It's an interesting thought experiment: how would things change if/when somebody does create a way to transform raw molecular compounds into complex things like food or building materials? 3D printing is the beginning of this, and it's difficult to say how for it will actually go, and how long it will take to get to its technological peak. Obviously creation "ex nihilo" is impossible, but I wouldn't rule out matter transformation of this kind.
Have you browsed around Kickstarter lately and seen the plethora of creative works being made with significant monetary support?
It is entirely possible to obtain payments or contracts for payment on delivery for a creative work before the actual work is done. It is right to want to be paid for your work. However, the way to do this based on solid economics and the fact that information cannot practically be controlled (i.e. owned) is by negotiating compensation for the work you will do, not by demanding payments for work you already did and then permanently set the marginal cost of which to $0, economically speaking, by publishing it.
Kickstarter itself is not a panacea here, but the idea behind it is. Contract payments for people who want creative works done in advance from the people who stand to benefit from them, either as consumers or as value-added resellers. This can still be very lucrative, although it won't be as much as it often is now with the exploitation of government-granted monopolies.
The very notion of "selling copies" of something infinite should make people scratch their heads, but it doesn't. Usually. Yet.
Netflix isn't doing it wrong, because they are adding something of value to the pure content: namely, a huge amount of convenience, as well as a very unique process for tracking what you watch and predicting movies that you'll like.
But consider for a moment that Netflix will lose much of its convenience value once the market fully adjusts to the fact that digital content duplication has no cost. As bandwidth costs decrease and speeds increase, the convenience of Netflix will not be as alluring as it is today. It will still be there, convenient for its rating and recommendation system and for its centralized, easy-to-navigate streaming (and physical) media library, but it will not be the same as it is today.
"As long as we are talking about copyright as a concept (and not distribution models or movie remakes for instance), please remember that a CREATOR OF A WORK HAS THE SOLE RIGHT TO DECIDE WHAT TO DO WITH IT."
This position assumes that intellectual property is the same as physical property, which a great many people do not believe, and with good reason. Practically speaking, something which cannot be stolen cannot by nature be owned. Ideas, knowledge, or other information cannot be stolen, only duplicated.
The "right" to control perfect, zero-cost duplication of something infinite has no basis in reality. You do have the right to do whatever you want with the ideas you have, including attempt to sell them. But the moment they are communicated to someone else, the fact that you may have been the originator of that particular information has no impact on the fact that every one who has access to the information has the exactly same thing you do, including the inherent ability to duplicate, modify, and/or spread it, and the same rights to do so (barring contractual agreements that you may have created before communicating said info, which are important to note because they form the basis of how you can still make good money from your creative works without copyright).
'"Infinite supply" argument is moot, I might just as well say that the numbers on my bank account are just some bits, and how would it hurt anyone if I make a software that goes and puts those bits in a slightly different order on the bank's computer. Right?'
No. The "rearranging bits in your bank account" hypothetical situation has nothing at all to do with the infinite supply argument, for two reasons. First, the information stored on the bank's computer is a means of keeping a single record that directly correlates to a quantity of a finite resource (namely, money, though it is hard to argue for its scarcity because of the stupid Fed). That number changes when the quantity of (scarce, limited, finite) money I possess changes; it is not something I or anyone else can modify at will. Arbitrarily changing that number then creates a factual error, and if done on purpose (particularly if it increases) is equivalent to counterfeiting, which is illegal for reasons completely outside of copyright.
Secondly, strictly speaking, I couldn't care less if someone has my bank account info, or duplicates it a million times and spreads it around everywhere (though bank-related privacy would be a bit of an issue at that point). But the moment anyone besides me alters the information stored at the original source, that's when I get mad.
Copyright has nothing to do with protecting the original work from direct modification. Copyright infringement does absolutely nothing to the integrity of the original information. Copying your bank account balance into a similar database record on your computer will do nothing to your account. Changing that record on your computer will also do nothing to your account. But changing the original data source will absolutely have an affect.
Nobody has ever said that it's fine to actually modify original instances of creative works, only that it should be okay to copy them and go from there.
