

I'm only talking about the iPhone and Apple because that was the original example. Probably a bad one. I don't own any Apple products. I don't think it's fair to say I'm "hung up on" any particular aspect of the Apple shopping/buying/using experience, but it is my understanding that Apple devotees do care about such details.
posted by Western Infidels at 12:33 PM on July 15, 2011


Also what lodurr said.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:33 PM on July 15, 2011


but what does happen in Star Trek if someone just wants to hang out in the holodeck and not work?

I'm sure that at some point, some moral busybody drags you out of the holodeck and forcibly puts you in the audience of one of the endless series of tediously-formal classical violin recitals Federation people have instead of fun.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:36 PM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


He's only called that when he is writing The Wasp Factory, otherwise, throw in an extra I.

I'm terribly embarrassed. I was so busy trying to remember whether to use the "M" that I forgot all about the "I".
posted by The Bellman at 12:40 PM on July 15, 2011


You're approaching the question as if a smart-phone is equivalent to low-tech manufactured objects, like a pencil or a plow, which, once manufactured, are functional for their owners/users independent of the actions of or fate of the manufacturer.

The wonderful thing about modern manufacturing is that devices like iPhone knockoffs are, in fact, much like pencils or plows. That's especially true if you're making an iPhone knockoff that works like an iPhone: It doesn't rely on the manufacturer (who isn't Apple anyway, even for real iPhones), but rather on the entity it's pretending is its manufacturer. It's like a Cuckoo in that regard.

Which, to you point about it not being a very good example, it probably can't, because iPhones always have to chat to Apple and Apple's going to notice these aren't the real thing. But that's not the same as requiring the whole process to be replicated -- that's one particular aspect of design and process (namely, that the machines have to phone home and identify themselves when they do it).

Another reason iProducts aren't good examples is because they do have such a strong dependency on Apple. Something that didn't have such a strong dependency would be a better example. There are electronics like that -- most smart phones aren't tied into their manufacturers at all, but rather, they're tied into the service provider. Or getting away from networked devices, you could easily produce a Dell or Toshiba knockoff that looked and seemed as good as the real thing for any user who never had a warranty issue with it.

That's where the rubber meets the road on the difference, and it's got nothing to do with the whole process of designing or making the device, and everything to do with a particular legal nicety: namely, that the company you're trying to get to honor the warranty is not really the company that produced it.

And in fact, this is where iProducts do make a good example: Because they aren't actually manufactured by Apple, only produced by them. They're manufactured somewhere else -- one of several somewheres else, depending on the product, build, day of week, etc. Where in Shenzen it comes from doesn't make a difference to you as a user.
posted by lodurr at 12:59 PM on July 15, 2011


The best thing about this truly awesome thread are all the mentions of sci-fi & speculative fiction that deal with economics, post-scarcity, etc. Someone really needs to come up with a comprehensive list of these stories, preferably in chronological order, divided by types of media (book, film, etc), and put into various sub-genre categories (dystopian, satiric, left-wing, etc.)

Hint, hint.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:02 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


If weaker IP protection was in Disney's interest, why have the spent they last forty years or so, buying laws to ratchet up copyright protection?

It's not all that mysterious. Weak IP for the people, strong IP for corporations. People spend several hundred years developing and refining stories. This is non-market-based cultural production. A corporation comes along and harvests the fruit of all that free labor, in the same way as any natural resource. It's "processed" into a film, copyrighted, sold and the profits are privatized. A problem arises when the people rely on the media industry to entertain them, so they stop creating culture, the media industry stagnates and we get reality TV shows, endless remakes and sequels. This is because creating original content is expensive and risky for media companies to develop their own, so they have to rely on the cultural commons. Without that, quality drops.

The internet with its ideology of participation restarts the engine of cultural production. Someone like Justin Bieber can go from YouTube videos to multi-platinum records with much less cost to the music industry, because he's already proven his viability as a star on YouTube. This is a much less risky way of developing talent, but the side effect is weakening intellectual property protections. If you enforce them too strongly, you kill commons-based cultural production. Justin Bieber the YouTube star needs to be able to sing covers of popular artists to get off the ground.

