Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate


Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

Copyright Notice: We don't think much of copyright, so you can do what you want with the content on this blog. Of course we are hungry for publicity, so we would be pleased if you avoided plagiarism and gave us credit for what we have written. We encourage you not to impose copyright restrictions on your "derivative" works, but we won't try to stop you. For the legally or statist minded, you can consider yourself subject to a Creative Commons Attribution License.

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What Patents are Really About

From a representative of a large multinational to the inventor of graphene: "We are looking at graphene, and it might have a future in the long term. If after ten years we find it's really as good as it promises, we will put a hundred patent lawyers on it to write a hundred patents a day, and you will spend the rest of your life, and the gross domestic product of your little island, suing us."

Does 'a guy who makes a really good chair owe money to anyone who ever made a chair?'

A great line from the new film The Social Network.

Lawrence Lessig gives a very insightful review of the film and explains how, in spite of it still being a solid film, writer Aaron Sorkin managed to miss the mark in crafting an even better (and ultimately, more honest) one.

It helps if you've already seen the film to fully appreciate the review which can be read here:


Libraries innovate and foster innovation

While we ponder the future of intellectual property with our focus mainly on the encouragement of its creation, we also need to think about collecting it, preservating it, accessing it, and reproducing it for wider distribution. Jonathan Shaw writes about these matters in Harvard Magazine in the context of libraries at Harvard University and in libraries more generally link here and here and here.

The focus is on libraries, but Shaw draws connections as well to the internet, Google's digitizing of books, to how librarians have become experts in finding access to relevant material through many media, and of the need for specialization as knowledge has become more complex and extensive.

It seems to me that without saying so explicitly, the article constitutes a powerful argument for making information as freely and cheaply available as possible. It also provides examples of how this is already being done. Innovation is clearly taking place here, and IP law needs to get out of the way.

When Patents Kill Innovation

Via Michelle Geis, Uber-blogger Andrew Sullivan gets on board with links to a new report in Genetics in Medicine suggesting that "exclusive licensing of gene patents does more to block competition and decrease patients' access to testing than it does to spur innovation."

Read his post here:


The report itself can be found here:


OK Go and the Old Media Model

The brilliantly innovative band OK Go has decided to leave its label, EMI, and and starting up its own company, Paracadute Recordings. The band's Damian Kulash explains why in a fascinating interview with Leo Laport on TWIT. This presages the direction a lot of creators and artists will start to take as they leave the copyright-mired Old Media Dinosaurs behind.

Technology and the broken patent system [Apple v. HTC]

Farhad Manjoo over at Slate has a great article on the issue.

A sample of it:

With this lawsuit, Apple is standing in the way of [the] future.

It's a dangerous strategy. Patent lawsuits take years to wind through the courts, but when this one is finished, no good will have come from it. Apple's move is terrible for consumers and businesses that rely on smartphones, it's bad for mobile-software developers, and it's obviously not great for Apple's competitors. The suit can't do much to help Apple, either, especially if it sparks an industrywide patent war. Apple's competitors also hold a wide portfolio of mobile-device patents, and I'm sure that they all have their legal departments working overtime to search for any claims that the iPhone and iPad might be violating. Apple's move thus casts a cloud of uncertainty over the entire industry: Should you buy an Android phone or build apps for the Palm OS if a judge might one day declare those systems illegal?

Read the whole thing here:


Nina Paley's "All Creative Work is Derivative"

This is an amazing animation by Nina Paley, "America's Best-Loved Unknown Cartoonist" (and creator of the amazing animated (and free online) film Sita Sings the Blues, given rave reviews including 4 stars by Roger Ebert). Entitled "All Creative Work Is Derivative" (and blogged here on her blog), and concluding "All creative work builds on what came before," the video is built from images of of statues and paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. As she explains on All Creative Work Is Derivative (Minute Meme #2),
Copyright control extends not just to verbatim copies, but to "derivative works." This has led to censorship on a grand scale. For example, the seminal German silent film "Nosferatu" was deemed a derivative work of "Dracula" and courts ordered all copies destroyed. Shortly before his death, author J.D. Salinger convinced U.S. courts to censor another author who transformed his characters. And so on.

