Asterix, the sky is falling on my head

Paul Cox commented on a recent post of mine, where I cited The Openness Aversion. Here’s Paul’s comment:

  • 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.

So here’s my take on it:

1. I have considerable respect for the creators of intellectual property. So do most of the people who participate in this blog. Incidentally, many of my readers create valuable intellectual property and find no problem with (a) being paid for what they do and (b) being free to share what they do with others.
2. When it comes to ownership of intellectual property, again I have no problem with the concept. I do, however, have a major problem with current intellectual property law. Law which is needed to “protect” the “intellectual property right”. Law that is fundamentally flawed, consisting of much that was written in a different time, for a different purpose, and with a narrow view on the cultures and geographies it needs to embrace. Law which was not drafted or legislated for dealing with the digital world in the first place.

3. I have no simple way of challenging your statement that the value generated from IP is approximately equivalent to the investment made in creating the IP, but I would guess that this is not true across the board in the context of patents and copyrights, particularly in a digital age.

4. What I do believe is the following:

(a) Ideas are free

(b) Creators and co-creators of value need to be compensated for the investment made in creating that value

(c) The current laws governing intellectual property are deeply flawed in their ability to do this

(d) From a patent perspective, we have entered an age where the costs and pitfalls of discovering prior art are spiralling out of control, even with modern search tools. This has led to defensive patents, frivolous patents, patent spam, whatever. The system is broken, and even patent lawyers and professors tend to agree about this.

(e) There are similar problems with copyright law not keeping up with the times in the context of the cost and efficiency of reproduction and distribution, again particularly in a digital environment.

(f) Most attempts at DRM are counterproductive; they have extremely high administrative and maintenance costs, make it hard for information to flow or be shared, increase the cost of accessing, enriching or improving that information. From an enterprise perspective I think it is indefensible for a CIO to pay for submerging data under six foot of concrete and then paying again for extracting that very data.

(g) There are a lot of people far more qualified than I am to comment. Terry Fisher and Rishab Aiyer Ghosh and Larry Lessig, to name just a few, have spent considerable time and energy, valuable time and energy, seeking better compensation models for the creators. Do read their works if you are interested. This is not an issue that will go away.
(h) If we do nothing we will have more idiocies like region encoding of DVDs and Mickey Mouse Acts. So far no one has shown me how these things help the creator or the consumer. Or for that matter economic value generation.
That’s it for now.

2 thoughts on “Asterix, the sky is falling on my head”

  1. I am unable to effectively argue your points about patents. The U.S. treatment of software patents may be broken, however, I am also willing to let things develop as there has to be some wisdom in the manner that they are being developed and administered.

    Copyright law I think is on the mark, particularly with respect to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The DMCA provides substantial value to the published author. The value of the copyright will be commensurate with the investment in earning it and the value in the marketplace.

    The process of earning the copyright is through publication. The act provides protection only to those that have gone through the process of publication or registration (very rare). You are correct to point out that the distribution costs are lower in the digital world. Hence enabling an idea to find its audience in a much less bureaucratic manner. If the author does not publish the work then he is afforded no protection.

    Ideas need to be out in the marketplace where they can be used and built upon. That is what DMCA seeks to achieve. For Apple to satisfy the owners of the music, the musicians, they need to prove that the music cannot easily be copied and eliminate the value they have earned. Same with books and other publications, if we don’t protect the people’s rights that have earned it, then no market for ideas would exist.

  2. Hate to slightly disagree with your point 4 b), JP, but I prefer the fundamental reason for copyright and patents to be (in the words of the US constitution) to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts”.

    The compensation, primarily financial or monopolistic, is one way of achieving this. But it is only a means to an end. The Open Source / Free Software movement show that there are other forms of reward.

    Wikipedia briefly discusses the principles in

Let me know what you think

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