The other reason this is tolerated is that most of the profits in the media industry go to content distributors and aggregators anyway, for whom content licensing is a cost. That's why Silicon Valley hates (some kinds of) copyrights - they are in the distribution business, not in the content creation business. If there were no copyright protections at all, they would make plenty of money just being a channel, distributing content among a group of people who are simultaneously the audience and the artists/authors/performers. Like Metafilter.

That's not to say that copyright is always good or that there are no problems with IP. But the way the debate has proceeded, the first victims of weakening IP are authors, artists and musicians. Not, for example, big pharmaceutical companies. I don't see that trend changing.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:21 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


AlsoMike, the way I would put it would be that Disney is buying law that is favorable to Disney at this time, and that if other law turns out to be favorable to Disney in the future, then they'll buy that at that time. As a large company with great commercial, financial, administrative and legal resources, they have the capacity to do that in ways that simply aren't available to individual artists.
posted by lodurr at 1:25 PM on July 15, 2011


Which, to you point about it not being a very good example, it probably can't, because iPhones always have to chat to Apple and Apple's going to notice these aren't the real thing. But that's not the same as requiring the whole process to be replicated -- that's one particular aspect of design and process (namely, that the machines have to phone home and identify themselves when they do it).

Another reason iProducts aren't good examples is because they do have such a strong dependency on Apple. Something that didn't have such a strong dependency would be a better example. There are electronics like that -- most smart phones aren't tied into their manufacturers at all, but rather, they're tied into the service provider. Or getting away from networked devices, you could easily produce a Dell or Toshiba knockoff that looked and seemed as good as the real thing for any user who never had a warranty issue with it.


With no IP rights to defend, it would likely be an anti-trust violation to prohibit others from using your network. You'd be forced to allow it.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:35 PM on July 15, 2011


What's your reasoning on that? (First thing I want to know, is do you have a legal precedent in mind?)
posted by lodurr at 1:40 PM on July 15, 2011


Lodurr: "You talking to me?"

*attempts quick draw in mirror.*
posted by Ironmouth at 1:52 PM on July 15, 2011


if so, see 15 U.S.C. section 14. "tying" is what it is called. That's what got Microsoft in trouble.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:54 PM on July 15, 2011


tapesonthefloor: I would love to see a fan-made TNG satire wherein post-Starfleet human society functions using this sort of dark, Stone Age capitalism instead of everything humming along on the usual dose of Roddenberry's endless optimism.

well, I just started watching the Star Trek: Enterprise episodes where in an alternate history, Terran humans run a galactic empire that's cruel, war-loving and fascist and has enslaved many other alien races and also all the hot womenfolk, even the military officers, have to bare their midriffs all the time.
posted by Bwithh at 2:07 PM on July 15, 2011


Ironmouth, I don't know from the precedent or how to look it up, offhand, i was rather hoping you would explain it, seeing as how I recalled that you are an attorney & all ;-). I.e., I am actually looking for an explanation, not trying to push your buttons.
posted by lodurr at 2:07 PM on July 15, 2011


... but having disclaimed, how does the lack of IP protection make them vulnerable to tying claims?

I should also mention that, as far as I know, the requirement of Apple devices to talk to Apple is a practical one -- that the extent to which it has legal force is a matter of contract with the carrier, not with Apple. (My stepson tries to keep me up on this stuff.) You can divorce your iProduct from Apple without voiding its warranty (though I think people had to go to court for that), but the way the things work, it's a practical requirement: You can't get notifications, for example, unless the device can talk to Apple, because the notifications don't come from the device itself -- they come from Apple. I also gather that the jailbreak community has figured out some privacy-related workarounds for that, but my stepson didn't explain them to me in detail.
posted by lodurr at 2:11 PM on July 15, 2011


At the risk of repeating myself, looking at a post-scarcity world as one where reputation replaces money as the unit of measurement clears up a lot of these issues, IMO.

