Shooting Down The Claim That The AK-47 Needed Intellectual Property Protection
from the makes-no-sense dept
But the real problem may be more akin to the woes currently afflicting the newspaper industry and recorded music business: It's very hard to make a buck when your product is easily copied and widely accessible.Well, considering all those other problems were listed first, it's unclear why it's the "easily copied" problem that's the culprit. But even if we grant the premise, the argument still makes no sense at all. First of all, the AK-47 has been made by many different manufacturers for many, many years. It makes no sense that it would be the competition that has now put it out of business, since that competition has been around for ages. Common sense would tell you that it's not the copying that's the problem. If it was, this issue would have come up years ago, rather than 60 years after the AK-47 was first created. Second, the report is just about this one manufacturer struggling, not all of the others. That suggests, again, that the problem isn't in the fact that the AK-47 is so easily copied. After all, all those other manufacturers face that same "problem."
Finally, there's no evidence at all that a lack of intellectual property is harming the AK-47 at all. In fact, from the sound of things, it's still an incredibly popular weapon. The problem is just with a single manufacturer who has other issues to deal with. So, the end result if this one firm goes out of business does no net damage to the market for AK-47s. Others step in to take up the slack. Just because one firm in a market fails, it hardly means that there needed to be stronger intellectual property. That's a huge, and totally unsubstantiated leap.
Separately, part of Leonard's reasoning for this is based on a myth that's been debunked for years. He compares the AK-47 to other technologies where "lower quality" products won out due to "path dependence," and names the QWERTY keyboard and the VHS (over Betamax) examples. The problem is that, as popular as that story is, it's a myth. The idea that Dvorak was better than QWERTY isn't supported by the evidence. Other similar stories have also been debunked. With things like VHS and Betamax, the problem is that the "quality" that people rely on is not the factor by which buyers made their purchase decision on. Sure, the video quality of Betamax may have been "better," but the overall utility of VHS was much greater because it could record much more per tape.
So, sorry, but I don't see any evidence that the AK-47 either relied on "path dependence" for success, or that it would be better off today if there was some intellectual property around it. In fact, I'd argue that the whole claim that intellectual property was the problem actually stems from a different story from a couple years ago, where the Russian gov't suddenly started claiming intellectual property rights over the AK-47 and started demanding payments from manufacturers. That's not using IP to encourage innovation. It's a gov't using it as a tax (which, if anything, would make life more difficult for AK-47 manufacturers... perhaps like the one now going out of business).