Can the concept of Intellectual Property be human?

I have been following the exploits of Anonymous for a while now, and the question of Intellectual Property is one that keeps coming up, even though the Anons in Operation India categorically deny any support for piracy. Whatever the stand of Operation India is, I find the idea of intellectual property very dysfunctional.

Mankind has evolved on knowledge and innovation. “Intellectual property” is at the fundamentals of everything in life, from the right way to burp a baby to some important patent. It is existing knowledge that forms the foundation for future knowledge. The idea that some kinds of knowledge can be registered so that the effort and expense invested in them forms a kind of permanent hen laying golden eggs is a vast injustice to the abundance of life affirming knowledge all around. For that matter, could the people patenting their intellectual property afford to even sustain their effort, let alone profit from it if they were to pay intellectual property charges for the knowledge that is not registered and made private? From the rights to the recipe of tea served in their canteen to the use of language, numbers, smaller research that is now established practice making their work possible?

In my view, the idea that knowledge can be owned by a few and allowed use in return for monetary compensation is an exploitative one. Why should people be allowed to enrich their lives from thousands of years of evolving knowledge, but refuse to return their  contributions to the wild? What does it mean for our evolution as mankind, if the next step is forever private and requires people to keep inventing it or pay? What does it mean to ventures that are not commercially profitable to not have access to knowledge because they can’t afford it? What does it mean to the divide between the rich and the poor, if elite discoveries are priced to forever be out of the reach of much of the population? To me, it seems like caging ideas is caging progress.

It is years now that I have  supported open source efforts and promoted them, so that access is not a bar for people. But this isn’t about software alone. There are patents for life saving medicines that are priced way beyond the reach of those needing them.

There is art going out of reach. India as a country is special in the music that flows in its veins. Take any random Indian, and they are sure to have absorbed over hundreds of songs from just living – we have songs everywhere. From every film having songs, to children playing antakshari, to ceremonies and festivals being made more enjoyable with them. Our country is one where over 90% of the population lives on under one dollar a day. What does it mean for them to have the intellectual property of songs enforced? To lose legal access to one of the few joys available to them, because someone made that song?

Do a google search for images to put in a blog post, and you run into copyright infringement. Either make your own graphics and click your own photographs, or have a blog without images, because whoever heard of a blogger able to buy images for use?

Intellectual property defends itself as an investment that needs to be recovered. Yet, in reality it serves as a permanent asset often making millions of times the investment made in its creation. Think for example a song created for a film. The song maker got paid. The producer recovered expenses from the film, yet the song is intellectual property, seeking to squeeze money out of music lovers who can’t make ends meet already. Who does such a concept serve and what is its purpose beyond creating money for those placed to claim ownership?

At the same time, it is true that many things cannot be created for free. Research investments need recovered. Efforts need compensated. Are there better ways to achieve this than caging creations and refusing free access to those who could gain from them? A few things come to mind.

  • The idea of a default of rights being restricted should be abolished. On the contrary, if there are costs that need recovered, then the registration should be applied for specifically.
  • The idea of forever being compensated should be dropped. Once the investment is recovered, continuing to “recover” it is absurd. Possibly recovering up to twice the investment makes sense as an incentive for investing in endeavors.
  • For life saving inventions governments or corporations should take on the investment in return for development of the country or for corporates, the profits from the fruits of it.
  • Where an investment is made, it makes sense to have an additional charge till it is recovered, which should be reversed when recovery is made.
  • Alternative ways of earning from the creation should be encouraged where possible. For example most open source software coders earn from services related to them – either customizing it or installing/trouble shooting.
  • The idea of having done something in the past being entitlement to earn from it forever without doing anything at all should be stopped.
  • Sure, some things will be exceptions – things that need continuing research and updates, for example.
  • However, this is about the money. Other rights, as to the creation being attributed correctly, for example, are important to uphold. Forever. Because it is that person’s contribution to mankind.
  • The main goal should be to not restrict access to knowledge, or if any restrictions are needed for recovering investment, they should be minimal and monitored closely. So you may have a music album releasing for a certain price first, and then again at lower cost in a few months or year (depending on how it sells). Copying of the music itself should be free (remember you already earned from the film?)

