Star Trek In The Age Of Intellectual Property
from the it-would-be-quite-a-bit-different dept
Of course, not everyone thinks so. Matthew Yglesias has been drawing some attention to a piece that Peter Frase wrote at the end of last year, in which he went through a thought exercise in which he discussed the world of the replicator... plus intellectual property:
This is the quality of intellectual property law that provides an economic foundation for anti-Star Trek: the ability to tell others how to use copies of an idea that you “own”. In order to get access to a replicator, you have to buy one from a company that licenses you the right to use a replicator. (Someone can’t give you a replicator or make one with their replicator, because that would violate their license). What’s more, every time you make something with the replicator, you also need to pay a licensing fee to whoever owns the rights to that particular thing. So if the Captain Jean-Luc Picard of anti-Star Trek wanted “tea, Earl Grey, hot”, he would have to pay the company that has copyrighted the replicator pattern for hot Earl Grey tea. (Presumably some other company owns the rights to cold tea.)He goes on to discuss what kinds of jobs would be left in such a world, and it's pretty much lawyers and marketers and not much in between. There would be a few people needed to create the new things that could then be replicated, but he argues that wouldn't be a big moneymaker, since you could just crowdsource the best ideas for free.
This solves the problem of how to maintain for-profit capitalist enterprise, at least on the surface. Anyone who tries to supply their needs from their replicator without paying the copyright cartels would become an outlaw, like today’s online file-sharers. But if everyone is constantly being forced to pay out money in licensing fees, then they need some way of earning money, and this brings up a new problem. With replicators around, there’s no need for human labor in any kind of physical production.
Of course, I think he leaves out a few things. I would imagine there'd be a good business in being a replicator repairman, for example. However, as we've pointed out for years with digital content, every new abundance tends to create new scarcities, and there will always be new opportunities to build products and services around those scarcities. Of course, sometimes it's difficult to predict what those new offerings might be, but we've yet to discover a new abundance that didn't create massive new markets, so I have trouble believing that an abundance of physical goods would suddenly stop that general principle.
Obviously, if it's easy to get tangible goods, it's likely that most of the new jobs would be in services, rather than goods, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Of course, to even have this happen, we'd have to get past the intellectual property hurdle, that the estate of Gene Roddenberry might claim rights over your replicator...