Nov 29, 2005

Waves and Particles

I had a red Netflix envelope waiting for me after my nightmarish National Airport to Adams Morgan travels (the actual flight was just fine). In the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie I was reminded of the unique debate creators of content have in current technology. Mike Teavee is one of the 5 Golden Ticket holders, the only one who "hacked" the system for the coveted prize. As Willy Wonka shows the children into the TV Room and explains that he is transferring his chocolate bars from one area to another through the same airwaves that TV's use, young Mike exclaims, "You can't do that. Don't you know there's a difference between waves and particles?"

I took note of that line, because it occurred to me when he said it just how different intellectual property is from real property. As Wonka proved to Mike that he could indeed copy a chocolate bar and even Mike himself, Mr. Teavee proclaimed, "Don't you understand you have made the most important invention of our time? And you're wasting it on chocolate? You've got to tell people about this!" Then today I ran across the following quote:

"A crucial point is that fair use and free use are not the same thing," DeLong explained. "Consumers' interest is in having creative works readily available, in the same sense that consumers have a strong interest in having a good supply of decent food available in the supermarket. In neither case does this mean that the cost should be zero. '"

and I thought, but what if particles could be copied and transferred just as easily as waves? The grocery industry and farmers would surely be in an uproar. After all, they've made their living for years and years on the assumption that food is a unique good. You'd be silly to think that if you bought a cantelope once that you could make a copy for each time you were in the mood for cantelope. The food industry would probably fight to stop such an erosion of the corner they've held on the market for so many years. On the other hand, think of how many people would be fed. Starvation could be cured. Where food was plentiful anyway, people would never have to stand in a grocery line again; making food would finally be easy.

Still, the people who grew and distributed and sold the food would have hardships and they would want to be paid a cut of each copy of cantelope made. But in the end, I think most would agree that the ability to feed the world ad infinitum is a worthwhile use of the technology. As a believer in strong fair use interpretations, I have a hard time with DeLong's statements, but his point did certainly ruin a perfectly weird movie for me last night.


jeffro said...

cantaloupes for all!!!

widttf said...

well, let's say we can "copy" cantaloupes. assuming it is as easy to copy cataloupes as willy wonka says, wouldn't that bring the cost to produce cantaloupes down to basically zero? if this is the case, why wouldn't the price of cantaloupes drop to near nothing? in fact if the consumer is the one with the copying technology, why should they pay anything to the producer after the initial purchase? the producer doesn't own the copying technology. if the producers feel threatened by this technology then they need to purchase the rights to the technology to keep it under wraps (ex. oil companies and almost every form of alternative fuel source technology) or purchase it to increase their own profits. if they can't afford the price of the technology rights then they will unfortunately be left behind in the evolution of the cantaloupe marketplace (ex. species that do not adapt to surrounding pressures will become extinct = natural selection).

now, when i first read your title i thought you may be delving into quantum theory where light can be both waves and particles. under this theory, it may be possible to transmit chocolate bars via waves. check it out. the craziest corner of the science field!