A master carpenter works with as much skill as a musician. A sculptor works with as much dedicated attention and skill as a software coder. Yet he sells his chair or statue once. The musician being able to sell duplicates of his creation many times must not mean unequal financial compensation, if we expect tangibles to grow in our world as opposed to easily duplicated things. Why would a person want to earn once from his efforts if he can earn many times by doing something else? Does that mean shoes or grain is less important than a software? Or that life saving drugs should be available to only those who can afford them?

Unless we are able to look at income as a compensation for work as opposed to a payment for past work, we will never be able to overcome the divisive barriers between the haves and have nots. Worse, we will bring thousands of years of evolution to stagnation by narrowing access to further innovation.

In any case, piracy is thriving to extents where curbing it is  impossible without serious erosion of the rights of many innocents. It is time to use piracy and turn it into distribution and find more realistic ways of earning.

Note that these are thoughts, not well evaluated decisions and obviously many considerations will be important. The idea is to trigger thinking not promote one master fix.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

Join the Intellectual Anarchy!

About the Author

Vidyut
Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

6 Comments on "Can the concept of Intellectual Property be human?"

  1. Well, I just have a technicality Id like to point out. Criticising intellectal property while having a All Rights Reserved on the bottom is just wrong… It’s one way or the other – let other share your thoughts, if you think that’s how the world should work.
    Try Creative Commons licences.

  2. Manjiri Indurkar | June 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Reply

    Dear Vidyut,

    I am Manjiri Indurkar writing to you on behalf of Nine Dot Nine Media’s latest publication Democratic World. It is monthly general interest magazine, cutting across genres of politics, society, arts and culture. You can have a look at the magazine here (http://issuu.com/democraticworld)The magazine has a section called Social Agenda where we publish interesting blog posts by various bloggers. We really liked this blog post of yours and would like to carry it in our magazine with full credits, link to your blog and your twitter handle.Should you like the idea please do revert back. I hope to get a positive response from you.

    Regards
    Manjiri IndurkarFeatures Writer, Democratic World9.9 Media | B – 118, Sector 2 | Noida – 201 301 | I N D I A | http://www.9dot9.i +91-9711769790

    • Sure. The blog is actually copyleft 😀

      The new template needs updated to reflect that, but feel free to copy what you want. Just link to the original article 🙂 For the future too. No permissions needed. Will update template, but you can keep this email as proof too.

      Vidyut

  3. Interesting topic and a complicated one too…  
    I had typed a longer comment but think it was similar to your contentions in the post. I will try to put my thoughts in as few words. 
    You say you are OSI supporter so I can assume that you would agree that in case of the sculptor, s/he may have proprietary right of the sculpture (the finished product) but not sculpture (the art of making statues). After all, our sculptor would have inherited some knowledge on sculpting free of cost,so it would be wrong to claim ownership over the process of sculpting.
     However, in digital world replicating in huge numbers are pretty easy and profit is disproportionately high. This is where piracy thrives.  I remember reading on how Microsoft won China where pirated copies of  Microsoft products were in abundance. Besides they were facing competition from Linux which was/is free. According to Bill Gates, they dropped the price of Windows and Office package to as low as to as low as $3 which was cheaper than pirated copies and even Linux which required more disks ! 

    http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2007/07/23/100134488/index2.htm 

    Its time people understand that piracy cannot be fought with batons but by lowering price to a level which is affordable to the average user.

  4. Hannah Imogen Jones | June 8, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Reply

    Hello my dear 🙂 I was really happy and surprised to see your article – surprised because of the synchronicity involved, as you are addressing issues which I myself have been currently closely considering in relation to the work I am now undertaking. Let me explain.

    I used to be a business development and marketing manager, in the corporate world. Actually – in the financial world – which, after a few years I realised was a world I simply could not be a part of, due to the highly questionable morality involved on every level.

    Now, I am a poet – an artist. For the last three years I have been working to complete my first book – a collection of poetry and photography. In order to follow this dream, I have had to extract myself from the business world, which is just not conducive to creativity in your spare time (brain, heart and soul being too mangled from stress and poison etc.).

    During the last couple of years, I have earned next to no money or income at all. My debts have increased, in order to live to accomplish this dream. I have had to take the risk that this time and effort (often heartache) invested in creating a book for humanity, will one day “pay off” for me. But what does this mean?

    The book was not planned, but poetry began pouring forth after a series of testing life experiences and after some time I realised I had a product on my hands which has the potential to help enrich the lives of others across this aching planet of ours.

