A Key Myth That Drives Bad Policy: Stronger IP Laws Mean More Creativity

from the debunk-it dept

Ars Technica has an article highlighting Rep. Marsha Blackburn's "conservative tech policy goals," which has a heavy focus on ramping up intellectual property laws and enforcement. Of course, I don't see how that's any different than the "liberal tech policy" these days. Of course, this reinforces the general point that intellectual property issues are not partisan, as both major parties seem to be beholden to the interests of those who abuse IP laws.

However, as Ars demonstrates, Blackburn makes a fundamental economic fallacy in her reasoning -- and it's this fallacy that seems to be made over and over again in debates about intellectual property:
Proposition 1: The ascendant economic sector is the Creative Economy

Proposition 2: The primary commodity in this economy is intellectual property.

Proposition 3: The Creative Economy thrives online, in what is a unique, prosperous, and until recently free marketplace.
The mistake is thinking that "intellectual property laws" are the same as creative output. It's a nefarious fallacy that we see all the time. It leads to the false claim that "more IP = more creative economy." And yet, the final point in the list kind of highlights the fallacy. In fact, studies that looked into the reasons why creativity has thrived online found that it was often the absence of strict IP enforcement that resulted in such a free and open marketplace.

Furthermore, the whole basis of this line of thinking is to ignore that much of what has made the internet valuable is not that it's a broadcast medium for professional content, but that it's a communications medium, built around sharing content and speech. As Ars properly notes:
It results in a view of tech policy that is all about increasing the protection for intellectual property with little concern for the important connectivity, civic participation, and access to knowledge the Internet also provides--think e-mail, the robust political debate at online blogs, and Wikipedia, none of which need "stronger" IP protections.
It's really quite unfortunate that so many of our elected officials, no matter what their political party, seem to have fallen for the same fallacy, that seeks to turn the internet into the next version of television, rather than focusing on what the internet actually does well.
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Filed Under: economics, economy, intellectual property, marsha blackburn

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jan 2011 @ 6:26pm

    It is amazing that you can write all of this out, and not get the basic driving principal behind all of it:

    At the end of the day, investment in development is made on a risk / return basis. We all do it. Even the guy sitting at home playing on his computer writing the next facebook is doing a risk / return on his time and effort, even if he doesn't know it. He risks a dates and social standing in order to move forward on his project. It could be said that online development thrives in part because the people do it have little at risk and more chance of return (think non-date worthy geek writing unix extensions, and you sort of have an idea where I am going).

    For bigger companies that spend million (and even billions) on research and development, the goal is to obtain advantage in the marketplace and to be able to exploit it long enough to make the money back and profit from it.

    It also comes back to that (often cited) problem of the difference between small changes moving forward, and larger leaps. Taking something that exists and making a minor modification (could be an improvement, might not be) may count to some as innovation, but it is low level activity that isn't really moving things forward by leaps and bounds. Generally, it is the type of advancement that can happen anywhere in the world, and generally comes from low wage nations that can afford to try 101 variations of a gizmo.

    In the richer countries (like the US) the problem is that marginal innovation is often too expensive to try out. If you try to compete only on marginal innovation with the Chinese or India as an example, you will lose almost every time. Without strong IP laws, these countries are the knock off capitals of the world these days, but they are often short on truly innovative products.

    It's one of the reasons President Hu has been talking IP while in the US this week. China understands that without at least the surface of stricter IP laws, they will be unable to really benefit from higher level innovation and new product discoveries, as they would be scooped by outside countries. Their movement towards IP is an indication of where the real money in made in the economy in the long run.

    When you stand back and watch, it's interesting to see how it goes. Too bad that TD can't seem to address the real economics of the issue, as opposed to just the usual passioned cries for "freedom", whatever that is.

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