April 23rd, 2008

rivka as ww

The right of making available

Here's the IP lawyer's reaction to this latest male-entitlement fantasy running around fandom:

"Open source" is a category mistake of the ugliest kind. The concept of open source, as with intellectual property generally, is based on the fact that my possession of a copy of a program doesn't interfere with your possession of a copy of the same program. Nor does my alteration of the program, and subsequent release of my alterations on the same terms, interfere with your possession and use of your copy. The general term for that is "nonrivalrous," and the fact that, in the absence of law, people can easily make copies without permission is "nonexcludability."

Who is supposed to be doing the open sourcing here? For those of us who aren't Cylons, there aren't many copies. Bodies are rivalrous (and this fellow's very professions of happiness at being granted access indicate that he knows this). And a big part of the project of feminism has been to establish excludability as women's fundamental right, when it hasn't been the default. To call for women's bodies to be "open source" is simultaneously to reject the authority of women over their bodies--a fragile enough authority already--and to commodify, to thingify, women's bodies into fungible copies: the neat trick of reducing us to our bodies and then denying us control over them. (In real open source, you don't get to say no to a user you don't like. That's kind of the point of open source: everybody gets to play. So when the ferret person is shocked that people are reading his proposal as coercive--well, even if there weren't the cultural background he's so madly denying, the concept he picked is at best wrongheaded and strikes me as quite revealing about the actual agenda.)

Open source is a great idea, but it's always important to ask who's supposed to be providing the free stuff. As I've said elsewhere, when you start to compare fields that get intellectual property protection (software, sculpture) with fields that don’t (fashion, cooking, sewing), it becomes uncomfortably obvious that our cultural policy has expected women’s endeavors to generate surplus creativity but has assumed that men’s endeavors require compensation, just as our society has expected women to do the hard work of raising children and keeping house out of love and duty but not expected men to show up at the factory for the same reasons. We are now asked to signal our voluntary provision of sexual healing, because apparently we control a valuable resource and it would be much nicer for men if they didn't have to pay, in any economic or noneconomic ways, for access to that resource. And it's important that we do the signalling, because if men had to signal that they wanted to be asked to touch our breasts, not many women would respond to the signal! Talk about an endowment effect. (Sorry, couldn't help it. It is quite interesting to see how intuitive behavioral economics is, especially for people who have reason to know--that is, people lower in various hierarchies.)

I tell you what: when you can code and/or otherwise reproduce my breasts without touching me, I'll consider what kind of license I might use for them.
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