Friday 18 January 2008

Stealing intellect

How much do you value your intellect? Your brain, your mind and your ideas?

A few days ago I was watching a news report on the BBC about the singer Robbie Williams.

Apparently he’s going on strike from EMI, his studio because the new management are in trouble and fired a couple of thousand staff. While his contract probably commits him only to recording for EMI it presumably allows him, as a temperamental artist, to come up with new musical delights only when his creative juices start flowing. So they won’t, he’s said.

At the same time, bands like Radiohead have quit and decided to take their creativity elsewhere. According to the BBC they are considering making their new album available, for money of course, via the internet.

At the same time, writers in Hollywood are also on strike. Their complaint is that the big studios aren’t giving them a fair share of the royalties from the repeats of the shows they wrote and also of the very lucrative DVD sales. The impact of this strike has been catastrophic. Well, so the Hollywood types say. The Golden Globe awards have been cancelled, comedians and presenters are having to come up with their own material for the first time and all the big actors are showing support. Poor little Hollywood studio owners, doesn’t your heart bleed for them?

Not even slightly.

I’m not normally one for supporting strikes but in this case I think it’s a very welcome lesson that should be heard all over the place, not in studio owner’s limousines. The people with the real skills are standing up for themselves and demanding that their skills be appreciated.

Of course I’m not saying that it’s always this simple. There was a story some while ago about a former manager at KBL who claimed he had invented the recipe for St Louis and that KBL should recognise that the whole thing belonged to him. Well, that’s just silly. KBL paid him for his time, his work and his skills and he gladly accepted that payment. If he had been coming up with new recipes every day and they were bringing in lots of money for KBL then perhaps he would have had a good argument for a pay rise but actual ownership?

But there is a powerful point being made by all these people. The question of who owns the things they produce and how the authors should be compensated. The whole issue of intellectual property. An idea can be as much an item of property as a cellphone or a car. Just as you register your car and insure your cellphone as part of your household property (yes, of course you do, everyone sensible does) so you should register and protect your ideas.

Our local musicians are going through this problem at the moment, trying to find a way to protect their music from thieves. Thieves such as the people who copy a friend’s CD or who download music from a file-sharing site. If you do this you are no morally different from a non-violent thief who steals a cellphone or a purse through an open window. If you do this you have effectively mugged the musician and you should feel ashamed of yourself. You should also take care. The authorities are becoming more and more aware of this sort of crime and there are even signs that they are beginning to crack down on it.
Then there are the really big guys. Companies like Microsoft lose huge amounts of money when your friendly, neighbourhood PC dealer sells you a computer but installs software from a disc they use for every customer. We’re halfway through a major investigation into software piracy at the moment and Mmegi readers will be the first to read our findings. Yes, I know it’s difficult to feel huge sympathy for Microsoft and Bill Gates but remember how much of his own personal money he’s given us in Botswana and ask yourself whether it’s then fair to mug him in return?

One final point about your intellect. Show it some self respect. Start taking care about qualifications and the money you invest in improving them. In the past we’ve covered some of the scams that local training companies run with fraudulent qualifications. I have personally encountered two people in the last two years who it turned out had qualifications from entirely fraudulent institutions, the ones that give you a degree for cash, not actually for any hard work and learning. Calamus University, which we prefer to call Calamity University, has no actual campus and gives away degrees in subjects like Holistic Studies, Homeopathy and, best of all, Regression and Reincarnation Studies. Alternatively Almeda University is perhaps better referred to as All Made Up University as it’s degrees are slightly less useful that toilet paper, not being printed on soft paper.

Last week the BBC broadcast the results of their investigations into Irish International University which offers degrees through a network of companies throughout the world. Even their Honorary Chancellor, when interviewed by the BBC, described the degrees they award as “dodgy”. The whole bunch of crooks who run this ludicrous company seem to have awarded themselves a range of nonsensical and undeserved titles and letters after their various disreputable names.
The lesson about all of this is to take a whole lot of care about your intellect and your qualifications and those of your neighbours, relatives and colleagues. Let’s stop stealing other people’s property and stop honouring qualifications that have been stolen.
This week’s stars!
Tsiamo at Bata at Game City for being friendly and very helpful.
Mmoni who works at Wesbank at Barloworld Motors who apparently shows an “excellent work ethic and courtesy”.

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