True, it will be interesting to see what developments technology brings to adjust to the realities of the market. However, it would surprise me if there will ever come any viable way to monetize access to digital content, since as soon as one guy has it, all of a sudden it can be infinitely redistributed for free again. This is what is causing so much market disruption now.
It will always be true that if you can view something digital on your own machine, you can by definition also record it with the right knowledge and skill. There isn't any way around that.
But maybe I misinterpreted what you meant by "monetizing access to the content." If there's something besides the content there, like maybe a valuable members-only community forum, or opportunities to meet the creators, or some other non-infinite component, that should work. But monetizing access to content purely for the content itself won't.
I meant "pattern" in the sense of a particular arrangement of knowledge. A sewing pattern would qualify, as would a tile pattern, or a pattern of words to represent a slogan or speech or book, or a pattern of notes and words to represent a song. It is all just knowledge, or ideas, in some particular form. To me, it ceases to be an idea and becomes property (subject to protection) when it is built into something tangible that can no longer be duplicated merely by communication. In contrast, it does not become property simply by the particular arrangement of ideas, however specific, because it can still be duplicated entirely, without harming the original or losing any quality, merely by communication. A patent, even in its complete detailed form, is still just a collection of knowledge. As a set of instructions, a patent can be used to create valuable property, but a patent itself is still just knowledge (a.k.a. idea, not property, not ownable). A "specific embodiment" is more of the same.
The justification given for IP law has always been, as you point out, to create an incentive for people to create. In some cases, I'm sure this does its job as intended. But even ignoring the fact that it is frequently abused as well, just because a particular law accomplishes its stated goal doesn't mean it is necessary, or right.
For example, let's say there was a similar law that would automatically award me $100k of government funding for obtaining a patent. It would presumably have to be an original idea to be granted (ha! right!), so it is arguable that such a law would be useful for promoting innovation. People would be trying to invent new things all the time to get in on the action. Even though this incentive would certainly drive people to create, it would be a very wrong way to do it, even though it is basically the same thing taken to more of an extreme.
For a more relevant example, government subsidization of particular industries also usually has the same kind of justification: to encourage people to enter that (presumably useful) industry because they get free help that they would not otherwise get. Or, in other instances, subsidies used to prop up weak industries that are deemed by those in charge to be too important to lose. In both of these cases, as well as with IP protection, is a distortion of the market. Government loans and subsidies are instances of people who think they are smart, giving taxpayer-leeched funding to individuals and companies who were not able to get funding from private investors--ostensibly because said private investors didn't think it was a good enough risk.
A good idea does not need a patent to succeed. It does not even need a patent to come into being in the first place. If you think an idea is really great, and you can't afford the research/materials/whatever to build it yourself, then pitch it to a VC company under an NDA. If you can convince them of its value, then your funding problems are solved and you can go about your merry way creating your product. If not, then you can try again, or save your own money, or abandon the idea. It should not be an option to obtain a government-granted monopoly just to help you succeed at the expense of everyone else (and patents are certainly granted at the expense of everyone else who would like to compete).
I would also argue that it should not be illegal for me (or anyone) to directly copy When Harry Met Sally, because that is still the assertion that an idea (a very specific one comprising the whole story) can be owned. It would, however, be idiotic of me. Anyone who was aware of the original would spot my version as a complete rip-off, and all the work I put into it would be basically wasted. Why would I even try? It wouldn't get me much money, it wouldn't open up any new book deals, and it would hurt my reputation.
Now you've made me want to go watch The Twilight Zone episode you mentioned though. :-) Rod Serling and his friends did have some really novel and thought-provoking stuff to say about all kinds of topics.
Let's expand the term "idea" to also include "knowledge" and "pattern" to be specific, though I would contend that all three of these are different names for essentially the same thing viewed in different lights. "Specific expressions of ideas" are just more of the same thing, are they not? Of course nobody would say that the general idea of "a better mousetrap" is not ownable, but why should the specific idea of "a better mousetrap that is better by virtue of the neutrino-converting catalyzing cheese-like mouse magnet" be ownable? It's still just an idea. If you build it, then I am wrong if I steal the product you built. But why am I wrong if I figure out how it works and then build my own?
