Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Intellectual Antiproperty

I submit to the court as interesting a recent discussion with my friend David Rowe. He asserts that the creation of an intellectual work, protected from monopolization by design, will more evenly distribute wealth-creation that would otherwise be centralized, were that same intellectual work held as property. That's a mouthful.

If you can put up with my naiveté, you may find my response intriguing:

> > I also have an economic theory I am working on " if closed IP makes a
> > small amount of people a lot of money - does opening the IP make a
> > moderate amount of money for a large amount of people". The latter
> > seems better to me. I would be interested in your thoughts on this.
> Maybe Intellectual Property (IP) is not the right term. I say you are
> creating Intellectual Antiproperty, or expanding Intellectual Freedom.
> IA sounds kind of like a pinko communist plot, so lets use that. ;-)
> IMHO, the idea of IP is borderline unethical. IP is a promise from
> the government to punish people for using ideas. Freeing IP - putting
> it in the public domain (expanding IF or creating IA), makes it more
> difficult for governments to punish people, and allows people to have
> better lives by making peaceful use of information they posess.
> IA and IF as ideas, are arguably beyond moral reproach.
> This IP stuff is all tied up in government corruption. You hear this
> one a lot: Would we not have great drugs without a patent system?
> Huge amounts of money have to be spent to create great drugs, and we
> know that governments, given any amount of money, can only bumble. So
> it is said that pharmaceutical companies must be compensated with IP,
> and those who cannot afford drugs must not be allowed to make them.
> This leads to vast profits for pharmaceutical companies, who only
> spend a tiny portion (10-20 percent) of their revenues on reearch.
> I'm not railing against capitalism - it's great motivation. But
> patents suck. Not only do people get hurt by patents, but whole
> industries are very inefficient.
> The solution to that one, unfortunately, involves big bucks and
> stamping out corruption, a difficult pairing. Big governments, or
> lots of little ones, have to reward companies for actually solving
> problems of their citizens by finding new drugs, and collect taxes to
> pay the rewards. The rewards have to be greater than the cost of the
> research. Then anyone can build and sell the drugs. It's a radical
> change. And governments these days are difficult to change.
> There is some happy medium in which some IP can exist, and some IA can
> exist. I don't have much beef with 20 year copyright grants, and
> copyright is a cornerstone of viral IA licensing, like the GPL.
> However, I am totally unconvinced that patents are beneficial to
> society.
> So I think you are dead on ethically, and I think you are expanding
> the IA domain, which encroaches on the IP domain. Under most patent
> law, all that is necessary is that prior art exist to free ideas.
> So you know what I think about what you are doing, but the root
> question is: how is financial benefit from IA distributed? We have
> experience with this situation, and there is a good bit of data out
> there. We know what has happened already in similar cases - lots of
> people will use your free software and free hardware, and get great
> benefit from it. This will improve their lives, and allow them to
> spend money on other things. Lots of service industries spring up
> around IA, and small businesses combining IA and IP. I like small
> businesses. So I think this is an excellent outcome. Well, back to
> work on our patented software!

One of my goals was to introduce suitable terminology to allow us to accurately discuss David's theory.

Introducing suitable terminology to solve problems is enjoyable and useful. It's almost a habit for myself and many of my friends, and it has got me interested in morphology in general; I can't help but analyze this. So we're looking for something that solves our problem in such a way as to be unique, useful, easy to use, and clear.

Intellectual anti-property is actually a more useful term for broad consumption than anti-property because it is a compound noun. When the average person looks at the term anti-property, they probably see a compound preposition and interpret it as meaning "against property". However, if you use the term Intellectual Anti-Property, or IA, no such misinterpretation can be made. Either term holds up on the usefulness test for our purposes, the acronyms being particularly easy to use.

I have since done a little research and have found little coverage of the concept of IA, so I would like to discuss this further with anyone who is interested. There are lots of related concepts, like copyleft, Open Content, among others, but none that plainly and simply refer to intellectual works protected from becoming intellectual property by design.

Intellectual freedom is used commonly in a similar context.


anansi133 said...

IA doesn't want to easily fit into the framework of capitalism, so expect a lot of resistance.

I'm thinking of Garrett Hardin's Tragedy of the commons: modern capitalists are so accustomed to privatizing the profits from a commons (and externalizing the costs) that they can't wrap their minds around developing the commons on its own terms.

There are some deep assumptions that usually go unvoiced: Open source will let people steal from you, so you'll go hungry while others profit from your work


Open Source will make the pie bigger, so that everyone's slice gets larger in radial diameter, instead of a wider angle. (the zero-sum game)

rsb said...


I see where you are coming from. I don't bother trying to discuss the common good with cynics anymore.

The few that are interested in the common good will create the terminology we need to discuss it all the same.

The particular case of the tragedy of the commons is an easy one to avoid, though. In order for that nightmare scenario to play out, the commons must be finite, perishable, and unmanaged. Without those conditions, even if we grant that everyone is absolutely selfish and cannot think beyond their next meal, the tragedy cannot occur. The field of IA is infinite, non-perishable, and managed through a very complex set of interactions.

As you suggest, the way to convince a cynic is to appeal to their rational self-interest. For instance, showing them a few ways that supporting open-source software can improve their bottom line. This is frequently possible and often arduous.

These days anyway, I'm less interested in the resistance to ideas than their development.

Uderman said...


I totaly agree with you when you question the benefits of patents for the society. The pharmacy industry is maybe the best example of this situation, but I believe that in many other fields that involves technology , the patents makes a few benefits, but not the entire society. Of course the person or company that invents something have the right to profit from it. But when the right from ones to profit doesn't match with the needs of the society, something is wrong and this model should be reviewd.