Sunday, April 07, 2013

So Who Has the Copyright?

A subject I'm gearing up to tackle is intellectual property (IP). I don't feel ready to engage this subject from an educated position yet. I've had several thoughts on it, but nothing I'd consider coherent or that I could present from a position of authority.

Stephan Kinsella's "Against Intellectual Property" is on my reading list for the near future. Like the majority of their great literature, it is available as a free download from the Ludwig Von Mises Institute.

Also available as a free download is a book I just became aware of, Michael Boldrin and David Levine's "Against Intellectual Monopoly".

Intellectual Property makes for an interesting subject. Physical property is one thing. If I am a producer of cars, a physical object, then I make the car and I sell the car to you. We can't both have the same car at the same time. This would violate logic and physics.

But an idea is different. And a digital form is as well. If I write a book and sell it as a pdf, we can both possess the same book at the same time. It can be duplicated infinitely while not depriving anybody of its presence.

This makes for an interesting discussion. I recently read (the article was a few years out of date) of some college professors claiming IP rights over their lectures. If you take notes of their lectures, that becomes a derivative of their IP. They allow you one copy of notes of any lecture. You may not record their lecture at all. You may not duplicate your allowed single copy of your notes. This made me think of an interesting scenario. Assuming you're not studying a Worthless subject (and I bet any professor short sighted enough to pull this crap probably teaches worthless subjects), what happens when you graduate college and get a job and in the performance of your job, a duty arises related to the lecture your professor considers his intellectual property? "Oh, great, I'd love to create a DNS subnet, but that's my professor's IP. Can't do it."

On the other side of the coin, are colleges and universities such as MIT that produce all their coursework as open source. I doubt MIT is deprived of profit through this in any way. People like myself cannot afford to attend MIT, nor would it make sense for a 39 year old with a bachelor's degree and about half a career to suddenly stop and go to MIT. But I'm free to study their material. I appreciate that.

The Ludwig Von Mises Institute is often asked if they're crazy for offering free electronic downloads of books they sell. Apparently, it doesn't hurt sales on bit. It actually increases them. It also provides a valuable service. Say I'm reading a Rothbard book, and come across a great quote. I'm sure we've all had to painstakingly read and type from a book into our computers. Not with the Mises Institute. I can grab the pdf and copy and paste the quote and send it along, with the link to the source material. I consider that a great service.

Some publishers experimented with multiple formats. You can buy the physical book and gain access to the electronic and audio formats. I don't think this has caught on.

I'll keep learning. This is an important subject, and one of the great issues of our day.
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