Finished the book Against Intellectual Monopoly. Actually, “finished” may be a bit of a stretch since I skimmed some parts; I’ve got a flood of DBQs coming in this week and I wanted this book out of the way. The book’s got gobs of history and thorough arguments, but I’m not totally sold. ‘Tis true that there’d be plenty of creativity in the absence of intellectual property law, but I still worry about innovation in fields with high fixed and low variable costs like pharmaceuticals. I’d feel better about the matter if, concurrent with reducing IP protection, we also liberalized testing requirements and drove down some of the up-front costs of drug development (which the authors do suggest). But while I can see the public supporting the abolition of drug patents, I can’t see them supporting the reduction of the FDA’s testing requirements.
Furthermore, I don’t think the “first-mover” argument is as strong as the authors think it is. The first-mover argument is that even in the absence of IP law, innovators would reap adequate and socially optimal profits simply because they were first to create the product. I can buy that when it comes to tangible products, but not so much when it comes to digital media. As technology improves, it becomes easier to copy digital media and enjoy it prior to public release–i.e., before the innovator and would-be first mover moves. Sure, the creators can figure out other ways to earn profits, or maybe the market (or profit margin) for such material is too big to be socially optimal anyways and the lack of IP protection will cause it to shrink, but either way the first-mover argument seems a little bit flimsy when it comes digital media.
At least in regards to the arts, IP law may one day be rendered moot without being abolished or diminished. A lot of folks take MGM’s motto, “Ars gratia artis,” seriously and not ironically and are willing to give their work away, free of charge. Take me, for instance. I don’t charge anybody to read this website (though I will sell you ad space). This sort of art is more readily available than ever before, and technological advancements are making special effects and editing less and less expensive. That may drive Hollywood and the music industry out of business before a lack of IP protection does.
I’d like to know the opinions of my buddies who probably hold patents and copyrights. I’ll be contacting them shortly and soliciting their opinions on the matter. Hopefully they won’t charge me.
If they ever do abolish IP law, the government should still provide protection to all materials published prior to abolition. If patents and copyrights were legally acquired, they should be enforced until expiration.