Thursday, October 1, 2009

Intellectual Property Unnecessary?

This article by Kevin Carson in The Freeman basically says that intellectual property is a stumbling block to the growth of human freedom (competition) in that it makes demands about how we use our physical property. By way of example:
All-pervasive DRM prevents the easy transfer of content between platforms, even when a CD or DVD buyer simply wants to play the content somewhere more convenient. And the DMCA legally prohibits circumventing such DRM, even when–again–the purchaser simply wants to facilitate his own use on a wider and more convenient variety of platforms.
Obviously this is overreach by the publishers of the media colluding with government and demonstrates that the current regulatory regime is profoundly flawed. I think that I should only have to buy media once. I shouldn't have to buy a new copy of Pink Floyd's The Wall or Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream every time I want to listen to it in a different format.

That said, I think that the implied solution, no intellectual property at all, is throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Carson gives the examples of phish and radiohead who essentially give away certain versions of their intellectual property with the expectation (realized in their cases) that users of their media will pay them anyway or pay them for auxiliary services like live performances. I don't, however, see how this can work for all artists.

I'm wondering in particular how novelists would get by if there were no prohibition on the endless electronic distribution of their materials. For full disclosure's sake my wife is a novelist currently trying to get published. She writes books for teenaged girls.

Supposing she writes something that becomes fairly popular, how would she get paid for it without copyright protection? Anybody who wanted it could have an electronic copy for free since anyone with a scanner could scan it in and post it as a torrent (this happens with books all the time). A few good-hearted souls would fork over the money, but most people would pay exactly zero, and I expect that the average profit per copy distributed would also approach zero.

I like libertarians because I like independent, liberty-minded people. But full execution of the libertarian idea almost always ends up going one step too far.

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