The whole history of human culture evolves through copying, making tiny transformations (sometimes called "errors") with each replication. Copying is the engine of cultural progress. It is not "stealing." It is, in fact, quite beautiful, and leads to a cultural diversity that inspires awe.

I learned of Nina's work when she sent me a nice email, an edited version of which follows:

Hello Stephan,

I recently read "Against Intellectual Property" and liked it very much. It reminded me of some things I've written: Intellectual Property is Slavery and Redefining Property: Lessons from American History; also My Official Position on Copyright.

I especially enjoyed your unique twist on Trademark, that trademark suits should be brought by consumers against frauds, rather than by trademark "owners." I haven't thought it all through to form my own solid opinion yet, but I like the novel approach.

Last year I released my feature film, Sita Sings the Blues, under a copyleft license (CC-BY-SA).

I'm now artist-in-residence at QuestionCopyright.org, and do what I can to promote alternatives to copyright. (Actually I'm a copyright abolitionist, but many find that identification unpalatable.)

Anyway, thanks for the good book, I'm recommending it to my Free Culture buddies.

Update: See also this amazing, fascinating short documentary with Nina Paley, The Revolution Will Be Animated:

The Revolution Will Be Animated from Marine Lormant Sebag on Vimeo.

See also her Copying Is Not Theft "Minute Meme":

[Mises; SK]

New Book: Innovation, Intellectual Property, and Economic Growth

The new book Innovation, Intellectual Property, and Economic Growth, by Christine Greenhalgh & Mark Rogers, looks interesting:
What drives innovation? How does it contribute to the growth of firms, industries, and economies? And do intellectual property rights help or hurt innovation and growth? Uniquely combining microeconomics, macroeconomics, and theory with empirical analysis drawn from the United States and Europe, this book introduces graduate students and advanced undergraduates to the complex process of innovation. By addressing all the major dimensions of innovation in a single text, Christine Greenhalgh and Mark Rogers are able to show how outcomes at the microlevel feed through to the macro-outcomes that in turn determine personal incomes and job opportunities.
From a quick skim of ch. 1 (available here), it appears to adopt a mainstream approach--finding out whether there is market failure or a public goods problem (see Hans-Hermann Hoppe's "Fallacies of the Public Goods Theory and the Production of Security," in The Economics and Ethics of Private Property for criticism of the concept of "public goods"), and then asking whether we can fix it with some kind of state invervention. The same old "the market is not perfect, so let's let the thugs with guns have more power" song and dance.

But at least they recognize you have to take costs into account (see my Reducing the Cost of IP Law; There's No Such Thing as a Free Patent; Yet Another Study Finds Patents Do Not Encourage Innovation; and What Are the Costs of the Patent System?):

In addition, understanding whether these monopoly costs of IPRs [intellectual property rights] are less than the benefit to society emanating from the spur that IPRs give to innovation will provide a major theme for parts II and IV of this book.
My guess: they'll conclude that some IPRs can help address the market failure/public goods issues and give rise to some kind of net benefit, but not our current IP system; so then we'll have a laundry list of "reforms" that would tweak the current laws to reduce the cost enough so that there is a net benefit. Just a hunch. Unfortunately, at $45 even in e-book format, I don't think I'll read it until it comes out at a more reasonable price.

[Mises; SK]

Effect of Patents on Innovation

One of the best empirical economists working on patents is Petra Moser of Stanford. She has an extraordinary ability to find unusual data that answers really hard questions. Her most recent paper Compulsory Licensing with Allessandra Voena does just that.

