intellectual property rights

In a nutshell: The differences between property and intellectual property.

From Brad DeLong’s Semi Daily Journal

David Weinberger said something very reasonable about intellectual property:

All contending parties agree, I believe, that (1) the goal is to build a marketplace that encourages innovation and (2) that the way to do that is to let the market reward innovation. Unfortunately, to spread the value of innovation, two things have to happen that are contradictory from the market point of view: First, someone has to have a great idea for which she is rewarded. Second, you want that idea to spread and be built upon as rapidly as possible and requiring that the creator be rewarded slows down the spread. Much butting of heads ensues…

To which David Winer replied as if Weinberger had said something really stupid:

For crying out loud David, it’s super simple. If I build a house I can live in it as long as I want. If I want to rent out rooms I can do that too, as long as I want.

The peculiar thing about this David Winer position–this „Mine! I thought of it! Mine! It’s my intellectual property forever! All Mine!“ position–is that Winer could not hold it had he looked up and around at the intellectual property house he happens to live in. If he did so, he would notice that he has–without getting their permission or approval–used a huge amount of intellectual property thought up by other people, and has neither compensated them nor acquired from them a license to do so.

To pick just one thing at random, there is the case of Ez-Eki-Baal and his cousin Ish-Baal, residents of Tyre in 1160 B.C. They first thought up the idea of using a stylized picture of an ox to represent the phoneme „A“ (and the idea of using a bunch of other stylized pictures of other things to represent other phonemes). This invention of the „alpha-bet,“ as I have been told it is called, is in the estimation of some a very important piece of intellectual property. Some commentators have even claimed that most of us use it during most of our waking hours.

But have Ish-Baal, Ez-Eki-Baal, or their heirs received one red cent in the past century in return for other people’s appropriation and use of their intellectual property? No. Does David Winer have a valid license authorizing him to use the alphabet–to move into the intellectual property house built by Ish-Baal and Ez-Eki-Baal and trash the place? No. Has David Winer made any effort at all to identify and compensate those to whom–on his own theories about the moral obligations imposed on those who make use of intellectual property–he owes a fortune? No.

So does he believe his own theories? It’s hard to know at what level he does. It’s genuinely hard to know what to do with people who argue that all the intellectual property they make is „Mine! All Mine! All Mine Forever!“ and yet classify all the intellectual property they use as the common and free inheritance of all humanity. It’s a „heads I win, tails you lose“ kind of argument…

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