The "intellectual property" misnomer

Ben Finney bignose-hates-spam at and-zip-does-too.com.au
Sat Jul 12 05:30:32 CEST 2003


On Fri, 11 Jul 2003 22:47:21 -0400, Tim Peters wrote:
> Ben Finney wrote:
>> Guido van Rossum wrote:
>> > The PSF holds the intellectual property rights for Python
>> Ugh.  Please don't propagate this ridiculous, meaningless term.
> 
> Guido isn't writing a treatise on the law, he's briefly explaining
> (part of) what the PSF does.

The term he used doesn't explain anything, and only confuses.  It would
have been *less* confusing to say "The PSF holds something unspecified
for Python".  At least there is no pretence of explanation there.

> I doubt many are confused by what he said

People may have an assumption about what is meant by the term, but they
are almost certainly wrong, since the fields of law that are sometimes
lumped together by that term have almost nothing in common.

There is nothing useful indicated by the term "intellectual property
rights", because it presumes there is some commonality between fields of
law that deal with different intellectual concepts, impose different
restrictions, and presume different rights.

Those who are not confused by the term, are misguided as to what it
means.

> and you proved you're not [confused by the term]
> [by listing some disparate fields of law that might be referred to by
> the term]

This doesn't follow at all.  I requested that the "rights" being
referred to should be stated, not handwaved with a term that presumes
that copyright, patent, trademark, trade secret, or many other disparate
legal areas can be lumped together.

If PSF holds rights that are covered by *all* those fields of law, I'd
be very surprised; but if the "rights" are *not* covered by all those
different legal areas, then the term is useless.

>> If the PSF holds the copyright to Python, please say that.
>> If the PSF holds patents which cover Python, please say that.
>> If the PSF owns the trademark for Python, please say that.
>> If the PSF has trade secrets in Python, please say that.
> 
> So you somehow managed to divine Guido's intent from that "ridiculous,
> meaningless term"

No, I requested that the term be clarified, because *I don't* know what
is meant by "The PSF holds the intellectual property rights for Python".
It's a meaningless statement as it stands.

If the PSF holds software patents in Python, I imagine many would be
outraged.  I don't believe it does.  If it's not the case, why imply it
with an overbroad term?

If the PSF holds trade secrets in Python, they are surely nullified by
the publishing of the code.  If it's not the case, why imply it with an
overbroad term?

> <0.5 wink> -- part of the PSF's business is indeed dealing with all
> legalities affecting the use of Python.

Then a more meaningful statement would be "The PSF handles all
legalities affecting the use of Python".  At least that doesn't attempt
to specify something that can't be pointed to specifically with a single
term.

The harm done by implying ideas should be treated as property is
insidious and extremely counterproductive.  There's nothing gained by
using this term that is worth that.

> I don't think pedantic verbosity makes it any clearer, but may mislead
> due to omission.

And using a term that attempts to blanket wildly different legal rights
is *not* misleading due to omission?

[snip attempted proof-by-google]

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