For example, IP isn't a monolithic concept and different aspects would merit different treatment. Patents say "you can't use my ideas to fix your problems" and would presumably carry little weight, but trademarks say "you can't pretend to be me" and would be critically important. In the iPhone example, there would be nothing wrong with taking all the parts of an iPhone and making something that worked just like it. Sure, people at Apple put a lot of work into coming up with all those ideas, but the reward is that everyone thinks "Apple is cool" and this isn't diminished by other people taking those ideas and building off of them. (I would imagine that in a reputation-based system, people would go out of their way to worship innovators and despise copycats.) But if you call it an iPhone you're pretending to be Apple, and if you put your device on Apple's network you are impacting their network. In both cases you are detracting from Apple's reputation, and they should have every right to protect that.
posted by bjrubble at 2:13 PM on July 15, 2011


Reputation systems are so radically different from the way things have worked for the past several hundred years that I don't understand the migration path. Most SF I've seen that's based on them don't really help with that. Where it does show you the interim stages (e.g. Sterling's Distractions, Heavy Weather, and "Bicycle Repairman"/"Maneki Neko"-era stories), the reputation economy is seen as fairly alien to most "normals."
posted by lodurr at 2:20 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


well, I just started watching the Star Trek: Enterprise episodes where in an alternate history, Terran humans run a galactic empire that's cruel, war-loving and fascist and has enslaved many other alien races and also all the hot womenfolk, even the military officers, have to bare their midriffs all the time.

Please, please, please tell me you know that didn't start with Enterprise.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:20 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


For example, IP isn't a monolithic concept and different aspects would merit different treatment. Patents say "you can't use my ideas to fix your problems" and would presumably carry little weight, but trademarks say "you can't pretend to be me" and would be critically important.

The author of the piece made no such distinction and only went after "IP laws."

Listen, who here is anxious to do Mickey Mouse fanfic for money? So why are people caring? I don't get it. Unless its about free downloading.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:32 PM on July 15, 2011


>Also Cracked has summarized none to most of the post-scarcity debate.

>I thought the ideas expressed in the article about IP were better expressed, by of all things, the cracked article on bullshit and farts.

In all honesty, if you've not read the Cracked article, it's worth doing so.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:36 PM on July 15, 2011


Reputation systems are so radically different from the way things have worked for the past several hundred years that I don't understand the migration path.

Well, we already rate people on our online interactions with them on, for example, Xbox Live. Freedom by Daniel Suarez posits a similar rating system, but it exists alongside both the regular economy and the parasite economy of the Daemon.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:38 PM on July 15, 2011


This shakes out to an Orwellian artificial imposition of scarcity similar to "1984." Given processor power and robot labor you don't need many humans to do research or do guard/lawyer work which is pretty much only conflict to preserve some sort of advantage over another.

The Federation seems to have a very low utilization of robots, given what we've seen of it. We've also seen people doing menial tasks like floor cleaning

Then again, if we accept that the writers actually know what bosons are, then the episode where the Enterprise is swept for "Boson contamination" actually means that they used highly dangerous fields to do dusting. Given the failure modes of Federation technology, I have to wonder how many cities they lose from high-energy janitorial work.

Anyway it's trivial to show that even in the presence of replicators, scarcity is still going to exist, and some way of reconciling scarcity with desire has to exist. For example:

Housing: some areas are going to be more desirable to live in than others, even in the 24th century. How is it decided who gets to live in the apartments with the nice view of San Francisco bay? I guarantee you there's going to be more demand than supply.

There's a live concert of everybody's favorite 19th century string quartet cover band (because no music post WWII is played anymore); who gets the tickets, and why? In fact, when the quartet wants to play in a given concert hall, who decides yes or no?

I can give hundreds more examples of scarcity, though that doesn't imply a money economy. Some Trek fans I've talked to say that obviously people apply to allocation boards to get access to limited resources; if you want to live somewhere, make a request yo the housing board; want to open a restaurant in a popular area, make a case to both the food preparation and land allocation committees. It would be a classic command economy...with all that implies.

