Abandoned intellectual property

Abandoned Intellectual Property. I read a piece on this subject at OSOpinion over the weekend, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. There are, of course, a lot of people calling for abolition of copyright or radical changes. This is, believe it or not, one of the tamer proposals I’ve read.

I’m definitely of two minds on this one. Take my first ever publication for money, in 1991. Compute Magazine, before Bob Guccione had managed to totally ram it into the ground, opted to buy my spring break project I collaborated on with a friend. We were writing a video game for the Commodore 64 and 128 and we were getting tired of trying to draw the title screen manually with graphics commands (bad enough on the 128 which had Basic commands to do such things, but on the 64 you were talking peeks and pokes all over the place–someone really should have written this thing back in 1982!) so we wrote a program to do the work for us. You loaded the sprites, moved ’em around, hit a key, and it gave you the Basic code to re-create the screen, suitable for inclusion in your program. We never finished the game, but we got a cool $350 and international recognition (OK, so it was a dwindling audience, but how many high school kids can say they’re published authors at age 16?).

Now, the problem. General Media whittled Compute down until it was basically just another PC mag, abandoning the multiplatform support that made it so great (I read about my beloved Commie 8-bits but still got the opportunity to learn about Macs, Amigas and PCs–what could be better?), market share continued to dwindle, and eventually Guccione and GM sold out to Ziff-Davis, who fulfilled your subscription with a choice of mags (I remember I opted for PC/Computing). So the copyright went to Ziff-Davis, who never did anything with the old Compute stuff. A few years later, Ziff-Davis fell on hard times and eventually hacked itself up into multiple pieces. Who owns the old Compute stuff now? I have no idea. The copyrights are still valid and enforcable. I seriously doubt if anyone cares anymore whether you have the Nov. 1991 issue of Compute if you’re running MOB Mover on your 64/128 or emulator, but where do you go for permission?

The same goes for a lot of old software. Sure, it’s obsolete but it’s useful to someone. A 68020-based Mac would be useful to someone if they could get software for it. But unless the original owner still has his/her copies of WriteNow, Aldus SuperPaint and Aldus Persuasion (just to name a few desirable but no-longer-marketable abandoned titles) to give you, you’re out of luck. Maybe you can get lucky and find some 1995 era software to run on it, but it’ll still be a dog of a computer.

But do we have an unalienable right to abandoned intellectual property, free of charge? Sure, I want the recordings Ric Ocasek made with his bands before The Cars. A lot of people want to get their hands on that stuff, but Ocasek’s not comfortable with that work. Having published some things that I regret, I can sympathize with the guy. I like how copyright law condemns that stuff to obscurity for a time. (Hopefully it’d be obscure in the public domain too because it’s not very good, but limiting the number of copies that can exist clinches it.)

Obscurity doesn’t mean no one is exploited by stealing it. I can’t put it any better than Jerry Pournelle did.

I don’t like my inability to walk into record stores and buy Seven Red Seven’s Shelter or Pale Divine’s Straight to Goodbye or The Caulfields’ Whirligig, but I couldn’t easily buy them in 1991 when they were still in print either. But things like that aren’t impossible to obtain: That’s what eBay and Half.com are for.

For the majority of the United States’ existence, copyright law was 26 years, renewable for another 26. This seems to me a reasonable compromise. Those who produce content can still make a living, and if it’s no longer commercially viable 26 years later, it’s freely available. If it’s still viable, the author gets another 26-year-ride. And Congress could sweeten the deal by offering tax write-offs for the premature release of copyrighted material into the public domain, which would offer a neat solution to the “But by 2019, nobody would want WriteNow anymore!” problem. Reverting to this older, simpler law also solves the “work for hire” problem that exploits musicians and some authors.

All around, this scenario is certainly more desirable for a greater number of people than the present one.

From: Bruce Edwards

Dear Dave:

I am having a crazy computer problem which I am hoping you or your readers may be able to give me a clue to.  I do have this posted on my daily journal, but since I get very little traffic, I thought your readership or
yourself may be able to help.  Here’s the problem:

My wife’s computer suddenly and inexplicably became very slow when accessing web sites and usually when accessing her e-mail.  We access the internet normally through the LAN I installed at home.  This goes to a Wingate machine which is connected to the aDSL line allowing shared access to the internet.

My computer still sends and receives e-mail and accesses the web at full speed.  Alice’s computer now appears to access the web text at about the speed of a 9600 baud modem with graphics coming down even more slowly if at
all.  Also, her e-mail (Outlook Express) usually times out when going through the LAN to the Wingate machine and then out over the internet.  The LAN is working since she is making a connection out that way.

File transfer via the LAN between my PC and hers goes at full speed. Something is causing her internet access to slow to a crawl while mine is unaffected.  Also, it appears to be only part of her internet access.  I can
telnet out from her computer and connect to external servers very fast, as fast as always.  I know telnet is just simple text, but the connection to the server is very rapid too while connecting to a server via an http
browser is much much slower and then, once connected, the data flows so slow it’s crazy.

Also, dial-up and connect to the internet via AOL and then use her mail client and (external to AOL) browser works fine and is as speedy as you would expect for a 56K modem.  What gives?

I tried reinstalling windows over the existing set-up (did not do anything) and finally started over from “bare metal” as some like to say.  Reformat the C drive.  Reinstall Windows 98, reinstall all the drivers, apps, tweak the configuration, get it all working correctly.  Guess what?  Same slow speed via the aDSL LAN connection even though my computer zips out via the
same connection.  Any suggestions?


Bruce W. Edwards


Hi Bruce,

The best thing I can think of is your MTU setting–have you run any of those MTU optimization programs? Those can have precisely the effect you describe at times. Try setting yor MTU back to 1500 and see what that does. While I wholeheartedly recommend them for dialup connections, MTU tweaking and any sort of LAN definitely don’t mix–to the point that I almost regret even mentioning the things in Optimizing Windows.

Short of that, I’d suggest ripping out all of your networking protocols and adapters from the Network control panel and add back in TCP/IP and only the other things you absolutely need. This’ll keep Windows from getting confused and trying to use the wrong transport, and eliminate the corrupted TCP/IP possibility. These are remote, but possible. Though your reinstall should have eliminated that possibility…

If it’s neither of those things, I’d start to suspect hardware. Make sure you don’t have an interrupt conflict (rare these days, but I just saw one a couple weeks ago so I don’t rule them out). Also try swapping in a different cable or NIC in your wife’s machine. Cables of course go bad more frequently than NICs, though I’ve had horrible luck with cheap NICs. At this point I won’t buy any ethernet NIC other than a Bay Netgear, 3Com or Intel.

I hope that helps. Let me know how it goes for you.

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