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A limit on ideas?

Reader calls for a cap on copyright protection.

In the March Feedback section, [reader Harry Inman] states that “copyright law was passed to allow a man to control and profit from his ideas,” and from this he concludes that “change has to go to protecting the innovator and maintaining an infrastructure that allows him to profit from his work.”

I would strongly recommend that he review correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison regarding the problem of copyrights and patents. From that correspondence you will clearly see that the goal of copyright law is not to reward the creator, but to encourage creation of new works. Rewarding the creator is merely a means to that end.

However, by extending the protections under copyright law, as has been done now to the point where works are protected for an obscenely long time, we actually defeat the purpose of promoting creation of new works. If you can become comfortably wealthy from one work, and that work is protected for the rest of your life, what incentive do you have to create more? If, on the other hand, your protections run out after a relatively short interval, you will enjoy wealth from creation and also have the motivation to create new works to ensure the continuation of that wealth. Right now, the balance is tipped in favor of content creators, with big entertainment businesses working very hard to tip the scales even further.

The fact that so much illegal copying is done shows not only that it is easy, but also that the laws against it are skewed beyond reason, by sacrificing the wants and needs of the many for those of the very few. When laws no longer make sense to common citizens, they become ignored.

The federal government should drastically reduce the duration of copyright protections, perhaps to a mere dozen years, which is far beyond the primary profit interval for many works. (How many 12-year-old software programs would you buy at full price today?) In addition, the scope of fair use should be broadened and described more concretely.

Stuart Whitmore, Founder, Open Music Registry

In your March 2002 issue, Maggie Biggs stated, “You’ll want to implement both a BIOS password and a boot password.” This is very bad advice to give administrators–as if to say, if there is a power outage the box will not be able to recover on its own. This is just bad practice, and no competent admin would ever do such a thing. The real solution would be to password-protect the BIOS and only allow booting off the hard disk. But then configure Linux to only allow a command prompt in single user mode only if the root password is given. This will prevent root access on a reboot and thus help secure the box from local hack attempts.

Glenn E. Bailey III, Network Security Solutions Developer Sprocket Data Inc.

Thank you for the well-written and informative Business Advisor column in the March 2002 COMPUTERUSER. From your article, I now know much more about where to donate functioning computers.

However, I’d like to know how one responsibly disposes of an old, non-functioning computer that’s unsuitable for donation.

Charles D. Anderson, Senior Analyst and Product Development Engineer, Precision Scientific

Matt Lake replies: Some computer recyclers are prepared to take machines that aren’t working-they try to salvage working parts and afterward grind down the parts and extract recyclables from the grit that’s left over. I know that the PEP site that I mentioned in the column does list some such organizations in some areas. Other places will weed out one or two nonworking computers from a donation of largely working computers without making a fuss, but they wouldn’t appreciate a donation consisting largely of duds.

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