IP: A tale of two futures.

From: Alex Future Bokov (alexboko@umich.edu)
Date: Fri Jul 28 2000 - 09:09:26 MDT


We better have an answer to this "Information wants to be free" vs.
"Information creators want to eat" dilemma pretty soon. Why? Because it
is but a pale foreshadowing of what awaits us when self-replicating
technology (nano or macro) is a reality. When the first copy of
everything-- music albums, chairs, software, computers, designer
bacteria, chair-factories-- is expensive to produce but subsequent
copies are nearly free.

Two possibilities.

1. It is IMPOSSIBLE to force consumers to treat zero-marginal-cost
merchandise the same way logistics force them to treat normal, 'bricks
and mortar' merchandise. Willy-nilly, corporations will be forced to
come up with revised business plans-- street performer protocol,
selling premium access, support contracts, live gigs, smart contracts,
advertising, and probably dozens of other possibilities they've been
too busy suing people to think about. The discipline of the market
guarantees that in the end, things worth doing get done-- overall
everything will end up cheaper than it is now, and barriers to entry
into many industries may get lowered.

Flash-forward: I work hard for my paycheck at my 5 hour a week job, and
spend the rest of my time fiddling with Slash version 2.0 (beta) and
playing Emlyn's latest video game that I downloaded without incurring
any out of pocket fees. Chances are that neither of us bothers to keep
track anymore-- physical scarcity is a thing of the past, and the
competition that exists between individuals is at subtler social and
intellectual levels. There are days when I can't figure out whether I'm
living in a Socialist utopia or a Libertarian one, but then I remember
that Socialism and Libertarianism were brick-and-mortar ideologies that
in their original form only have relevance as historical curiousities.

2. It is POSSIBLE to force consumers to treat zero-marginal-cost
merchandise the same way logistics force them to treat normal, 'bricks
and mortar' merchandise. A sweeping precedent is set for government
intervention in the economy because how else do you -force- consumers
to do anything? Corporations and individuals that own patents on genes
and later (or sooner?) self-replicating machinery get rich, as do those
with the foresight to invest in them. The unskilled workers get
obsoleted first. The brainy consultant and management types hold on for
a while longer but get displaced by expert systems. Normally this sort
of disparity would naturally balance itself as the newly unemployed
would not be able to keep the economy going with their purchases.
However, those who own the rights to self-rep technologies no longer
have a reason to fear recession-- they have become independent from the
economy. "Less demand? Lower the output, no sense in wasting energy.
And build a few more security droids."

Flash-forward: In order to lower their security costs, the Aristocracy
have acceded to giving the Obsolete handouts sufficient to prevent food
riots. Maybe I got lucky in picking my stocks, and in this scenario am
also living in the lap of luxury (except that I've had to give up a bit
of privacy so that AI's versed in IP law can monitor my actions and
insure that I'm not infringing on anybody's trademark, copyright, or
patent). Or maybe I'm with the other 99%, living off dole payments
supplemented by what I can find in the Aristocracy's trash cans and
scrupulously avoiding roving RoboCops.

- --

Octopus POM Vickie Weaver
Why are the above words in my signature? Check out:

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