The (copy)fight against digital culture, and intellectual privelege

November 10th, 2008 | by ian |

It takes (sci-fi) author Cory Doctorow to put it sufficiently lucidly: the internet is designed  to efficiently and inexpensively copy information and has flourished as a result, therefore traditional copyright in the age of the web is a direct attack on the digital culture which has given rise the web. Due to this huge shift in constraints, the legal framework we had is maladapted to the medium. The balances are out of whack.

Take, for example, the concept of the “free rider,” one who benefits from but does not contribute to a common good. Tim Lee points out that the economics of these scenarios is vastly changed by the scale of the internet. This has big implications for intellectual property, as Mark Lemly discusses in his fascinating paper.

Which segues into some broader, and enormous, problems with intellectual property in the age of the web. Never have there been so many people with such high levels of education had access to so much information. Most good ideas occur to many simultaneously, the challenge tends to be execution (with some rare exceptions).¬† So I was recently intrigued by an alternative way of looking at IP: “Intellectual privelege.” Consider that for a moment. Any originality I have is predicated on some influences: education, peers, priveleged information…

More on this when I get another micro-sabbatical, but bottom line is, society needs to re-evaluate the incentives and rewards for intellectual productivity to ensure they don’t have the effect of stifling innovation and worse yet, benefiting a vanishingly tiny fraction of the population.

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