Interestingly, there's some evidence that SOMETHING happened between the time of old Trek, with its use of credits as a unit of exchange, and Next Generation. By ST IV they aren't using money...and it's interesting that the scientists in The Wrath of Khan seem to be genuinely scared and angry at StarFleet. Hmm...could an ideological revolution have occurred? One which reordered the economy, and then society at large? Is that why, on the one hand we have the flawed yet brave and ambitious Old Trek crew, and the smugly arrogant true believers of Next Generation? Was Picard mainly an apparatchik?
posted by happyroach at 2:48 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Now if you're into anti star-*, here's Force Skeptics.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 3:02 PM on July 15, 2011


The internet with its ideology of participation restarts the engine of cultural production. Someone like Justin Bieber can go from YouTube videos to multi-platinum records with much less cost to the music industry, because he's already proven his viability as a star on YouTube. This is a much less risky way of developing talent, but the side effect is weakening intellectual property protections. If you enforce them too strongly, you kill commons-based cultural production. Justin Bieber the YouTube star needs to be able to sing covers of popular artists to get off the ground.

Here is a good lecture on why you should let the people help define your brand. (From Metafilter's own, DarlingBri)

I've always had the sense that the valiant warriors against IP just wanted free music. Why else is there a sudden fight for who controls Mickey Mouse? None of this came up until easy pirating occured. It certainly wasn't a cause du jour amongst the pimple-faced crowd until Napster.

Napster came out like right after the latest extension in the late nineties. Copyright issues were going to come up one way or another once copying became so easy. You may have wanted stuff in the public domain before, but it wasn't a pressing issue because you would still need to get a physical copy somehow.

Now, you can make a good argument that new releases should have protection, but not so good an argument that stuff from 1918 should not be in the public domain by now. Yes, I want that music for free.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:27 PM on July 15, 2011


Any discussion of replicators, transporters, etc., outside of pure fantasy, must include the preface "First, ignore physics.".
posted by kjs3 at 3:49 PM on July 15, 2011


zabuni: I thought the ideas expressed in the article about IP were better expressed, by of all things, the cracked article on bullshit and farts.

I can't be the only person who saw this and thought: "I bet David Wong wrote that." Why the hell hasn't one of the dead tree pushers hired that guy yet?
posted by Decimask at 4:05 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


@Halloween Jack:this is why you can't replicate people--the stored patterns aren't as high resolution as they are for the transporters, which can only store a person's pattern for a limited amount of time

Not exactly
posted by kjs3 at 4:33 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


. ny discussion of replicators, transporters, etc., outside of pure fantasy, must include the preface "First, ignore physics.".

There's nothing inherently impossible about the concept of a replicator. We already have 3-D printing machines, and similar 3-D printers using nutrients are being prototyped. A general-purpose fabricator capable of printing out anything from food to fabrics to metal tools is conceivable, though it doesn't seem especially practical. More likely would be fabricators in the kitchen, garage and utility room, fed from different feedstocks of raw materials. I admit it doesn't seem likely that materials like silk or integrated circuits could be made any time soon, and the initial capabilities of fabricator,s or replicators, or whatever you want to call them, will initially be limited. But then again, the capabilities of automobiles and airplanes were initially quite limited as well.
posted by happyroach at 6:13 PM on July 15, 2011


Is The Little Mermaid Hans Christian Andersen fanfic? Commercial venture? New IP? All of the above?
posted by bonehead at 7:57 PM on July 15, 2011


@happyroach: What you cite is not what Star Trek promises. Turning photoreactive goo into plastic isn't even close.
posted by kjs3 at 8:16 PM on July 15, 2011


kjs3: yes, exactly, because 1) like most of the original Enterprise crew, Scotty is a powerful exception to the rules; 2) the jury-rig to the Jenolen's transporter was a Hail Mary pass in emergency circumstances; and 3) the other guy didn't survive.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:23 PM on July 15, 2011


Maybe it's a little late in the thread to point this out, but I don't think Star Trek industrial replicators were used for mass production of consumer goods. It was mentioned in at least one episode that industrial replicators were needed to rebuild factories after a war. The story suggested that a planet might need two or three such replicators to get its manufacturing sector up and running. I assumed this meant the replicators were used to create manufacturing equipment, not finished goods.
posted by ryanrs at 8:25 PM on July 15, 2011


I've always had the sense that the valiant warriors against IP just wanted free music. Why else is there a sudden fight for who controls Mickey Mouse?
Trademark law
The same people who are doing it now, except that a lack of IP would make it quite difficult for Apple to fight this. Whose going to stop the "Apple" Store? You over estimate the requirements.
In China? No one You can buy an knockoff "iPhone" today if you want too.

