May 31, 2004

Anti-Plagiarism Legislation as an (Almost) Adequate Replacement for Intellectual Property Law

I spend a lot of time here railing against the RIAA, et al., and it may sound as though I am opposed to intellectual property law altogether. This is pretty much the case.

How, you may ask, can someone who is such a big fan of books, and plays, and science, and movies, and music think this way? The truth is that intellectual property law does help encourage production in these fields. I believe that people who create really outstanding works in these fields have a drive to create, and would do so even if they received no compensation whatsoever, but if they received no compensation, they would have to get "real jobs," and this would be bad, because it would diminish their output. To solve this problem, in the Renaissance "'patronage" was developed. Under this system, an artist was sponsored by a wealthy patron who paid his living expenses so that he could devote himself full-time to the creation of art. The earlier development of the university had provided the same sort of support to the early scientists and various other scholars.

Intellectual property law is essentially a system by which governments manipulates economies in such a way as to create an income for content producers that comes directly from the consumer. This is the type of government intervention that I generally support. The government is using the supply-and-demand system that exists naturally to acheive a desirable end. It's a good idea.

However, with the advent of the Internet, the rise of software patents, the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, and so forth, today's world has become such that the degree to which intellectual property law is enforced has become excessive, and this enforcement has become so difficult that it cannot be done without an unacceptable amount of government control being exerted over communication and the creation of content. Intellectual property law as it exists today is simply unacceptable and, it turns out, there is a different approach which might have been better all along. This is simply anti-plagiarism legislation.

I am of the belief that the really important element of copyright law is the requirement of attribution, which is to say that what is really necessary is that everyone exposed to a work knows who originally created it. How, one might ask, does this benefit the artist? It's quite simple really. Think of Bob Dylan. Even his greatest fans admit that he was never particularly talented as a singer, but he has sold an unspeakable number of concert tickets over the years, and that is where recording artists make the most money. This is because everyone recognizes that he is a great song writer. Everyone wants to hear the original song writer performing his own songs. Likewise, if a scientist creates a process or a programmer creates an application he then becomes the chief expert on whatever he has created, and any company wanting to use his process or application will want to hire him, and if his process or application is particularly good the companies will begin to compete with each other for his services so that supply and demand will create for him a very high salary. This is clearly evident in several cases related to open source software, for instance Linus Torvalds, MySQL AB, and Ximian (recently purchased by Novell for a lot of money). Also consider the case of a painter. I imagine his primary source of income would be the sale of originals. So, if prints are sold in massive quantities all over the world so that his paintings are easily recognizable, and his name is affixed to them all so that he is widely known, his originals will fetch an extravagant price.

Here ends my little rant about why intellectual property law is unecessary. Goodbye.

Posted by Kenny at May 31, 2004 11:45 PM
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