Centre for Internet & Society

Seeber's electronics laboratory is a room in a unit he shares with his mother. Every available space is taken up with teetering towers of electronic parts, writes Brendan Shanahan for GQ.

Like subprime lending or the line at the motor registry, patent and copyright laws control all our lives but no one really understands them. In the world of DIY Tech, however, it is not a subject that can be ignored.

" If they are infringing on patents then it's a question you have to ask within the individual jurisdiction," says Abraham. "In many jurisdictions design many not have protection. Whether it's legal or illegal is an open question."

At its heart Abraham's argument is pragmatic: the developing world, especially China, is too big to stop. Companies can fight patent wars in every world territory, hire private detectives, pressure governments and prosecute consumers who buy rip-off products, but, ultimately, they won't win. The genie is out of the bottle.

"If something has been made technologically possible, we cannot make it illegal and hope that everyone will now pretend that this is no longer technologically possible," says Abraham. "We can't have the government checking everyone's iPod and laptop. The better move is to change the model."

Abraham has many suggestions for making copyright law more flexible to benefit manufacturers and consumers. One thing is certain: in a world in which Amazon, not even five years after the launch of the Kindle, is now selling more e-books than all hard copy books combined, and technology such as 3D printing will soon be standard, it would be unwise to cling to old certainities. The music industry may come to be regarded as merely the canary in a digital coalmine of failed industries.

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