Forget Intellectual Property — Think Intellectual Privilege?

from the one-way-to-look-at-it dept

In general, we have a problem with the term “intellectual property” since it implies something that simply isn’t true: that things like copyrights and patents are “property.” That’s clearly not the case as there are significant differences between traditional property and something like copyrights and patents. We also have a problem with trademarks being included within the umbrella of “intellectual property” since it’s quite different from the other two, and was developed not as incentives (as copyright and patents are) but as a method of consumer protection (keeping you from being mislead about the origin of a product). However, it is somewhat useful to have a larger term to explain copyrights and patents. Some people (including our Founding Fathers like Jefferson and Madison) prefer to use the term monopolies, which has been adjusted by some these days to “intellectual monopolies” or even “use monopolies.” Tom Bell is now suggesting that a better term may be “intellectual privilege” and has written up a research paper establishing the reasons for this. While it makes for an interesting academic argument, it seems unlikely that people are going to adopt the phrase any time soon. I’d tend to side more with those who refer to it as an intellectual monopoly, as that’s much more descriptive. Intellectual privilege, for all the niceness of retaining the “IP” designation, probably requires too much explanatory baggage.

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Comments on “Forget Intellectual Property — Think Intellectual Privilege?”

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Bigpicture says:

The Whole Concept is Wrong

There is just something not right about this whole concept, it is a social aberration. Knowledge or learning progress is built on what went before. Everyone who has an idea or a concept, should know that it has it’s roots in the knowledge that was already in the world when they came into it. That is why the Romans never had electronic computers, but they had bridges and aqua ducts etc.

So how can anyone exclusively own knowledge? If someone in China independently comes up with an idea, and it is identical to an idea that originated in the US. Why should the person in the US have more rights to what can be done with that idea than the person in China? In todays “Global Village” is this “Intellectual Property” institution not an anachronism, just like the qwerty keyboard that no one wants to change?

Adam Wasserman says:

Re: The Whole Concept is Wrong

It is my belief that Americans (and it is very much a North American phenomenon) would like to believe in the concept of intellectual “property” out of greed and laziness.

After all, who wouldn’t like to have a lifetime of revenue in exchange for a few minutes, hours, or even days of thinking.

All part of the get rich quick mentality, and the erosion of the working class ethic. Once upon a time, many (more than today) Americans were proud to be construction workers and truck drivers, and considered themselves the backbone of the American economy.

As Mike and others have pointed out before, execution is what creates value, but that requires hard work and risk.

I recently had an interesting conversation with a new acquaintance, an ex-lawyer. I was attempting to be large minded and generous about the whole thing, and so I started the discussion with: “if you accept that the law should be a reflection of popular will…”

He interrupted me by saying that in his opinion the law should be based upon the concept of justice.

Well, he he he. In that case I need not be generous at all.

If the law reflects public opinion than it should change to reflect greed and laziness if that is what is prevalent. If the law is to be based upon justice, than few could argue that the common good is one of the very uppermost concerns.

The common good is never served by a perpetual monopoly, or even a long-term monopoly.

However regarding the very specific term property, although I emotionally agree with Mike, I have to disagree in fact. The legal definition of property easily covers the concept of having an interest in an intangible. Consider “air rights” in New York, or the fly-over rights that nations capitalize upon (most nations charge a fee for allowing an aircraft to fly over them). These rights are treated as property under the law.

Michael Long says:

Re: Re: The Whole Concept is Wrong

“… execution is what creates value, but that requires hard work and risk.”

Precisely. Further, it requires you to do all of that hard work up front, with no guarantee of reward (hence the risk). One can spot the fallacy in your thinking simply by reading “who wouldn’t like to have a lifetime of revenue in exchange for a few minutes, hours, or even days of thinking.”

I take it, then, you’ve never spent a year or more writing a book? Spent man-years making a film or writing a complex game or other piece of software? Never been a musician who’s practiced all of his life and spent a decade or more building an audience? All on spec?

All of those things require “hard work and risk”, and lots of it. And if it’s so easy, then why aren’t YOU a best-selling author? I mean, it only takes a few minutes, right?

Adam Wasserman says:

Re: Re: Re: The Whole Concept is Wrong


I have been a musician, film producer, programmer, I have authored written works such as the methodology used by my partnership. I have drafted patent claims and done patent searches both of which are very tedious.

I like to get money for my efforts. I do not like to try and prevent other people from building upon, or even copying my ideas. I do not believe there is such a thing as completely original thought, or if it exists at all that it is incredibly rare.

I believe that the reputation I build through hard work and the experience I bring, will be sufficient to ensure that I will be selected as a consultant over a competitor using my methodology. I do not need to try and prevent them from using it.

Most people who work hard for one year expect to get one year’s worth of revenue. I have performed works for hire, and have been entirely satisfied to be paid for the time I spent working.

Furthermore, most professions do not endorse hoarding ideas that could benefit the public. A lawyer that comes up with a clever defense cannot hoard the idea – court decisions are public. A doctor who comes up with an advance in treatment of a particular disease is expected to publish their findings in a medical journal so that others can try it and validate it.

Why so angry dude?


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

he didn’t “use” anything. he’s including a reference to the term the originators of copyright called it. there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. he also didn’t imply what any of the different acts legislated. its called ‘reading comprehension.’ if you want to insult someone’s writing, you better have a better comprehension skills.

Patrick Guevara says:

Def of Property

There appears to be a misunderstanding of the defition of “property.” Since “intellectual property” is a legal concept, then the term property must be defined in a legal context. Yes, I am a lawyer and I still remember the basic defition of “property” from my first day of Real Property law. As Adam Wasserman pointed out, the legal concept of property is intangible.

As my real property professor stressed time and again, “property” is a “bundle of rights.” Each “piece” of real property does not have identical bundle of rights. For example, a condo or coop is considered real property, but it does not have the same bundle of rights as a single family home. A condo property includes a share in land, but the owner does not have exclusive access (a monopoly?) to the land because it is owed by all the condo owners. Single family owners generally have exclusive rights to the land within the “real property”.

Shun says:

Probably posted this before

I don’t recall if I’ve made this point in the past, but here it is (again).

There is a very interesting article:

which talks about why there is this thing called intellectual property. The short of it is, the U.S. is incapable of or unwilling to compete on “real terms” for “real goods”.

The only thing we have left to fall back on is our creative talent, which, if you haven’t noticed, is not unique to white males born in North America.

Dustin Schmidt (user link) says:

The Happy News Network

Despite the creation of a utopia in the United States being an unlikely story, I am seriously pursuing the idea of developing a news network that focuses on the spirit of humanity rather than the gross atrocities of reality.

We rarely hear of an uplifting story, and blogs tend to be reflecting the zero sum reality which has become the human experience. I appreciated the last post because when someone like Adam has become humbled by his professional successes he is not overtly desperate to cling tightly to them. Instead their is a utilitarian principle which is deployed which is “Hey maybe I should share this?”.

If you possess true talent and ability as a writer, engineer, web developer, musician, or any other profession the cream always rises to the top. Everyone forgets about the poser and we remember the pioneer.

Lawyers might want to find new professions because the argument of who is always right is not winning anymore.

To visit something uplifting, innovative, and conceptually appealing visit


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