██ ████ ███ ████, part two.

Finished the book Against Intellectual Monopoly. Actually, “finished” may be a bit of a stretch since I skimmed some parts; I’ve got a flood of DBQs coming in this week and I wanted this book out of the way. The book’s got gobs of history and thorough arguments, but I’m not totally sold. ‘Tis true that there’d be plenty of creativity in the absence of intellectual property law, but I still worry about innovation in fields with high fixed and low variable costs like pharmaceuticals. I’d feel better about the matter if, concurrent with reducing IP protection, we also liberalized testing requirements and drove down some of the up-front costs of drug development (which the authors do suggest). But while I can see the public supporting the abolition of drug patents, I can’t see them supporting the reduction of the FDA’s testing requirements.

Furthermore, I don’t think the “first-mover” argument is as strong as the authors think it is. The first-mover argument is that even in the absence of IP law, innovators would reap adequate and socially optimal profits simply because they were first to create the product. I can buy that when it comes to tangible products, but not so much when it comes to digital media. As technology improves, it becomes easier to copy digital media and enjoy it prior to public release–i.e., before the innovator and would-be first mover moves. Sure, the creators can figure out other ways to earn profits, or maybe the market (or profit margin) for such material is too big to be socially optimal anyways and the lack of IP protection will cause it to shrink, but either way the first-mover argument seems a little bit flimsy when it comes digital media.

At least in regards to the arts, IP law may one day be rendered moot without being abolished or diminished. A lot of folks take MGM’s motto, “Ars gratia artis,” seriously and not ironically and are willing to give their work away, free of charge. Take me, for instance. I don’t charge anybody to read this website (though I will sell you ad space). This sort of art is more readily available than ever before, and technological advancements are making special effects and editing less and less expensive. That may drive Hollywood and the music industry out of business before a lack of IP protection does.

I’d like to know the opinions of my buddies who probably hold patents and copyrights. I’ll be contacting them shortly and soliciting their opinions on the matter. Hopefully they won’t charge me.

If they ever do abolish IP law, the government should still provide protection to all materials published prior to abolition. If patents and copyrights were legally acquired, they should be enforced until expiration.

2 comments

  1. Finally getting around to comment! Got bogged down in school work recently.

    The biggest problem I see for proponents and opponents is that both have to rely on conjecture. At this point in time, it’s not really possible to gather empirical evidence to see whether theories pan out like either party would believe. I admit make several assumptions when I wrote my paper against intellectual property. Then again, it was an economics class and assumptions are naturally assumed. Perhaps my biggest assumption is that, absent IP laws, innovators, driven by greed, will find a way to make things work in their favor. If they can’t, well perhaps we don’t need whatever it is they’re trying to innovate. We assume that a drug developed is worth the cost if it saves lives. However, even that assumption is based on other assumptions that are really subjective.

    Basically, I’ve realized don’t have a empirical argument for or against so, let’s just flip a coin. I call heads. Phooey, landed on tails. You win this one.

    “If they ever do abolish IP law, the government should still provide protection to all materials published prior to abolition. If patents and copyrights were legally acquired, they should be enforced until expiration.” – Agree 100%

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  2. I think we’re seeing the “socially optimal” argument against IP successfully play out in the realm of firmware/software. I think it could also work in pharmaceuticals given the conditions I stated above.

    I asked some of my buddies the following question:

    “You publish a book (or design a program). You want to sell the book at a price of X. I make copies of your book without your permission (and I do not claim credit for it, so plagiarism isn’t the issue) and sell them at a price of 0.5X. Should that be legal? If so, why? How would you react (emotionally, financially, strategically) to my selling your book?”

    Let’s just say they didn’t react well. I’m not sure I would either.

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