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Decline of Killer App #3

If you look at the success of Western society the past two centuries, over most of the rest of the world, one of the key components, the building blocks of that success, is property rights of the individual protected by law. I believe the phrase in Americanish goes something like, “possession is 9/10ths of the law.” You have an entire Amendment in the US Constitution almost entirely dedicated to the subject, so on and so forth. You can see the importance of those rights in a recent TED Talk given by historian, Niall Ferguson (see embedded video), as he candidly discusses the decline of Western civilization and the ending of the Great Divergence.

In the past 15 years, as Western society has become deeper entwined into a digital existence, pretty much all talk of the protection of property rights of citizens, has dried up and disappeared. Matter of fact, the only time you even hear about digital property rights in the new Millennium, is big lobbies like the RIAA, the MPAA and the ESA pushing for laws and international treaties like SOPA, PIPA and ACTA, designed to punish their customers and in many cases to dictate the customer no longer has property rights associated with digitally purchased content.

That’s right. The reason you never hear anything any longer about securing digital property rights for the individual, is big lobbies are pushing to do away with them altogether. We are literally heading into a future, where you can literally buy 10,000 songs on iTunes, and not have any ownership rights whatsoever, for your purchases. And this anti-property rights movement by big industry, is even spreading from the digital landscape, into the world of real world purchases. How many people actually read the full EULA on products you purchase . . . say like your PlayStation 3s, for example. You’d be shocked at how many rights even a company that people love like Sony, are trying to secure for themselves away from the actual people who pay for their physical products.

And bring up the Sony angle, this actually taps into what all the fuss was about last year when George Hotz cracked the system to run open source programs. The very act of that has less to do with piracy, and more to do with contradicting Sony’s desire to control over what their customers do with real world products their customer spent real money purchasing. And Sony is not the only one doing this – many other huge corporations are all riding on the anti-property rights for individuals bandwagon. Apple took a similar stance against Hotz when he created the first jailbreak for the iPhone. Were it not for the FCC stepping in, and saying that customers have the right to do with their own property what they chose to do with it – like take their iPhones to another carrier, or side load their own apps into the iPhone, things would have gotten very nasty for cell phone users everywhere.

And when you think about it, it does not make a lot of sense. When you buy a house or a car, does the car dealership, or the Realtor who sold it to you, get to dictate to you if you can paint it a different color, or make additions/subtractions to/from it? Of course not. The law protects consumers from that sort of harassment. But those laws are vanishing faster than you can turn your head to the left – and the front line to vanishing property rights is the continued silence by the Western governments on the property rights of the individual for digitally acquired property. Which is ironic, as places in Asia like Korea have been protecting digital property rights of their citizens for nearly a decade now.

This ruling in the Dutch High Court, is probably the first such actually granting an individual in the West protection of their digital acquired property – certainly the first I have heard of such a thing happening in the West. Notice how the law did not come from Parliament, or the PM . . . you know, the parts of government most likely to be subjected to the whims of big lobby organizations; specifically US lobby organizations, who seem to increasingly be puppeteering the actions of the US State Dept to influence the actions of parliaments and PMs all across the Western world.

Probably one of the most interesting things Niall Ferguson asked in his speech to TED, was could the institutions that have kept Western civilization powerful for centuries, could those institutions be deleted. And when you look at a lot of what is going on in the economic and political arenas of the last fifteen or so years, you really begin to see an increasing amount of erosion of the institutions that has made life good for us. Definitely when you look at the property rights issue in particular, the realize that powers are moving forward with plans to extend digital property rights only to the wealthy, simply because the rest of us do not know to demand them for ourselves, that is an eye openning thought. Factored in with other of the big six institutions also being eroded, you are looking at the basis for creating a microcosmic version of the Big Divergence right here within our own society – where the disparity between the wealthy and the common man becomes astronomical. It does not require anyone much leg work to see it happening even as we look on. For most of us, just a quick trip downtown, and we’ll find a large group of out of work college grads, ‘occupying’ some park in protest of the systematic erosion of the very institutions that have kept our society strong for centuries.


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