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Written on February 8, 2007, and categorized as Secret and Invisible.
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People have been sharing things since the dawn of time. In the light of Saint Steve Jobs of Apple yesterday denouncing DRM, following along Uncle Bill Gate’s “just rip it” edict in December, I would like to remind you of an ancient concept – Usufruct.

Usufruct is a highly useful meme which society would do well to recall, one which you are entitled to use and profit by, so long as you keep it in good repair at your own expense.

Usufruct stems from a regard for property, not a disregard for it, or for ownership; it is rather an extension of ownership along practical lines. The word comes from Latin (use – fruit) but the concept is more ancient than Rome. Legally it means: you can use it even if you don’t own it, the fruit in question not being Apple at all but those of one’s labours.

The concept was certainly alive in ancient Britain, in Celtic times, when valuable items like hammers, swords, drinking vessels, saddles, might be in short supply with no hardware department of the local megalithicstore able to supply you with an easy replacement at the drop of a fine gold broach. So, if I wasn’t using my hammer and someone needed it, they would without hesitation come and get it to bang in whatever fence post they needed to bang in; if the bandits were coming over the hill, then it didn’t particularly matter which sword or shield you grabbed to defend the hearth and prevent your tribe from becoming slaves (not that the Celts did much of this – it was really a Roman thing).

Communal needs were held to be important and valuable, and dogs in the manger were not. If you weren’t using something valuable, then someone else could, so long as they didn’t break it or render it useless. Sharing was not only the norm, in a time when resources were precious, common ownership kept the community healthy, safe and productive.

Fast forward to 2007. When it comes to issues such as the ownership of music, protected / unprotected MP3s, videos on YouTube, legally we’re in a total mess, although culturally, we’re doing just fine. The law quite rightly seeks to protect the livelihoods of copyright owners (not just music companies: recording artists, writers, producers, engineers) from being undermined, but, since it pays no attention to humanity’s tendencies to share things, and to use them for new purposes, excessive protectionism is terminally bound to fail. This is why the Creative Commons system is such a success, as it allows for less restriction and more variation in usage, so accurately providing for what humans are actually doing.

Useful things have always been shared, and useful culture has been passed on ever since the invention of print, with loans of erudite books between my learned friends and the circulation of penny-dreadfuls in the ale houses. Whether DRM goes or stays, so it will always be.

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One Comment

  1. dr eamer
    Posted 9 February, 2007 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing! :p

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