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Objectivists: “All Property is Intellectual Property”

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  • Wim Jansen December 30, 2010, 12:05 pm

    With great interest I have read this article and most references in it, especially the piece “AGAINST
    INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY”. While I can agree with most of the reasoning and with the conclusion, it does not address some obvious problems. Consider 2 examples of IP; the first being a painter producing a painting, the second a production company producing a movie.

    The painter has no problem under your reasoning; after all, he produces a unique tangible product that he clearly owns (assuming he owned the paint, canvas, etc.). Reproductions of his work are possible (e.g. large posters), people may want to pay to view the painting. Even taking pictures is not a problem, since that mat be taken into account in the entree fee and the quality would be far less then the painting itself.

    The production company does have a problem, since their end product, if it is in a digital format, can be considered pure information (except for the media it is on). After publication, the product itself cannot be considered scarce, since it is easily reproducable. In the extreme it would only take one person to buy the movie, leave it on your proverbial park bench to be found by a third party that puts it on the internet, and everyone can download it for free. (You may insert a few more parties in the example to dilute any contract arrangements.) As a result it would clearly not be profitable to make a movie any longer.

    One may argue that there is a difference in viewing a movie in the first day(s) after release and weeks later at home. And, in fact, in the Netherlands (where I am from) it is legal to download (almost) anything from the internet for personal use, including copyrighted material such as movies. Piracy (reproducing for profit) is illegal and in practice this distinction works well and studies show that people downloading content buy relatively more content if they really like it (downloads lead to more distribution/puiblicity and contribute to sales!).

    Still, it seems to me that the original idea behind copyright deserves some merit: to encourage (and finance) the ‘creator’ of the artistic work (book, song, scenario) to produce more works, i.e. to promote creativity.
    Following your reasoning in “AGAINST INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY” one could say that creativity (the skill to produce original work) or, if you will, a creative person, IS a scarce good.

    So, the solutions may lie in allowing authors a form of copyright protection against others profiting from their scarce creativity. This should be far less than today and tied into the effort to produce the work and/or to benefit from it enough to create the next work. In essence this is not a protection of intellectual property (the work produced), but a protection of the creative skill (the person producing).

    This way a distinction is made in the original performance (the shooting of the movie, the original manuscript of the book), the work produced (movie in the theater, the book), and derivitave works (DVD, scanned copy). This reflects the decreasing value of the instance of the production and allows for different legal meaaures towards those who seek to profit from the creativity of the author and those that merely ‘consume’ the work.

    In terms of legislation this may not be as simple as I hope it can be, but reducing the copyright on books to 5-10 years might be a good start. Making downloading from the internet (for personal use) legal, similar to the Netherlands, is certainly a good next step!

    regards, Wim Jansen

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