Re: When is an MP3 file like a lighthouse?

From: Alex F. Bokov (
Date: Sat Oct 27 2001 - 12:21:47 MDT


On Sat, 27 Oct 2001, Samantha Atkins wrote:

> "Alex F. Bokov" wrote:
> >
> > Intellectual property is a type of 'regular property' that happens to be
> > nonrival and nonexcludable, and that type of property is nothing new to
> > society. What's new is for property to suddenly transition from the rival
> > and excludable category into the nonrival and nonexcludable category. That's
> > where all the confusion and disruption is coming from.
> >
> Incorrect. The digital age has produced value carrying media
> that are nearly infinitely reproducible without much trouble.
> This greatly changes the old assumption of physical embodiments
> being copyrightable. At the same time we have new forms of
> intellectual acheivements that stand somewhere in between books
> and mathematical algorithms and processes. Software also
> benefits greatly if kept more open and is essential to our
> gaining of greater informational abilities. It is not at all
> clear whether software makes sense as property in any remotely
> traditional sense.

Perhaps property is a loaded term. I should have used the term 'goods'
instead-- nonrival and nonexcludable goods. This would include goods
with no physical embodiment, and goods that have spillover benefits.
I agree heartily that new technology has fostered new ways of thinking
and entirely new classes of goods.

All I'm saying is that nonrival and nonexcludable goods are something
society has encountered before-- hence the lighthouse analogy.
Lighthouses exist, are rarely controversial, and the people who build
them get compensated for their troubles, though of course it's not by
charging the end-users a 'photon fee'. Photons emanting from a
lighthouse and MP3s zipping through the internet both lack physical
embodiments, are nonrival, and nonexcludable. The difference is that
lighthouses have started out as nonrival and nonexcludable. Intellectual
works started out as rival and excludable, publishers got rich off
this fact and became a powerful entrenched interest. Now intellectual
works are suddenly nonrival and nonexcludable, and the ground is being
ripped out from under the feet of this entrenched interest. They
won't go quietly, because entrenched interests never do.

On the bright side, here is proof that even CEOs of multibillion
publishing empires can sometimes get completely blindsided by the
forces of technology and history while little disenfranchised you can
sometimes outguess them.

Which is why I don't believe in strong conspiracy theory. Just the
weak one every now and then. But that's another post I suppose.

- --
* I believe that the majority of the world's Muslims are good, *
* honorable people. If you are a Muslim and want to reassure me and *
* others that you are part of this good, honorable majority, all *
* you need to say are nine simple words: "I OPPOSE the Wahhabi cult *
* and its Jihad." *

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