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.

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About the Author

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

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