Let's assume you come up with an idea for a better mousetrap. Let's also assume that I happen to independently come to the same conclusions that you did about the design flaws of the currently available mousetraps, and so by a surprising (but certainly not impossible) coincidence, we think up the same improved design.
Why on earth, under any justification whatsoever, should either of us be prevented from turning this idea into a physical product under any circumstances? Yet if one of us manages to get a patent, that is exactly can happen to the other one.
The origins of ideas are very difficult to identify (often even for the true originator of any idea to define in a useful way). I additionally contend that whether an idea is original or copied, a patent is still an unjust license to control other people's property (which is the reality of saying they cannot produce anything that is the embodiment of a specific configuration).
The same logic applies to copyright. You say I should not copy "When Harry Met Sally", but you don't provide a reason for this. The specific, defended reason is what I'm looking for.
I don't know if it's ultimately beneficial for either side to argue about the motivation for breaking a law (sharing, laziness, greed, whatever) as long as the law is still in place. Especially because the law has been in place for hundreds of years most of us have been conditioned to assume its validity and build our arguments (or business models) around it. If the law is valid, then breaking it for whatever reason will not gain you any sympathy from those who matter.
I pose this question to challenge the foundation of IP:
Is an idea an ownable thing? If so, what exactly makes it ownable?
If ideas aren't ownable, then IP law is fundamentally invalid, regardless of how it is specifically applied, interpreted, ignored, or whatever.
If ideas are ownable, then IP law in some form is necessary just as much as physical property protection law.
My opinion is that ideas aren't ownable (link is a detailed personal blog post from three days ago). I am wide open to hearing solid, logical arguments to the contrary, but I believe the burden of proof here should lie on those claiming that an infinitely reproducible thing with no physical component can in fact be owned.
Patents and other IP failures relating to fundamental property rights
This reminds me of the Ten Myths About Patents article from a month ago, which deals with many of the same points in a nice short summary.
Going even deeper though, I recently read a very well-written article on the fundamental problem with patents and other intellectual property "rights" in light of a pure understanding of physical property rights, written by Stephan Kinsella, a patent lawyer of 16 years:
1. Ownership can come about only by contractual transfer or homesteading (first claim).
2. Intellectual "creation" is not sufficient for ownership, since if I carve a statue out of your hunk of marble without your permission, it's still yours (though my work may make it more valuable to you).
3. Intellectual "creation" is not necessary for ownership, since if I carve a statue out of MY hunk of marble, it was already mine (though carving may add value, again, it doesn't affect ownership).
Then with those three points, he comes to this conclusion:
Copyrights pertain to "original works," such as books, articles, movies, and computer programs. They are grants by the state that permit the copyright holder to prevent others from using their own property — e.g., ink and paper — in certain ways.
Patents grant rights in "inventions" — useful machines or processes. They are grants by the state that permit the patentee to use the state's court system to prohibit others from using their own property in certain ways — from reconfiguring their property according to a certain pattern or design described in the patent, or from using their property (including their own bodies) in a certain sequence of steps described in the patent.
In both cases, the state is assigning to A a right to control B's property: A can tell B not to do certain things with it. Since ownership is the right to control, IP grants to A co-ownership of B's property.
This clearly cannot be justified under libertarian principles. B already owns his property. With respect to him, A is a latecomer. B is the one who appropriated the property, not A. It is too late for A to homestead B's property — B already did that. The resource is no longer unowned. Granting A ownership rights in B's property is quite obviously incompatible with basic libertarian principles. It is nothing more than redistribution of wealth. IP is unlibertarian and unjustified.
The whole article is worth reading, since it provides a lot more thorough reasoning than my summary and excerpt here. He also addresses the pragmatic approach (ignoring said property rights for the good of society) and why it doesn't make sense either.
I try to avoid shameless plugs as a rule, but it's too relevant for this post to pass up. I've been working on the Keyglove since October, and I just wrapped up a great exhibit at the Next Generation Science Fair up in San Francisco on June 19th.
In short, the Keyglove wraps a keyboard and mouse around your hand into a single glove. It's entirely open source and reprogrammable, platform-agnostic, and very promising. The project website at www.keyglove.net has all kinds of info if you want to check it out. I'm still working on it a lot, but the prototype is a working proof-of-concept, and it has excellent potential.