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Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.





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Hmm... that brings up lots of thoughts and random observations. I've been reading through the version available on your web site and am almost through chapter eight and enjoying it. (If we define "enjoying" as becoming angry at the current system and concerned for the future of innovation.)

I'd like to see a shorter, "more readable" trade paperback version. The current book reads well but I tend to get bogged down in the more academic sections. For the most part it doesn't read like a stuffy old textbook -- it's pretty obvious there is an agenda and I'd like to see you run with that more. (But please don't make us wait five years for this new version.)

I guess a rewrite means I don't necessarily have to send you guys my list of typos I started compiling.

I tend to be kind of pessimistic about what we need to do to make our case for the dangers of intellectual monopoly. I just don't think most people have any grasp of the problem. For myself, being interested in this topic and reading a lot about it, it seems so self-evident that software patents in particular are damaging, yet there they still are. The fact that they exist against all commonsense is discouraging, and it's hard to imagine getting rid of them.

For a movie example, I think if very restrictive DRM were rolled out to where the MPAA, RIAA, etc, were allowed to interfere with the operation of all general use computers, then I think people would see how bad it could get as they start losing access to their own personal documents and pictures and movies. And if they had to live with how tedious and cumbersome it would be. (I didn't say it was an exciting movie.)

One of the things you mention in your book is how strange it is that the small copyright industry seeks to control the much larger computer industry. My thought was that with the control they're looking for, they're trying (even if not consciously) to become bigger than the computer industry, even if it means strangling it to death. But I'm sure the copyright industry would think that's only fitting -- what could be more important than movies and music? What's the sacrifice of the golden goose if they get to keep the few eggs that have been produced so far?

I don't know if this has been very helpful. I like a lot of the historical examples you give in your book, about the steam engine and the Wright brothers -- those are keepers. I'd also recommend keeping the Heinlein "Life-Line" example -- I love that excerpt and was happy to see the reference.

I've been thinking about trying to offer more thoughtful comments about the book at http://www.movingtofreedom.org, but I don't know if I'd have a lot to offer other than "Yeah! Right on!" Still, I'm glad that you're addressing the problem and I'd love to have a nice book on the subject to give to people.

It might be helpful if you started us out by giving a short list of possible candidates. People could then comment on why they preferred one over another OR throw in a new idea, plus they'd have examples to see what type of case you were looking for.
So many good examples to choose from. But definitely James Watt: he is an icon of the industrial revolution. Revealing the truth about his role as an anti-hero is imperative. The other two might be Diebold - which strikes at the heart of the democratic process, and AIDS drugs in Africa, which condemns millions to a slow death.
I think people are generally shocked when they hear the story about the girl scouts being prevented from singing copyrighted songs. Also the idea that the "Happy Birthday" song is copyrighted makes most average people incredulous. The idea of giving control over a familiar part of the cultural landscape to an individual or corporation usually strikes a chord.
I would definitely put the AIDS drugs as number one example, if you want to show the evils of the current patent regime.

On another venue, I would like you to devote a little bit of time, either in the current book, the one you are writing, or some future writing, into the question of zero marginal cost for copying (which you side step very noticiably in your current book). It was the first comment several of my friends said after reading some of it, and the most important thing to convince certain kinds of people, people from thinking geeky culture.

For the more narrative book, car industry example is great, too. You might also want to figure out a way to impress upon the reader that having patents and copyrights is a one way street, where things will only get worse as time goes by. After all, they have all the money to lobby and we, the public, are so dispersed that we have no chance for a long and concerted effort.

Another thing that I've done with my conversations is to ask people, if they would have supported the overseas trade monopolies in the age of mercantilism. Perhaps you could find some nice parallel about how those monopolists argued for their monopolies and used their contacts in different parliaments to maintain the monopolies. In a nice story format it could be very enlightening. The parallel is clear - I invent a new trade route, it's risky and costly business to do so, and government grants me a monopoly. Ask people, if they would want to live in a world, where only one company was allowed to do trade with China, with India, etc.

If you could find an example of a great and well known piece of classical music that would definitely have been banned (by modern copyright laws) because it infringed somebody else's work, perhaps you could ask your readers whether they would prefer a world with no xxx (put the name of the piece and author here) or the world with it.

I'm avoiding commenting on the most of these comments, because they are self-explanatory and quite useful. Mikko raises a significant substantive issue though - the case of zero marginal cost of copying. We recognize that the marginal cost of copying might be quite small. But it's hard to think of cases where it is actually zero - do you know of any? People usually think of something like digital copying and P2P networks. But those involve at least some small cost of computer time and bandwidth.

The distinction between "very small" and zero is important. A "very low" price times a lot of units sold can equal a lot of money. A zero price can't earn you anything no matter how many units you sell.

Yes, you are right saying that the cost is not zero. But with the cost of computational power going down fast, the cost goes asymptotically closer to zero. The question of what happens at the limit is an interesting one, just from theoretical perspective - perhaps not for the book that you are writing right now, though.

Coase's theorem says that when transaction costs are zero, it doesn't really matter which way we allocate the rights, and I have a fleeting feeling that it also applies to IP. Thus, from economical perspective the question becomes what arrangement minimizes the transaction costs. But this ventures quite far beyond what the purpose of your posting was, so I'll just cut off here. :)

Yes, you are right saying that the cost is not zero. But with the cost of computational power going down fast, the cost goes asymptotically closer to zero. The question of what happens at the limit is an interesting one, just from theoretical perspective - perhaps not for the book that you are writing right now, though.

Coase's theorem says that when transaction costs are zero, it doesn't really matter which way we allocate the rights, and I have a fleeting feeling that it also applies to IP. Thus, from economical perspective the question becomes what arrangement minimizes the transaction costs. But this ventures quite far beyond what the purpose of your posting was, so I'll just cut off here. :)

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