Gimme an I! Gimme a P!

21 October 2008

I know in my last post I said I would continue looking at Congress' reasons for the PRO-IP bill (S.3325) this week, but I changed my mind.  I'm human; I'm allowed to do that.  Looking back over the first month of posts, I'm a bit disappointed.  They're all so negative.  I got carried away with the over-the-top-ness of the new PRO-IP bill and focused mainly on the downsides to intellectual property laws.  But IP laws aren't all bad.  I'd venture to say even the PRO-IP bill isn't all bad.  So I would like to take this post to present:  Some Good Things about IP Protection.

Of course, to start with, we have the time-honored intellectual property laws "promote the progress of science and the useful arts".  People are beginning to question this statement, but I think it's true.  Some people do things because they want to do them, or just because they can, but the majority of people work for some sort of incentive.  The question is finding the optimal amount of incentive, that illusive "balance" between creator and user.  So we can put down as good thing #1: promotes creativity.

Intellectual property rights (IPR) also promote other things, like investments.  If I want to create something, but I don't have the capital to do it, I have better chance of getting a money if I can offer the source of the funds something in return.  Knowing that my creation will have value, and could have a very large value, gives the people with money incentive to invest.  This is especially important in places like the drug industry, where lots of investment is needed.  There is also the emerging IP Finance industry, which allows IPR owners to use IP as collateral.  Good thing #2: promotes investments.

Some IPR even protects us.  Trademarks let consumers know about a product without having to do lots of research every time they want to buy something.  They allow companies to build a brand name, so the companies care about their products and services.  This results in better products for the consumers and better ability by the consumers to find those products.  Good thing #3: protects the general populace.

Besides the economic incentives for creators, IPR also provides assurance that the creator can maintain some control over their creation.  Even creators who forgo possible economic incentives usually hold on to some sort of control over their works.  Do a search on and compare how many authors reserve some control rights compared to the number than only request attribution (which is also a right, but reserving no rights puts a work in the public domain).  Without this assurance, creators might be dissuaded from creating, for fear of creating a Frankenstein's monster over which they have no control.  Good thing #4: assurance for creators.

That leads us into a fifth benefit of IPR: identification.  Patents require a name; trademarks are registered to a company and copyrighted works; even if done anonymously or pseudonymously, copyrighted works have an author somewhere that can be contacted somehow.  That means if you like what a person created and want more of it, you know where to look.  Good thing #5: facilitates locating the creator.

Some people argue that IPR, especially copyright, inhibits building off of other people's work, because it gives the original creator full rights to all derivative works.  But this is only one side of the coin.  Copyright also encourages collaboration.  When one creator wants to use another creator's work in their own, they will need to contact the original creator (or rights holder, or licensing agency) to get permission (and pay money).   This will open a dialogue between the second creator and the first creator (or someone who has connections to other works) and could stimulate further ideas.  Two heads are better than one, they say.  Good thing #6: stimulates ideas and collaboration.

For brevity's sake, I'll stop there.  But I'd like to know: What are some of your reasons that IP protection is good?


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