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Monday, January 17, 2005

Intellectual Property?

Stuart Richards posts at The New Libertarian on a topic I've been struggling with lately myself -- intellectual property.

And he doesn't reach any more of a conclusion than I do.

Are intellectual property rights inherent in the creation? Reflexively, it's easy to assert that they are, but it's harder to derive an argument supporting this. Where do intellectual rights come from? Are there "implied contracts" attached to things like music, movies, and art limiting how individuals may use them? If so, what kind of role does the government play in enforcing them? Should they be treated like any other form of contract?

While it's arguable that they were necessary up until just a few years ago to maintain the inventor's incentive motive, the recent explosion in the open source community shows IP rights are, at most, less than vital to continuing creativity. But I'm really not concerned with whether or not (or to what extent) upholding intellectual property rights is beneficial to the economy, but only with the moral arguments supporting or opposing them and the proper role of the state in enforcement.

I count myself in the pro-IP camp, but I'm far from able to make a convincing argument in defense. Perhaps this is why I don't feel at all guilty for sharing over ten gigabytes of music on a number of peer-to-peer networks. Also note the "Creative Commons" copyright notices on this page -- I've chosen to only reserve some rights.

This isn't a big issue today, but as the "file-sharing" generation grows up, it certainly will be soon.


At 1:45 PM, Blogger Jeremy said...

I would not hesitate to agree with any IP advocate that copyrights, patents, etc. have served to encourage innovation. But there is a problem with the gov't intevening to impose artificial scarcity on artistic works, ideas, concepts, etc. My big problem is that this gov't enforcement power will naturally be exploited by the highest bidder.

More and more the profits of these "ideas" are going to a few corporations that defend their empire in ideas with resources against which no mere human can reasonably be expected to contend. The open source movement is just the digital incarnation of what we've always had since time immemorial: a "free" culture where ideas, concepts, etc. are free and public domain (at least by default). Now we're getting to the point where every conglomerate wants to own any thought that pops into the head of a person associated with their endeavor. Something's messed up.

This is a complex issue and it deserves a much more principled, rigorous approach than it will get, I'm afraid, from the public. My suggestion would be to put the onus on innovators to come up with technological and conceptual systems for making their ideas scarce, instead of insisting the gov't do it via force.

At 10:27 PM, Blogger spenwah said...

Yes yes. The length of the monopoly granted by IP rights definitely needs to be reduced, if they are to remain at all. If their goal is to spur invention and science, then granting 99-year monopoly rights to an individual on a particular idea is definitely counter-productive to that goal.


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