In Against Intellectual Property, I described some of the absurd results that could flow from a consistent application of IP:
imagine the time when men lived in caves. One bright guy—let’s call him Galt-Magnon—decides to build a log cabin on an open field, near his crops. To be sure, this is a good idea, and others notice it. They naturally imitate Galt-Magnon, and they start building their own cabins. But the first man to invent a house, according to IP advocates, would have a right to prevent others from building houses on their own land, with their own logs, or to charge them a fee if they do build houses.
Imagine how much worse it would be to copy an entire village! China in fact has done this, constructing “a full size replica of the Austrian village of Hallstatt, a small enclave in the Alps known for its tourism and salt production. The Unesco-recognized World Heritage Site was painstakingly recreated, down to the historic clock tower. All in all, it’s a stunning achievement ….” (China elevates the art of KIRF, copies Austrian village of Hallstatt, Engadget)
But of course, a consistent IP advocate would have to regard this as a massive act of theft. And this is why IP is also threatening the emerging technology of 3D printing, which permits people to fabricate duplicates of objects.1 Copying, emulation, and “unbridled competition” are the bane of the IP advocates. In fact, some of the Austrian villagers were initially “angry and shocked” at the news that China would copy their village (from this BBC report), or “upset” (from this BBC report), though it’s never made quite clear what exactly they are upset about. But now the prevailing attitude seems to be one of bemusement or pride that their little village was “important enough to get a copy.” The town already hosts thousands of Chinese tourists every year. This publicity will likely only increase the tourism.