Charlie's Diary

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Wed, 09 Feb 2005

"First we take Manhattan ..."

According to a rather neat article in First Monday, musicians and artists for the most part don't earn their living through intellectual property rights; there's a power law at work, with maybe the top ten individuals in a given country earning twice as much as the next 200 put together, and more than the bottom 10,000 professionals in the field put together. Meanwhile royalties captured from sound samples used to create new works of music, for example, eat up almost all the profitability of the new works. And as Tobias Buckell notes in his survey of SF writers' book advances (in the USA) "the typical advance for a first novel is $5000. The typical advance for later novels, after a typical number of 5-7 years and 5-7 books is $12,500."

So I think I'm standing on defensible ground when I say that artists and musicians mostly don't benefit much from their copyrights, and genre authors (us working stiffs who are supposed to rely 100% on our intellectual property rights for our income) also do pretty badly overall.

So it was with some surprise that I stumbled across the ideology of Galambosianism. At first I wasn't sure if it was an April Fool entry in the wikipedia; it's just too bizarre, especially the second paragraph. But on second thoughts, it matches what else I know about Objectivists (Galambos is of course a follower of Ayn Rand). I'm going to reproduce the current WikiPedia entry in full:

'''Galambosianism''' was a short-lived doctrine of intellectual property absolutism, founded in the 1960s by Joseph Andrew Galambos, also known as Andrew Joseph Galambos, and descended from libertarianism and/or the teachings of Ayn Rand. The primary concept of Galambosianism was that one's ideas were one's "primary property", a higher form of property than physical assets (which were merely "secondary property"), and second only to one's life (one's "primordial property"). In Galambosianism, property rights were absolute; Galambos was quoted as saying that freedom is the condition in which everyone has 100% control of their property and 0% control of anyone else's property. This held that any new idea belonged irrevocably and in perpetuity to its inventor and their heirs, who were entitled to control and profit from its use in perpetuity. Galambosianism did not allow for a public domain; the owners of ideas or their heirs could not renounce ownership of an idea or even waive payments due to them. It is said that Galambos believed, for example, that the word "liberty" was the primary property of the heirs of Thomas Paine, and would drop a nickel into a fund, to give to Paine's descendants, every time he used it. It is also said that Galambos changed his name from Joseph Andrew to Andrew Joseph to avoid owing his father (whose primary property, by his own arguments, his birth name was) royalties for using it.

Galambosianism never caught on as an idea because, under its own laws, Galambos was the only person allowed to disseminate it; remaining consistent with his own rules, he made all attending his lectures sign confidentiality agreements, prohibiting them from divulging the content of his lectures. As such, in memetic terms, Galambosianism was sterile. It has been argued, though, that recent efforts to extend the scope of copyright and patent laws (such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and various WIPO treaty proposals) are the intellectual heirs of Galambosianism.

I'm still trying to absorb the implications of Galambosianism if taken to its logical conclusion -- especially in view of the obviously contradictory position of Galambosian information property rights and the actual utility of such rights to creative individuals trying to earn a living from them. Might, perchance, the current fad for intellectual property totalitarianism, as campaigned for by bodies like the RIAA and MPAA, be the outcome of a cabal of underground Objectivist/Galambosianist campaigners working to inflict their views on us through interminable committee processes and international treaty law? Stranger things have been alleged: and knowing that, for example, Alan Greenspan was a young follower of Rand, and that the Frank Furedi/Spiked!/Institute of Ideas crowd (currently admired by the Adam Smith Institute) started out as the Revolutionary Communist Party of Great Britain, does lend a glimmer of plausibility to the idea of an octopus-like Galambosian Entryist Underground, with its tentacles embedded in the upper echelons of the music and film industries, thereby to bring Objectivist nirvana and universal mandatory property rights to us all -- whether we want them or not.

[Discuss politics]

posted at: 16:51 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry


Is SF About to Go Blind? -- Popular Science article by Greg Mone
Unwirer -- an experiment in weblog mediated collaborative fiction
Inside the MIT Media Lab -- what it's like to spend a a day wandering around the Media Lab
"Nothing like this will be built again" -- inside a nuclear reactor complex

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Juan Cole: Informed comment ]
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Groupthink Central (Yuval Rubinstein) ]
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