But there's a fundemental confusion between copyright and trademark here. Look at two examples of things that are not protected by copyright. Fonts and smells. You find knockoff perfumes all over the place. You can find perfumes that smell exactly like Channel No. 5. But they're not called Channel No. 5.

Or look at fonts. Ariel and Helvetica differ by only 5 glyphs a, f, r and t. All the other characters are identical. Why is that possible? Because fonts aren't protected by copyright in the U.S. So fonts rely on trademark law to protect them.
Well, the easy means weren't there until Napster etc came along. I, for one, had a hate on for big corporations and their copyright (ie: culture) control initiatives long before Napster.
Christ you people. I was pirating mp3s 3 or 4 years before napster was even released. In fact I never even installed it. I had a limitless supply of mp3s on my local university's computer LAN

---
The idea that market forces will always send the best products to the top while keeping costs down assumes an efficient market with (near-)perfectly informed, rational consumers. When one party has a huge marketing arm and delivery system already set up (Disney and its TV channels), it has a clear advantage in its ability to make consumers aware of its product and to make its product easier to get hold of than its alternatives. Added to that, people aren't rational: when we see that something is becoming popular, we tend to jump on the bandwagon and favour that option over others.* So it seems likely that a quick-thinking organisation with deep pockets (oxymoron?) could very easily spot an interesting new idea, clone it and successfully claim the market niche as its own. metaBugs
They could make their own southpark clone. But they couldn't call it southpark. That's the thing.
posted by delmoi at 8:30 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can find perfumes that smell exactly like Channel No. 5. But they're not called Channel No. 5

Actually, they would be called as Channel No 5, mostly because the original is called Chanel No 5, and the shanzai folk love wordplay.
posted by the cydonian at 10:31 PM on July 15, 2011


...and the shanzai folk love wordplay.

so they seriously do that stuff on purpose?
posted by lodurr at 4:40 AM on July 16, 2011


@Halloween Jack: Sorry. Wrong again. It may have been a hail mary pass, but clearly the equipment is capable of doing it. Period. It's now merely an engineering problem to make it reliable. And a 50% success rate on the first try isn't too bad.

And I have precisely no clue what you mean by your comment 1.
posted by kjs3 at 2:15 PM on July 16, 2011


How is it decided who gets to live in the apartments with the nice view of San Francisco bay?

I think that's part of the artifice there. Manufactured desire for superior status based on, in this case, spatial positioning for a view of a natural feature.
And anyway, your apartment could be 2 x 2 meters and the rest of it could be holosuite to provide living space, so millions of people could live in that area given the technology. Or just provide a live view of it with automatic teleportation to a spot just outside a 'door' on the bay.

But put the tech off to the side - ok, I'm JL Picard, I've got gigantic status and I can swing a groovy 'apartment' (that is, current understanding of 'apartment') by SF bay.
Of course, I'm never there because I'm off doing the things that gain me that status.

So again, we're not utilizing and enjoying something directly derived from our own (economic) actions, we're denying something to someone else that they might desire, which again leads to an oppressive sort of system and means we might as well be back to money and working 9-5 and hiring/building thugs to maintain that (because I'm JL Picard dammit, you can't have the same groovy view I do!) which falls back into a self-limiting, sphexish (more on that in a bit) system.

What would seem to be more a naturally economic thing, because I don't think humans can not 'work', it's just a matter of what kind of work is valued, is what we come up with in the process of living our lives.

Some guy spending his life jerking around in a holosuite is going to come up with some interesting holosuite ideas. Stuff that people who don't spend their lives doing that aren't going to come up with.
Katamari Damacy comes to mind. Of what real use is Keita Takahashi?
In, say, stone age terms I mean.

He doesn't hunt or forage, he hasn't come up with new farming techniques. He sits around all day and dreams.

A caveman alive today in the U.S. would be able to eat all day, find shelter and clothing and make use of tons of raw material just sitting there for the taking. Easy living.
For him the concept of value is radically different. Still, they were mostly autodidacts. If they weren't we probably wouldn't be here.

The problem is it's far more complex and refined in the modern age and so too human interaction becomes refined and augmented and things that have value become far more rarefied.
And it's about as hard to envision them as it is to get a caveman to understand video game design and how people get food/shelter/etc. out of that behavior (a LOT of it, about $95,000 on average after doing it for six years).

