Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Catholic Intellectual Property Rights

With the recent flap about the Feds seizing domains I've been thinking about intellectual property rights (IPR). As one acquaintance put it "when the Feds make a law that turns 90% of the world into criminals there is something wrong with the law." Now, I doubt that 90% of the population shares files illegally, but I do agree the law in this matter is ridiculous.

I discussed this before, in the post "Your Digital Rights". While there is a legitimate case for a content producer to be paid for his labor, I believe goods (including intellectual goods) should be priced in a way that respects the consumer, not gouges him. How many people would bother to illegally copy a movie if you could buy it for a dollar, and retain the right to watch it? Or perhaps rent it for $0.50? IP law is stifling innovation and economy rather than promoting it.

So I started to consider what the Church might have to say. I don't really have time to give this all the research it deserves, but I didn't want to let the topic go by. In "Ethics in Internet" the Pontifical Council for Social Communications writes:
It is imperative “that the gap between the beneficiaries of the new means of information and expression and those who do not have access to them...not become another intractable source of inequity and discrimination”. Ways need to be found to make the Internet accessible to less advantaged groups, either directly or at least by linking it with lower-cost traditional media. Cyberspace ought to be a resource of comprehensive information and services available without charge to all, and in a wide range of languages. Public institutions have a particular responsibility to establish and maintain sites of this kind.
As the new global economy takes shape, the Church is concerned “that the winner in this process will be humanity as a whole” and not just “a wealthy elite that controls science, technology and the planet's resources”; this is to say that the Church desires “a globalization which will be at the service of the whole person and of all people”.
At the 48th series of meetings of WIPO the Vatican issued the following declaration (apologies for the poor automated translation):
The ration d'être  of the system of intellectual property protection is the promotion of literary, scientific or artistic work and, in general, the creative for the "common good". Therefore, the protection provides a statutory right of the author or inventor's recognition of ownership of his work and to a certain degree of economic return. At the same time, it serves the material and cultural progress of society as a whole. According to Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights "Everyone has the right to protection of moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author." Ultimately, the protection of intellectual property recognizes the dignity of man and his work, which becomes an expression of the growth of individual personality and the common good and contributes to it.
Pope Benedict XVI writes, in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate:
On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care.
Some may say that with all the problems of the economy we shouldn't make IPR a central issue. Yet it can be argued that at least some of our economic woes (if not many) are due to inequities arising from the application of improper or unjust intellectual property rights.

For more information check out Elèutheros, a Catholic Approach to Computer Science. Their manifesto declares:
On the basis of official Church documents like Encyclicals [Free Software's surprising sympathy with Catholic doctrine] and CEI directorates [Software Libero, Comunicazione e Missione], we are convinced that there are strong ideal affinities between Christianity, the philosophy of Free Software [The Free Software Definition] and the adoption of Open Formats and Protocols [The Frequently Asked Questions of the Eleutheros Project]. We believe it is evident that the usage of such instruments is much more in line with Catholic Doctrine than fully closed, non Free solutions.

Elèutheros is an association of Catholics whose mission is to serve the Catholic Church through promotion and development of an always increasing harmony between the doctrinal principles mentioned above and the concrete choices made in the Information Technology field at all levels in the ecclesiastical world: from Parishes to Dioceses, from School to Congregations, up to Bishop Conferences and the Vatican itself.
Pretty cool!


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