Four Pillars: New layers of lock-in


There’s an apocryphal story about India, prohibition and unemployment, one of my absolute favourites. It goes like this:

1977. Elections, out with the old, in with the new. Prime Minister’s a teetotaller, declares the country “dry”. And so it is, except for the odd exception. You could drink if you had a permit. You could only have a permit if you were (a) a foreigner spending welcome foreign currency or (b) if you had a medical condition that required alcohol, and a doctor’s certificate to prove it.

So there was a new industry. Government departments busy churning out permits on the back of doctors busy churning out certificates on the back of patients busy claiming unusual alcohol-requiring medical conditions and underpinning their claims with unwanted soft-currency rupees.

A few years later, everyone’s had enough of this game. The dialogue changes. Let’s remove prohibition. You cannot be serious.  Do you realise how many people work in the permit offices? What are we going to do with them? We cannot shut down the permit offices. Ergo prohibition must continue.
Wisdom of Solomon moment. Archimedes and tub and Eureka. Paul and Road to Damascus and scales from eyes. Newton and apple headache. Lightbulb. All that jazz.
I know.

Don’t shut the permit offices down. From tomorrow everyone can drink.

But everyone needs a permit.

Time for another apocryphal story.

An august group of people concerned about intellectual property rights debate whether to create a new one, a right with a difference. This new one will be designed to benefit people who cannot get a copyright, because a work belongs to someone else (the person or group that created it), or because the information is in the public domain. The new right is not a “copyright,” but a “broadcaster” or “webcaster” right.

I only wish it was apocryphal. Sorry, it’s happening now. Please read James Love’s post on the WIPO meeting, which you can find here. I have a lot of time for what James Love has to say about IPR in general.

The implications are worrying.

Middleman rights that increase the very transaction costs that the web seeks to decrease. Middleman rights that make distribution a bigger source of lock-in than ever before. Middleman rights that enforce the orderly transfer of savings generated from lower distribution costs to… the distributors and not the customers.

Some years ago I remember reading about attempts being made to patent the curative powers of turmeric, ginger, garlic, chillies and the like. Attempts that failed. Attempts that will succeed if WIPO do what they are thinking of doing.
[Gordon, thanks for the tip-off which I saw while travelling.]

One thought on “Four Pillars: New layers of lock-in”

  1. Love your apocryphal stories (I think the one on Vishy is most certainly true) Bureaucratic India is a labyrinth of loopholes…you should read Mehta’s Maximum City to see some good examples.

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