If you are not familiar with the long and sordid history of intellectual property and copyright, you need to check out Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig. Lessig has some outstanding examples from history that parallel issues happening in the P2P and recording industry worlds today, and makes a great case for why IP laws need changing.
The software industry has had a mixed experience with IP. Of course, Richard Stallman got a lot of things going in the right direction with FSF. But the unsavory fact is that license proliferation is starting to clog the pipes for wide open source adoption. Why is it that most books on open source have to have an entire chapter dedicated to reviewing different types of licenses, rather than types of uses that could be covered by a single licensing model?
This is where Lessig's brainchild in the Creative Commons really takes off. The Creative Commons credo fully respects copyright and authors rights to work, but makes it far easier for creators to indicate their preferences, and for consumers to understand what they can and can't do. This is sorely needed in software licensing, where enterprise employees need to become license and IP experts to understand which frameworks they can integrate in internal projects. (How many of you know which license the Spring framework uses versus WebWork? Or, more importantly, what that means?)
I asked Simon Phipps, the Chief Open Source Officer for Sun, a question about Creative Commons at the Colorado Software Summit recently. Phipps completely gets the licensing issue, and has started a large effort at Sun to retire old licenses. Phipps also has the goal of creating a Creative Commons-style wizard for easily creating standardized and easy to use licenses for sofware - how cool would that be?
This is also important in the publishing and blog space - how many of you bloggers have considered licenses for your blog content? Are you concerned about how your IP is used? Have you thought about making it easier and legal for people to create derivative works? Take a minute for a good cause...