There is - a frankly rather ridiculous view, one held only by lawyers for whom the distinction between 10 ^ -6 and 10 ^ +6 is invisible - that somehow compulsory licensing in a country will reduce innovation because it will be every so much more attractive to "steal" all those great foreign inventions. In this view - which crops up in these pages occasionally in anecdotal form - the great thing about patents is that it increases innovation by forcing people to "invent around" patents.

The "Compulsory Licensing" paper attacks this question directly - looking at an episode where the US "stole" a bunch of inventions by compulsory licensing after World War I. The consequent effect on innovation in the areas covered by the licenses? It went up by 20%.

In my view debunking the rather silly view that compulsory licensing would diminish innovation is not this papers main contribution. We recognize that patents have two effects (ignoring "invent around" and "revealing secrets" both of which are of at best minuscule significance): increasing innovation by increasing incentives to innovate, and decreasing innovation by making it more costly to innovate. This paper gives us a pretty clean measure of the latter effect: the benefit of being able to access existing ideas without negotiation or licensing raises innovation by around 20%.

How IP Helps to Promote Innovation?

Pipapics: A Case Study in Innovation by Glenn Thorpe

For the past couple of months I have been working on developing the pipapic concept and the tools to generate pipapics - you can find out about it at my website www.pipapic.org.

Here is the idea: Take a color cube. Pull out an evenly spaced palette. Place it on a screen canvas just the right size. Re-arrange the pixels as desired. Into say, the Mona Lisa, or into irises. This is a pipapic. So a pipapic is pixel art with constraints: call it the haiku of color. All pipapics have a well balanced brightness and colorfulness. Any image can be converted to many many pipapics that retain some semblance of the original. Some existing images have the color balance close to being a pipapic without any editing. Examples include some images of parrots and flowers.

The concept is probably patentable. My attitude is...well I read this blog every day, so I don't believe I need say more. But what I would like is for all pipapics to be virally free. So if anyone creates a pipapic it is free, full stop. I would really like to impose a moral patent, and say: I have the legal right under the current system to gain monopoly rights over the entire concept. I do not want monopoly rights nor your stinking money. All I want is freedom for me, for my kids, for your kids, for Chinese kids and for Talibani kids to use this as they wish. If you don't actively support the no intellectual property concept leave pipapics alone. Go. Now. There is nothing for you here. And don't use the pipapic balance in your fashion, in your makeups, in your colorful foods or any other place.

I am concerned about the legality of the pipapic tools. These tools take existing images, images that will often be "owned" by other people, and manipulate them. This is in fact even against some Creative Commons licence conditions on derivative works. By releasing tools to enable people to create pipapics I am enabling them to break the covenants imposed by copyright. It can be viewed as being worse than Napster. And to be blunt, I am seditious, I consider IP laws to be garbage and I am most definitely encouraging people to treat these laws with the contempt that I believe they deserve.

Copyright law is a huge problem. There are examples of pipapics that I have derived from original images. The original images have been well and truly butchered - large portions have been discarded to provide an image with the pipapic balance, the remaining portion has been reshaped and resized to provide a pipapic canvas, and then every picture has had at least 100% of the pixels recolored. I also display the original for comparison purposes. I consider this to be fair use. In the context of my website they are demonstrative and educational.

I'm eager to get examples from the public, and want to display those examples as well. These may also be modified from existing images that are under copyright. Do I have to request the pedigree of every example? What if the examples are collated from many sources? They could be doctored in many ways before I get them, including being modified to look like another image. Is it me who must devise the questions to be asked of any submitters? If I ask the wrong questions will I later have to discard the images until they are re-certified as meeting the new compliance standards?

Look at all the legal opinion needed just to release and promote a artistic imaging scheme. All in order to comply with undemocratic laws devised in an undemocratic country and imposed undemocratically on the entire world through secretly negotiated treaties. The rule is: Before you can start to be creative you must pay for a legal opinion. This is supposed to stimulate creativity and enrich the public. Surely you jest!

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