Obsolesence of Intellectual Property

From: Paul Hughes (paul@planetp.cc)
Date: Tue Aug 01 2000 - 01:31:05 MDT

Here is a letter I wrote this morning and sent off to several editors at
various news agencies asking for opinions in the wake of Napster on the
future of intellectual property in an age of cheap duplication. I did
not mention nanotechnology which is obviously the next logical step of
this paradigm. I make no apologies for the strong and blunt statements,
they've been on my chest way too long.


Intellectual Property law was written at a time when resources were
limited. The internet allows unlimited copying and duplication of
information at nearly zero cost. People comparing duplication to theft
are plain wrong. If I were to steel your car,
that would be theft. After all it would cost you a substantial amount
of money to replace it. But what if I gained the ability to duplicate
your car at no cost to you? This would not be theft, because quite
simply your car would still be there! Yet this argument fails to sway,
because those in power have managed so far to use fictitious
intellectual property ideas to make money off of information.
Understandably this was done in an era when duplication costs were
high. Now that costs of duplication have fallen close to zero,
intellectual property arguments are loosing their strength.

Which brings us to the crux of the issue - intellectual propertarians
fear that cheap duplication threatens their ability to make money.
Exactly, and they better get used to it! That's the nature of advancing
technology. Their argument is the same as blacksmiths during the 1920's
complaining that the proliferation of the automobile was
putting them out of business, or typists when the copy machine came into
widespread use. The only difference here is blacksmiths and typists
weren't a very powerful lobby. The recording and motion picture
industries on the other hand are, with billions of dollars to throw at
the legal system. They have the might, but it does not make it right.
Remember when they almost killed the VCR?

Their next line of argument is the claim that without financial
incentives made possible by intellectual property protections, the
overall level of creativity will suffer. This is the most bogus
argument of all. Can anyone say Linux?! Linux has been created with
little if any incentive for financial gain, yet it is by far the most
robust and efficient operating system ever created, clearly superior to
anything that has ever come out of Microsoft 's proprietary model. That
alone should be sufficient argument that intellectual property does not
produce better software.

Whether we like it or not, the age of abundance is upon us. Either we
open the flood gates of information and allow everyone to prosper as
cost of goods drop closer to zero. Or we continue this archaic and
obsolete charade of intellectual property rights, created by the rich
for the rich, paying them exorbitant fees for what in reality costs
next to nothing to reproduce.

Paul Hughes

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