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!”