The blog Bostodelphia has a fantastic interview with Steampunk legend Jake Von Slatt.
Definitely worth reading, it explores some of his personal philosophy of how Steampunk could have economic as well as aesthetic and technological aspects...
CP: Is the essence of being a "steampunk(er?)" in the creation of steampunk crafts or in the mere consumption of them? How significant is the do-it-yourself model to steampunk, as opposed to something like goth where there's a ready market of fashion accessories, music, etc. to decorate one's self with, and thus no need for DIY? Relatedly, does the burgeoning market for luxury steampunk goods (JvS's keyboard can be purchased from another steampunker, Datamancer detract from the DIY, homespun air to most steampunk websites?
JVS: Not at all! Being an individual artisan making unique items and selling them to the non-player characters is very much in line with my view of what makes a Steam Punk. I firmly believe that all artists should be able to make a living wage plying their art and the internet has given us the platform to do so.
However, if a corporation starts manufacturing steampunk keyboards in large quantities it's likely that the Steam Punks will eschew them even if fans of Steampunk buy them up by the hundreds. That's OK too, we love our fans and understand that not everyone would want or can afford a handmade keyboard.
I myself sell nothing, I consider my product to be the entertainment my website provides to my visitors. In fact, I will shortly be publishing a licensing notice on my site which will state that my designs are licensed under Creative Commons, Non-Commercial Attribution, Share-alike license with a commercial exception for individual artisans. That is to say people are welcome to make copies of my work and sell them as long as they credit me for the design and the profits are supporting an individual or family.
CTI: On that licensing, do you see any affinity in the philosophy of Creative Commons, NCA, "share" licenses and the "gentleman tinkerer" steampunk may be a throwback to? A techno-romantic idea, as I'm really not sure how well this is supported by history, that technology is simply an expression of an open scientific community, so all technology should be fundamentally open, non-proprietary to better facilitate the exchange of ideas. This notion of course flies in the face of the contemporary model for "product development". Key to this is whether this is simply romantic (or hyper intellectually liberal) thinking, or can we really point to steam-age precedent.
JVS: Ah, it's a common mistake to think we care about what the past was. We're much more interested in what it should have been and what the future can be. I like Cory Doctorow's "reputation economy" concept a lot and I see something of it in the way the current crop of Steampunk enthusiasts interact on the net. A "gentleman" would not outright copy someone else's work, if only because the community would recognize it and his cred would drop.
As for the real world, I feel that there should be some patent protection to give companies the incentive to be first to market with a new technology, but it should reflect typical product development times, nothing longer.
Ultimately, desktop fabrication is going to eliminate much of manufacturing and then it will be only ideas that hold real value (see here. ) Recently an economist at Cambridge published a paper on optimal copyright length - his conclusion is that 14 years is optimal in term of economic benefit. That sounds about right to me.
via Brass Goggles