Friday, January 23, 2009

What is Your Attitude Toward IP? (Jeff Tucker)

Jeff Tucker on the made-up concept of "intellectual property":

Against Intellectual MonopolyAs I think more about "intellectual property" in the form of patents and copyrights, it seems that the implications for social theory are profound. The behavior targeted and slaughtered by IP is one that provides a fuel for all social and economic development: imitation or emulation.

(Before I go on, I want to emphatically point to my personal debt to Michele Boldrin and David Levine's Against Intellectual Monopoly, from which everything in this article is derived. I have planned to live blog the book chapter by chapter but I keep getting off on tangents, and this post is one.)

In the German speaking world of art in the 18th and 19th century, imitation by composers was considered to be the greatest tribute. When Bach would write an elaboration of Buxtehude, it was seen as a wonderful gift to Buxtehude's legacy and memory. When Mahler would turn a phrase by Brahms, or re-orchestrate a Beethoven symphony, it was the tribute of one master to another. So it is in literature and economics.

Imitation in economic affairs is essential for development, since nothing is ever perfect right out of the box, and society is constantly changing. You need that imitative dynamism in order for technology to keep up with changing market conditions. This is what IP shuts down in the name of rewarding creators. How can creators make a buck in a world of fluid imitation? The same way they always have: by having the best product at the right price to the market first. When other imitate them, they have to hustle again and innovate some more. This is how societies and economies grow.

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