"rights" and "freedoms"

Justin Wells jread at semiotek.com
Fri Oct 15 18:23:38 UTC 1999

On Fri, Oct 15, 1999 at 08:09:00AM -0700, L. Peter Deutsch wrote:

> IMO, what made the difference was enforceable "intellectual property"
> rights, which are a relatively new concept historically.  Are you suggesting
> that the concept of "intellectual property" is (or should be) a brief detour
> from which we're about to move back on track?  The dominant forces in the
> world economy seem to be (successfully) pushing hard in the opposite
> direction, what with lengthening copyright terms, allowing patenting of
> patterns of human interaction (Priceline) and human genes, ....

I'm not sure it's as linear as you make it sound. We didn't invent copyright
one day because we were bored. Copyright laws came into existence, and 
were given teeth, because people who needed them demanded it. If that 
need diminishes, then you would expect to see some pressure in the 
opposite direction. 

Originally, the cost of distributing a written work was very high. So high
that there was practically no economy surrounding it. Authors were paid for
their work by its direct recipients, usually wealthy benefactors. 

The industrial revolution changed that. It enabled speculators to gamble 
on the value of an authors work. Speculators would pay an author for the
right to print their work, and then hope to recoup that investement by 
selling as many copies as they could. Plagiarists were a threat to this
business model since they could select only the most popular works and 
duplicate them at the same cost (or less) as the original speculator,
and without paying the author anything. 

Authors needed the speculators since the authors themselves didn't have
the resources to distribute their work to the public, and didn't have 
any other more lucrative ways to get paid. 

Now that's changing. The cost of redistribution is now so cheap that 
even an author can afford it--a few dollars a month for a website will do.
This threatens the speculator, since paying for expensive distribution was
essentially the service they provided to the author. They are left only 
with the business model created by the copyright fabrication itself.

If authors can find a different business model, then the speculator is 
in real trouble.

A second technological development provides the author with a different
business model: cheap transportation, and cheap communication. Using these,
an author can travel around and communicate directly with a very large 
readership. If even a small percentage of that readership finds it useful
to pay the author from time to time for various services, the author 
can dispense with the speculator. 

In areas where redistribution, creation, etc., is still prohibitively
expensive, there is no doubt great value in IP. I wouldn't expect to 
see hardware and scientific patents seriously challenged until there 
are cheap laboratories and cheap manufacturing capabilities. We're 
nowhere near that now, and may never get there. 


More information about the License-discuss mailing list