The openness aversion

Cory Doctorow pointed me (thanks, Cory) at this recent article from the FT: A closed mind about an open world. In it, James Boyle makes some very interesting points, I can only recommend you read it.

Here’s a sample quote from the article:

Studying intellectual property and the internet has convinced me that we have another cognitive bias. Call it the openness aversion. We are likely to undervalue the importance, viability and productive power of open systems, open networks and non-proprietary production.

Understanding why “we” undervalue these things is critical to the three big I-battles we face: Intellectual Property, Identity and the Internet.

It is not enough for those that “get it” to go into a mutual-admiration huddle and back-slapping frenzies, as we are often wont to do. Those that don’t get it don’t get it for a reason. The commonest reason is an inability to comprehend three apparently simple things: that people can be altruistic; that extreme nonrival goods can and do exist; that people can make money because-of-rather-than-with.

James makes some excellent points in helping us bridge that gap of understanding.

But he also makes one very worrying one, something that has bothered me for quite a while. While we fight for openness in systems, networks, markets and information, the environment we fight in is becoming more closed. Many of the disruptions we’ve seen over the last two decades would not be allowed to happen today. And this is something we need to guard against, particularly in the context of regulation. Things like DOPA and Net Neutrality and Brand X and Mickey Mouse and DCMA. We live in challenging times.
But you know/the darkest hour/is always/always/just before the dawn. It may be a Long Time Coming, but it’s coming.

8 thoughts on “The openness aversion”

  1. Its easy to belittle the owners of intelectual property in the manner that you do. I doubt your readers would agree with you if they had earned valuable intelectual property.

    It would be my experience that the value generated from IP is approximately equivelent to the necessary and high amount invested in earning the IP. If it just fell from the sky as you seem to think, it would be easy to give it away.

  2. The term ‘altruistic’ implies that the people doing the giving, sharing, and producing are doing so out of selflessness. I think it’s important to recognise that they are indeed getting gigantic pay-offs, but often in currencies other than cash. I don’t think it’s a mere semantic distinction, either.

  3. Ah! You have indeed opened a nice can of worms. To discuss intellectual property in general terms is not suffcient. JP, you and Paul Cox are both right, but not across the board of all intellectual property issues. You may be clashing over the fact that you are not discussing the same instances, thus not the same issues. Given that you are both arguing in general terms, you are both on very very thin ice.

    For some instances of inventinveness and intellectual endeavour, the present IP system is indeed very well suited, however – this is one big big giant however – in today’s emerging technologies that were unthinkable when the presently “enforcabe” IP system was created, the system is not fit for purpose because it has no provisions for dealing with its nature. My view is that the “sui generis” idea must be used, otherwise we are in danger of comparing apples with potatoes or making some other inappropriate comparison. All to say that when it comes to intellectual property, it is time to think in terms of logical types and give Russell’s paradox a good churning in the context of intellectual assets.

    I will write about this a bit more in my blog, however for the time being I would invite you both to think a bit more into differentiating between the different kinds of potential intellectual properties being created now, and what their generic nature is.

    Thank you for keeping this issue alive!

Let me know what you think

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