Saturday, November 12, 2005

An Epiphany?

I just realized today, after seeing the linked document, that there is no reason everyone shouldn't have free access to all intellectual property: software, movies, music, books, educational materials, and to a lesser extent, drugs (which, measured by price, overwhelmingly consist of IP).

I should be able to view as many movies, TV shows, and books as I want; listen to as many songs; and install as much software as I want. It shouldn't matter what my income is. I shouldn't have to pay for anything but the hardware (and perhaps any unavoidable overhead costs of the "free access system").

I should do a main blog entry on this.

IP exists as "property" for one reason only: to get money into the hands of owners. But it works by artificially limiting the amount of material to which people have access, and by limiting the means of access and the means of searching through available material. Today's technology allows virtually anything to be transported to anyone at near zero cost, yet we are still using an "intellectual property scheme" that has remained largely unchanged (except for scope and time extensions) for centuries.

The new reality is that with different systems in place, everyone with a certain level of technology could have free access to all software and all media, and the authors of the programs and songs and books and shows could still be paid for their work. This is a truly new reality. It wasn't true in 1993, when internet access was rare, and when computers weren't capable of processing high-definition video, and infastructure wasn't capable of delivering unlimited content at low prices. But it's true now, or will be very soon (provided that the MPAA and RIAA don't get their way).

Furthermore, as detailed in the article, software development and medical research today involves immense duplication of effort by different organizations who cannot pool their efforts or knowledge because the IP system keeps them apart as competitors. Open Source Software (OSS) shows that these problems are unnecessary, but because it is difficult to make money from Open Source under the current IP regime, Open Source recieves relatively little funding compared to proprietary software.

The basic purpose of IP is (or should be) to encourage creation of works that are valuable to the people, and the basic means of doing so is to pay authors for their works. The basic problem with the IP system, however, is that authors are not paid for making works; but rather, income is generated from selling copies (or by other means which, in any case, involve money changing hands between IP providers and IP users.)

This restricts everyones' access to information. The poorer you are, the more you are affected, but it does hurt everyone to some extent. Searching, for instance--which almost everyone uses--is impeded by the current system (consider the lawsuit against Google Print.)

There are other (better) ways to ensure money gets to authors and to ensure that works are created in an efficient manner, but not much thought is put into them. The linked document proposes a government entity to fund public-domain works. This is an obvious solution, in hindsight at least, and perhaps the only workable one, but there are obvious concerns to be had about how money is distributed. Whenever the government starts paying people for work, a great risk appears that the money will be used inefficiently.

Of key importance is preserving the benefits of capitalism in the new regime. The key benefit of capitalism is that it tends to create "efficient markets", as they are called--markets where resources are used efficiently. I believe the reason capitalism achieves this is that it leverages the knowledge and intelligence of all participants in the economy to determine what is produced, and how much. If this can be reproduced in another system, even in a government-overseen system, then that system should function well.

By the way, the system proposed by the author doesn't impress me that much, since it seems arbitrarily constructed without much justification for its funding structure. Something this important needs thorough economic analysis, and the author doesn't leave me with a good impression of economic expertise. I myself haven't figured out how an IPR-alternative system should work, though.

I should develop my thoughts further.


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