    My husband and I have faced financial tests over the last couple of years. This was a position that I willingly and knowingly put us into and that he agreed to  – as we both believe that the potential of the book to in whatever humble way, help humanity far outweighs any struggle or sacrifice on our part in order to get this out to the world. By the way, this comment is not a plug for my book! Your article is simply highly relevant. It has been hard, there have been tears and arguments and times of despair and doubt and fear. It has been tough!

    Anyway. I am publishing this book myself. I have had to research costs involved of printing, profit margins etc. to arrive at figures which seem to make the whole thing ‘work’. Although, at the same time I have felt the irony of trying to put a price on something like this. Monetizing art just doesn’t seem to sit right – although we live in a world driven by finance.

    One of the questions I just couldn’t get my head around was – “What about the people who just don’t have money to buy the book?” It will be an expensive book, because of the number of pages involved (over 400) and a glossy, luxury book. I wanted to create something beautiful.
    When you’re facing money struggles life can seem so much harder, and I came to the conclusion that the people who have the least money available to buy something like this may well be the people who need it the most!

    So I made a  decision. I have decided to ‘Give’ the entire book away for free to the world.

    Now – obviously I can’t afford to print thousands of copies and give them away. So I have decided to do two things.

    1 – to upload the entire contents of the book onto a website, accessible for free to anyone who has access to a computer.

    2 – to print physical copies and sell them at a profit in the usual way – to those people who would like to own the physical copy and have the funds to do so.

    It is my hope that the book can then reach as many people as possible, including those who don’t have the money to buy it.

    It is also my wish, that I am able to make an income from  doing what I love, what I was put here to do, in order that I can continue to fulfill my mission to help humanity, write more books without going further into debt, and travel the world to in whatever way I can, make a difference.

    So – what if the book becomes a worldwide best seller? What if I suddenly become the poetic version of J K Rowling?

    What if millions of copies are sold, which put millions into my bank account?

    What then?

    If the truth be told, I am now realising that I’ve had some money issues during my life. My attitude towards money, I think, has been one in which I have felt undeserving of money – or that having little or no money was some kind of sacrifice I should make in order to be a ‘good’ person.

    I am now learning that it doesn’t have to be this way.

    What if I do make millions from my book?

    What would I do?

    Well – I can tell you that the purpose of my existence is to help humanity (just like so many others including yourself). So I can also tell you, that should I make tons of money from my book – that I will be putting that money to good use in the world.

    I am no longer afraid of being rewarded for the efforts which I put into trying to make this world a nicer place! And I can’t wait for the day that money is flowing more abundantly in my life so that I can make an even greater difference to humanity.

    I say all of these things, with One Big Factor consciously at the forefront of my mind. Back to the Intellectual Property question. It is this.

    Who does the poetry belong to?

    Some of these poems came out of nowhere and flowed as they are onto the page. Some I can hardly remember writing, and some I look back on and just know that they were ‘given’ to me.
    Some are prophetic and the poems themselves, individually and as a body of work, are healing.

    They were gifts given to me, just as my gift in life is to be some kind of receptor for these messages designed to help the human heart. I cannot claim ownership in that sense. Yet, I can claim ownership of Who I Am, What I do, and How I exist in the world. These are my choices after all – to choose what to do with what I have been given. I can claim ownership in the sense of the personal time, work, effort, tears and struggles I have put in, to convey this gift to the wider world. I can claim ownership in the sense that every single day I have lived and breath I have breathed over the last 33 years, have all contributed to where I am today and to the making of this gift for humanity.

    And what then?

    If the ‘universe’ rewards me in such as way as to make this book a big seller, thus distributing huge funds into my own personal bank account, what then?

    I promise to do as much good in this world with my fortune as it is possible for me to do.

    I trust that the forces of good in the universe which have conspired to help me ‘help people’ through my work, will also then lead me to put my life to an even greater purpose and to help even more people.

    This is where I am today, and I would love to hear your thoughts on how this ties into your concept of IP.

    As end note – I would like to tell you that one of the poems in my book was inspired by and written for you. 🙂 I would love to dedicate it to you and I thank you so much for being such an inspiration to us all. Check your email, I’ll send the poem now.

    Peace and Love as always

    Hannah

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