I think a manufactured good would lose any associated value but the products of human interaction - music say, or in Takahashi's case, his game(s), would get more attention.
You'd likely wind up doing what you love - more - and that would be called 'work' and have value regardless of your status.
There's no need to incentivize Takahashi to design games any more than there is a need to prod a caveman to hunt/forage for food or make tools.
It's behavior that's inherent in their response to their environment. The difference being, given the Star Trek technology, we'd have greater control over the environment.

That being the case, and money itself being an artifice, surely we can come up with more refined and complex expressions of valuating time and energy and human interaction.

The human no longer finds (false & temporary) satisfaction in the external object but in fulfilling human potential.

A bit back I took a garden design class. I've taken cooking classes. Art. Sculpture. As much as I can really. (And for the most part these have only served to reinforce the idea that I excel in destroying things.)
I was heading off to class one time and my buddy asked where I was going. "To learn some horticulture"
"Why?"
How do you answer that? I mean, he's got a valid point. Everything I plant tends to die. I act about as well as you'd shoot pool with a rope. I speak some other languages but lots of folks speak English now and there are technology based translators so even learning other languages isn't the vast advantage it once was.

So yeah, he's got a point. Why autodidacticism, much less taking the time to go somewhere and pay money to learn this stuff?
But I said "Well, what are you going to do today?"
"I dunno"
"Yeah. C-ya."

I could sit home waiting for something to happen to me, but then, nothing will. I don't think many people live that way by choice. Even if you're playing a video game all day, most people want to do something.

Really good bit here from Hofsteder's book "Metamagical Themas" on antisphexishness.

Also here on the difference between the hermetic nature of sitting in a holosuite all day (or in this case, going to Disneyland) and the more chaotic, antisphexish, in this case "Wonka" nature of transcending the system once you're relieved of mundane needs.

(Money shot in case tl;dr :"The evidence will consist in digital storytelling which proceeds not through the use of conventional narrative, but rather, in interactions with the world to be taken as real. Not the pale, poly-agonal representation of the real supported by VR, although the attractiveness of immersive worlds counts as evidence. Rather, if I am correct, the future of fiction will comprise arrays of artifacts, in whose selection and manufacture will be manifested the art and artifice of a new kind of narrator.")

I think that conflict is at the heart of Star Trek as well - you're either leaving the restrictive nature of whatever rules are imposed (benevolent or not, at first) or you're staying within the self-contained system.

And indeed, the danger is not that you'll spend all day in a holosuite or not 'work' but rather that you will live your life in the Federation without seeking (or knowing to seek) genuine experience. Most people in the modern world can't really think of a world without money, so there is a danger there of impotence whatever the system.

But again, we want to work. Consciousness wants new perspective, new ideas, new things even if we're otherwise paralyzed. And humans will always be driven by that more than by hunger or scarcity (man does not live on bread alone).

(Bit from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
"He'd been having trouble with students who had nothing to say. At first he thought it was laziness but later it became apparent that it wasn't. They just couldn't think of anything to say.
One of them, a girl with strong-lensed glasses, wanted to write a five-hundred word essay about the United States. He was used to the sinking feeling that comes from statements like this, and suggested without disparagement that she narrow it down to just Bozeman.
When the paper came due she didn't have it and was quite upset. She had tried and tried but she just couldn't think of anything to say.
It just stumped him. Now he couldn't think of anything to say. A silence occurred, and then a peculiar answer: "Narrow it down to the main street of Bozeman."
It was a stroke of insight.
She nodded dutifully and went out. But just before her next class she came back in real distress, tears this time, distress that had obviously been there for a long time. She still couldn't think of anything to say, and couldn't understand why, if she couldn't think of anything about all of Bozeman, she should be able to think of something about just one street.
He was furious. "You're not looking!" he said.
A memory came back of his own dismissal from the University for having too much to say. For every fact there is an infinity of hypotheses. The more you look the more you see.
She really wasn't looking and yet somehow didn't understand this.
He told her angrily, "Narrow it down to the front of one building on the main street of Bozeman. The Opera House. Start with the upper left-hand brick."
Her eyes, behind the thick-lensed glasses, opened wide. She came in the next class with a puzzled look and handed him a five-thousand-word essay on the front of the Opera House on the main street of Bozeman, Montana.
"I sat in the hamburger stand across the street," she said, "and started writing about the first brick, and the second brick, and then by the third brick it all started to come and I couldn't stop. They thought I was crazy, and they kept kidding me, but here it all is. I don't understand it."
Neither did he, but on long walks through the streets of town he thought about it and concluded she was evidently stopped with the same kind of blockage that had paralyzed him on his first day of teaching.
She was blocked because she was trying to repeat, in her writing, things she had already heard, just as on the first day he had tried to repeat things he had already decided to say. She couldn't think of anything to write about Bozeman because she couldn't recall anything she had heard worth repeating.
She was strangely unaware that she could look and see freshly for herself, as she wrote, without primary regard for what had been said before. The narrowing down to one brick destroyed the blockage because it was so obvious she had to do some original and direct seeing." )

