Monday, August 17, 2009

'Intellectual property'

'Intellectual property'

Intellectual property ("IP"), the idea that a person's creative works belong to them even after copies have been sold, is a fairly new thing. Throughout most of human history when a person invented something, or made up a poem or song, once anyone else was introduced to that new creation they could copy the original and no one thought anything of it. Before industrialization it was how progress was spread. I doubt anyone panicked about someone else stealing their design for the wheel or idea for "agriculture"; two examples of things that are much more important than the newest incarnation of the "legally-protected" "Twilight" franchise.

Then some lawyer had an idea. They would get "laws" enacted to give a person control over their creation so that they alone would profit from it (after paying the lawyer and government a hefty fee, of course)- at least for a while. I can understand someone wanting to profit from their creations. I know it would be a nice situation to be in, but is it right to use government to do so?

I have witnessed many heated discussions among libertarians about "IP", and have read good points from either side of the fence. The two sides come down to this: "Once you buy that CD you should be able to do anything with it, including copying it. What right does anyone have to tell you what you can do with your own property?" vs. "The artist put a lot of work into creating the content of that CD, and the recording company invested a lot of money to produce it. They should profit from their effort and investment, and that profit should be protected for a while." It doesn't take government to protect "IP", of course, but is "protection" justified by property rights, or would that violate the property rights of the person who bought the CD or book? Does the elimination of "IP" protection destroy the incentive to create?

I know that some of my creations have been used here and there, most with attribution; some without. It doesn't really bother me too much. Of course, there isn't any real money at stake either. Would I feel differently if I stood to gain or lose a lot of money? Probably, because I am human. Does that settle the matter? Absolutely not. My personal feelings or wishes have no bearing on the issue.

My opinion is that "Intellectual Property" is a nice idea for the creative person, but is probably unrealistic as we head into the post-government era of easily copied "content". I don't worry too much about protecting my own "IP", but, as a courtesy, I try very hard to not dishonestly benefit from the "IP" of others.

What do you think?