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Planned Obsolescence and the Grand Bargain

August 21, 2010

If ideas are the primary raw materials necessary to recalibrate and fine-tune society to achieve its highest potential for innovation and efficiency in the 21st Century, why do we allow government to make monopolies and set the price?  Copyright and patent are simply accepted, government-sanctioned systems of monopolies.  There were historical justifications.  Patent monopolies were limited to prizes for actual innovation since novelty and progress were ensured through the prototype requirement.  Copyright was balanced against the expectation that the works would quickly become source material for the next round of creation.  But now, we’ve become so used to the idea that the monopolistic dynamic is what’s necessary to encourage creation and innovation that we’ve allowed the entrenched industries to legislate against nascent creators to progressively more suppressive degrees, without asking whether the juice is worth the squeeze.

At a certain point, copyrights stop protecting innovation and begin protecting profits. They scare off future inventors who want to take a 60-year-old idea and use it as the foundation to build something new and interesting. That’s the difficulty of copyrights, patents, and other forms of intellectual protection. Too little, and the first innovation won’t happen. Too much, and the second innovation—the one relying on the first—will be stanched.

To illustrate, Germany’s rapid industrial explosion may be attributable to the lack of copyright, which resulted in 14,000 new publications appearing in 1843 as opposed to England’s.

Publishers in England exploited their monopoly shamelessly. New discoveries were generally published in limited editions of at most 750 copies and sold at a price that often exceeded the weekly salary of an educated worker.

So, we claim that Copyright is in place to protect innovation, but when was the last time Congress seriously addressed whether that was actually happening?  When was the last time Congress mentioned the need to protect all the ideas that follow after the first round of creation?  The derivative works and the fair uses, the creativity of which I don’t think we want the state deciding.  What makes us so sure that the bargain that we’ve struck is a fair one between the vested and nascent creators?

I should think that it would be utterly uncontroversial and intuitive that current creators and the institutions that protect their interests have a disproportionately influential voice relative to the industries that haven’t even been born yet.  As I’ve pointed out, Google is a significant voice for new modes of creation because it relies on blatant copyright infringement for its underlying technology.  But now, Google is no longer the young upstart: it is the Old and the Entrenched.  The name that became a verb (much like Xerox or Kleenex).

It has withstood the latest battery of legal challenges, cementing the legal safety of its products.  It has partnered up with one of the foremost giants of state-sanctioned monopolies with a policy to allow discrimination against marginal or up-and-coming players.  It’s quickly realizing how difficult it is to ply its total information awareness without being evil.  It’s generally getting a bit desperate and throwing some elbows, entering new markets it doesn’t really know anything about, trying to regain some breathing room.  With its new position and perspective, that staunch defense of raw innovation (and the dangerous creative/destructive power the new and unknown may wreak) appears to be on the road to acquiescence/obsolescence.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 24, 2010 6:38 am

    people are stupid

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