posted by Smedleyman at 2:34 PM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or look at fonts. Ariel and Helvetica differ by only 5 glyphs a, f, r and t. All the other characters are identical..

Except the G, R, S, s, C, c, Q, 1, 3, 6, 9, %...
posted by Sys Rq at 6:13 PM on July 16, 2011


tapesonthefloor writes "The humour here—even just in Picard's request for tea being denied due to an expired contract—is endless."

Or because of a buggy piece of DRM.

mrgoat writes "I think the real reason they make wine the old way is some handwavey 'the replicators don't make it right' explanation. Which makes no sense, if you think about it."

It's the Digital Monster Cable effect. People can be convinced a difference exists even if the difference is impossible.

Ironmouth writes "But as long as everyone admits downloading music and videos illegally is wrong. . . I've always had the sense that the valiant warriors against IP just wanted free music. Why else is there a sudden fight for who controls Mickey Mouse? None of this came up until easy pirating occured. It certainly wasn't a cause du jour amongst the pimple-faced crowd until Napster."

The railing against copyright predates Napster by a sizable time period. The often misunderstood cliche "Information wants to be free" dates to the mid 80s.

lodurr writes "First, if we stipulate that you can't tell the difference by looking at it, and stipulate further that the software UI is identical (because it's the same software), then it pretty much will in fact work the same as the genuine article, for most people's purposes. The holistic back story don't mean sheeit, if (as stipulated) there's no observable difference between the artifacts. "

The back story is important to some people and to see that all you have to do is look at the antiques and dead artist markets. People so rich that their daily needs are covered by the change they can find in their couch use objects that can't be reproduced to keep score.

EG: antique furniture. With the exception of a few unobtainium materials (ivory, rare old growth woods) none of the antique furniture is functionally unique. Throw Norm Abrams or other equivalent expert at a pile of wood and they can recreate any antique furniture item. The only difference a Chippendale antique secretary originally made by the Goddard-Townsend family of cabinet-makers worth 12 million dollars or 7 million dollar double eagle and something constructed today by a skilled craftsman is its back story.

Ironmouth writes "Listen, who here is anxious to do Mickey Mouse fanfic for money? So why are people caring? I don't get it. Unless its about free downloading."

There seems to be plenty of people willing to do fanfic of all genres and types for free. It stands to reason that plenty of those people would do it for pay if it was an option.

delmoi writes "Christ you people. I was pirating mp3s 3 or 4 years before napster was even released. In fact I never even installed it. I had a limitless supply of mp3s on my local university's computer LAN "

To say nothing of USENet which has been a firehose of copyright infringement since at least the great renaming.
posted by Mitheral at 12:25 AM on July 18, 2011


Mitheral: The back story is important to some people...

... and those are historically not the same people who buy counterfeit merchandise. So it's not important for the discussion at hand.

This discussion is about the kind of people who started buying ear buds with white cords when that was a major marker that you were using an iProduct, and about people who are provincial or ill-informed enough to mistake a fake for the real thing. It's not about people who actively fetishize the backstory.
posted by lodurr at 5:36 AM on July 18, 2011


Robin Hanson posted an analysis of this scenario.
posted by grobstein at 7:57 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


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