Category Archives: IP etc in fiction

intellectual property, rights to information, and other such stuff as depicted in fiction

rights to information on Beta & Barrayar

Okay, I’m on some kind of a roll with fictional discussions of IP etc. Here’s another: Lois McMaster Bujold, in Barrayar, chronicled a cross-cultural exchange about the value of information access. Cordelia, from the planet Beta, is shocked that poor people don’t have access to information; Vorkosigan, from the planet Barrayar, is shocked at her definition of poverty:

“[The town is] very poor. It was the town center during the Time of Isolation, and it hasn’t been touched by renovation yet. Minimal water, no electricity, choked with refuse….”

“Mostly human,” added Piotr tartly.

“Poor?” said Cordelia, bewildered. “No electricity? How can it be on the comm network?”

“It’s not, of course,” answered Vorkosigan.

“Then how can anybody get their schooling?”

“They don’t.”

Cordelia stared. “I don’t understand. How do they get their jobs?”

“A few escape to the Service. The rest prey on each other, mostly.” Vorkosigan regarded her face uneasily. “Have you no poverty on Beta Colony?”

“Poverty? Well, some people have more money than others, of course, but … no comconsoles?”

Vorkosigan was diverted from his interrogation. “Is not owning a comconsole the lowest standard of living you can imagine?” he said in wonder.

“It’s the first article in the constitution. ‘Access to information shall not be abridged.'”

That’s a constitution I’d like to read. The conversation continues:

“Cordelia… these people barely have access to food, clothing, and shelter. They have a few rags and cooking pots, and squat in buildings that aren’t economical to repair or tear down yet, with the wind whistling through the cracks in the walls.”

“No air conditioning?”

“No heat in the winter is a bigger problem, here.”

“I suppose so. You people don’t really have summer… How do they call for help when they’re sick or hurt?”

“What help?” Vorkosigan was growing grim. “If they’re sick, they either get well or die.”

“Die, if we’re lucky,” muttered Piotr. “Vermin.”

“You’re not joking.” She stared back and forth between the pair of them. “That’s horrible… why, think of all the geniuses you must be missing!”

Sparky Valentine & IP

John Varley has made more than a few comments about IP and information politics in his various stories. The Golden Globe (recommended) was centrally concerned with an actor named Sparky Valentine, and Sparky had a few observations about IP:

In the early days, when they were considering various ideas for a corporate logo, Valentine had suggested using a character from the old Popeye cartoons. Since they were all in the public domain, Sparky had settled on Wimpy taking a bite out of a hamburger.

followed by:

There was another department whose mission in life was to steal. Steal from dead people, it’s true, but steal nonetheless. Sparky had long ago given up coming up with plots and, except for the occasional inspiration, characters. Anything in the public domain was fair game. Old comic books were a fertile source. Almost anyone who had had his or her own comic book in the twentieth or twenty-first century had made a guest appearance on Sparky by now. Sparky had visited locations from Gotham City to Surf City. Old movie and television serials had been plundered for plotlines and cliffhangers. Sparky had entered alternative universes, places where classic private eyes, singing cowboys, half-breed aliens with pointy ears, and giant radioactive ants actually existed.

And also about librarians:

Hal had a UniKnowledge module, which was the nearest thing we’d ever get to summing up all human information collected since the days of the Cro-Magnon. It held all the libraries of Old Earth. All the movies, television shows, photo files. Billions of billions of bits of data so obscure a researcher might visit some of it once in two or three hundred years, and then only long enough to find it no longer had any reasonable excuse for being. But it wasn’t thrown out. Capacity was virtually infinite, so nothing was ever tossed. Who knew? In ten centuries the twenty years of telemetry from Viking I might be of use to somebody. A vanity-press book, published in 1901, all about corn silage in Minnesota, of which no hard copy existed, might be just the reading you were looking for some dark and stormy night. The UniKnowledge held thousands of books printed in Manx, a language no one had spoken in a hundred years. It held Swahili comic books teaching methods of contraception. It contained cutting-room debris saved from a million motion pictures, discarded first drafts of films never made. A copy of every phone book extant at the time we began to record data by laser, and every one printed since. Fully half of the information in the UK had never been cataloged, and much never referenced in the centuries since its inception, and most of it was likely never to be cataloged. That would be taking the pack-rat impulse too far. Librarians had other things to do, such as develop more powerful search engines to sort through the inchoate mass of data when somebody wanted to find out something truly obscure.

patents on Barrayar

Well, in the Barrayaran universe, anyway. Lois McMaster Bujold, in Memory, mentions patent labeling techniques during a briefing on a “bioengineered apoptotic prokaryote”:

“I could read much of its product history off its molecular structure. First of all, whoever made this did not begin from scratch. This is a modification of an existing, patented apoptotic organism originally designed to destroy neural plaque. The galactic patent code for that perfectly legitimate medical application was still readable on some of the molecular fragments. The modified prokaryote, however, bore no identifications of laboratories of origin, licensing, or patent markings. The original patent is about ten years old, by the way, which gives you the first point in your time-window problem.”

“That was going to be my next question,” said Miles. “I hope we can narrow things down more than that.”

“Of course. But you see how much we learn already, just from the codes and their absences. The original medical prokaryote was pirated for the new purpose, and the people who modified it were obviously not concerned with legitimizing it for mass trade. It has all the signs of being a one-off job for a one-time customer.”

Memory, Chapter 21 (p.307-308)