Terms of the debate

Alex over at Samizdata brings up the Intellectual Property debate, and it looks like Alex and his commenters have accepted the premises and framing given them by the two sides of collectivists and picked sides.

IP laws as given today, whether in London or D.C., are special priviledges granted by the state. They are not rights. They have little if any correlation between the intellect and his work. In the music business a bar or nightclub that wishes to have any music must pay a license fee, it does not matter if the music is all original played by upcoming musicians, the nightclub must pay the fee. The assumption is that the nightclub and the bands it brings in are guilty of copying Top 40 works. The ability to get a patent is very difficult for the small business or independent inventor, yet larger businesses have little difficulty getting and enforcing ridiculous patents. This is broken.

On the flip side of the statist argument, the notion that there is no property rights in intellectual work is just as silly. A creator's work is as much a part of him as any land or tools he used to create the work. All the decisions involved in trading his work must belong to him, any thing less makes him a slave. There are property rights in his intellectual work.

What is not often presented in the IP debate is other ways to reward the intellect for his work. Can an author publish a book and place the license terms on the first page including limits on copying? Could a court uphold this without the twisted laws of copyright? The flip side is that originally in the U.S., IP laws were created to ensure that the IP ended up in the public domain after a short time of allowing the creator to profit from it, rather than holding on to it as a monopoly forever.

In the software industry, the open source movement is redefining how software producers get paid for their work and how the IP is actually handled. Patronage has returned as a method of rewarding the intellect, while GPL licensing has ensured that the work will be publicly available. Businesses from small consultant shops to IBM pay a small number of software engineers for their work, yet receive the value of thousands of developers.

There are better ways of dealing with IP. The established IP interests such as the RIAA and Microsoft are not just protecting property rights, they are getting special priviledges to extend their property at the expense of others. On the flip side, I am not about to give away all my rights just because the looters think it should just be given away. Just because the current system is broken does not mean that I want to throw it all away.

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