Re: Intellectual property (resend)

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Thu, 20 Mar 1997 20:27:49 -0800 (PST)

[Message resent because of list server failure. Apologies if
it appears twice.]

I promised last night to do two things: post information about
the actual dates of patent and copyright law, and to recount
my ideas about private non-coercive alternatives.

First, I discovered that the USPTO was created in 1802, only three
years after the Constitution gave congress the authority to do so,
so I must conclude that the patent concept was generally accepted
at that time, and there was no prolonged period between those
events, so I was mistaken to claim otherwise. There were, of
course, manufacturing industries and printing industries prior to
the Constitution itself (Franklin's print shop, Revere's Smithy
are obvious examples), and limits to the application of those laws
to foreign works, as Mr. Fallon points out. The present form of
IP law is largely shaped by international treaties such as the
Berne convention, NAFTA, and GATT.

Toward my second promise, I already gave a list of means by which
one might profit from a technical invention without the aid of a
patent, so I will concentrate here on making money as an author in
the absence of copyright. I do not think these lists are by any
means exhaustive, but I am optimistic that businessmen will find
more ways to make money than I can imagine, and anyway, I do not
consider mine or anyone's failure of imagination to be an adequate
justification for keeping the status quo. My means appear at the
end of this article.

Finally, I know that some people may be thinking, "OK, even if I
accept that a world without copyrights and patents is possible,
what harm is there? Who suffers from the present system?" The
answer is the same as for any other subsidy: everything not thus
subsidized suffers a tiny bit, and the beneficiary gains a great
deal. That's why subsidies are politically safe: one man gains a
lot, at the expense of millions losing so little that they don't
have much incentive to complain. But as Friedman and others have
shown with more detailed economic analysis, the net gains are
always less than the net losses, because a subsidy changes the
relative value of the commodity subsidized, leading to inefficient
trades in every business affected by that commodity.

Copyrights and Patents artificially increase the value of creativity.
If I had to name one thing most devalued, it would /workmanship/.
When the creative effort involved in the production of a good is
a major cost, it reduces the amount available for other factors
of production. The price of a good is fixed by what the consumer
will bear, so the more you pay an author/inventor, the less you can
pay the builders. The imposed monopoly has yet another effect on
workmanship: not only does it cause less money to be available for
it, but it also reduces the demand for it, because the producer
doesn't have to compete with other companies using the same idea.
The publisher of Dawkin's /Selfish Gene/ doesn't have to compete
with anyone else publishing the same work, so he can produce it as
sloppily as he cares to, and if the ideas are sufficient to sell
the book, it doesn't matter that the title rubs off and the cover
falls apart.

Contrast this to publishers who sell, say, the Bible. They compete
diectly with others producing the same work, so Bibles tend to
come with nice leather covers, concordances and other appendices,
gold edges, red letters and annotations, and other added value.

Authoring without Copyrights

- The most obvious advantage an author has is being first to market
with his ideas. The software industry shows how valuable that is.
One can make millions being the first with a good idea, even for a
short period after Microsoft tries to take you over :-)

- You can sell subsidiary properties. With software, that's things
like upgrades and support, that copiers can't provide. With a book,
you might sell access to additional notes by the author, signed
copies (your competitors can't sign your name without committing
fraud), personal appearances, discussion lists, early release of
new works by the same author, etc.

- You can use technologies for exclusion. In software, that's copy
protection, dongles, etc. For books, that's selling them over the
net with contractual agreements not to reproduce (look at Science
magazine on the net for example). Also Pay Per View, exclusive
book clubs, etc.

- You can sell the author's good name and proven talents in other
ways. Personal appearances, reviews of related works, translations
or explications of other works, selection of works of interest by
other authors, adaptations of his own or other works to new media
or to new audiences, ghost-writing celebrity bios, etc.

- You can write time-critical material. News, topical commentary,
live television, periodicals (Who wouldn't rather read Dave Barry's
latest rather than wait for the books to come out?).

- You can sell your consumer attention directly, in the form of
advertising ("This chapter brought to you by...").

- You can prey on consumer guilt, by selling "authorized" editions
of your work that some consumers will buy instead of cheaper copies
because they think they should. I don't particularly like this
method, but it will probably work.

I know there are others, but my hands are getting tired.

----- End of forwarded message from lcrocker -----

Lee Daniel Crocker <>