A few weeks back I posted this article where I laid out why I was for patents and other governmental protection of intellectual property. I asked for you guys to change my mind. I said that if you provided valid arguments, I would consider changing my mind on this.

Well, you did. You changed my mind.

Sort of.

As one of you pointed out (Anon), when talking about intellectual property, we’re really talking about four different things: copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets. To (somewhat) quote him:

Copyright is a conflict around copying — you want to be able to provide your readers with copies of your books, yet you want to stop them from doing the same. The current solution is legal restriction of copying. It’s not great.

Patents are a conflict around disclosure — you want to use others’ inventions while keeping your own ones secret. The current solution is a temporary monopoly in exchange for disclosure. It’s quite bad.

Trademarks are conflicts around a scarce resource of catchy names — which isn’t that scarce and the topic is not very controversial. The current solution is mostly fine.

Trade secrets is about revealing proprietary information to outside sources. Not a lot of disagreement on this one.

After the discussion we had regarding patents, here’s where I currently stand on those four things:

I am still for copyrights. They are a pain in the ass, but are sadly required until such time as technology can prevent the theft of income from content creators. I think this day will come, someday. Until then, I think they need to be protected. I’m a libertarian so I hate that they need to be protected, but again, please note the question I asked in the last article:

If there were no government involvement in copyrights, how would authors, artists, software developers, and other such creators make a living if everyone can just legally steal and duplicate their content? Many people (including me) would lose a lot of money and have literally thousands of work hours creating content wasted.

I did not receive one quality answer to that question the last time I asked it. Hold on though; in a minute I will go through the answers I did receive.

So I am still for copyrights.

I am now against patents regarding new inventions. Congratulations! You guys changed my mind on this. I used to be for patents, now I am officially against them. I think the US Patent Office should be abolished and the concept of patents removed. I might be for limited patents; a very short period of patent protection, like five years or less, but even that makes me uncomfortable.

Governmental protection of trademarks are required in my view, since they are regarding truly scarce resources (like a domain name, company name, or logo for example; there’s only one of each available).

I’m fine with trade secrets but it should not be a government function at all, and should instead be handled with private contracts where violators can be sued in civil court.

Regarding those of you who think there should be no copyright law at all, here are the points you made the last time, and my responses.

1. If you’re a writer, you can provide free content to sell consulting, speeches, and other labor.

Many writers, actually most writers, aren’t consultants or speakers, don’t want to be one, and/or don’t have that ability. They’re just good writers. George R.R. Martin is a good writer, but if you’ve ever seen him interviewed, it’s quite clear he could never be a consultant or speaker or whatever; he doesn’t have that kind of skill set or personality. He would never be able to make money that way. He’s just a skilled writer, and simply wants to be paid for the the thousands of man hours he’s put into his writing.

Moreover, just think about what you said. “Hey man, just spend 500 hours of your life writing a book that everyone will get for free, then you’ll make zero dollars, but don’t worry, you can spend the rest of your life spending even more time consulting / speaking / whatever!” Does that sound like a good deal to you? It doesn’t to me, and I actually do consult and speak and enjoy those things.

2. Property rights are a system for efficiently and ethically allocating scarce resources. Ideas and digital goods are not scarce resources so it doesn’t make sense to apply property rights to them.

I agree philosophically, but out in the real world, that doesn’t address the serious problem I just described above. Writers, artists, etc, provide value to the marketplace that takes an extreme amount of labor and time out of their lives. Your time is your property, and the result of your work is also your property. Otherwise you will have a society with no value provided to it by writers (or at least most writers, the ones who don’t want to speak/consult/etc).

3. Someone copying your book can’t be stealing because that action does not deprive you of your copy.

Incorrect! That depends on whether or not that person would have bought the book if there was no other way to get it.

To demonstrate what I mean, here are two hypotheticals:

I want to buy the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark for my personal collection. I absolutely want it, no matter what. I will buy it if I have to. So, if I download it instead of buying it when I would have bought it if the illegal download was not available, I am indeed stealing from the creators of that movie. I’m stealing $20 for that DVD (or whatever), because I would have purchased it if I wasn’t able to illegally download it.

On the other hand, let’s say I want to watch Planet of the Apes. I’d like to own it, but I’m not dying to own it. I won’t buy it. But I’ll download it illegally. In that case, no, I’m not stealing because if the download was not available, I wouldn’t have given them my money anyway.

So in the first example, yes, I did indeed steal money from the content creator.

(FYI this is all hypothetical; I don’t illegal download content. If I really want a movie for example, I buy the DVD/Blu-ray, rip a digital copy to my collection, then either give it away or sell it used on Ebay. Either way, the content creator got my money, which they deserve.)

4. Business endeavors are inherently risky and there is no guarantee that they will generate or continue to generate revenue.

Completely irrelevant to the argument. I’m not asking for nor expecting any guaranteed profits or monetary return on my work, nor should any other content creator.

5. Just create/use something like a streaming service!

Fine for videos, but how can this be done with books? Artwork? Sadly, we don’t yet have the technology to cover this area yet.

6. Future technology will prevent copying.

Correct, it will. Someday, none of this will be relevant because illegally copying content of any kind will indeed be impossible or close to it. But until that day, we, unfortunately, need copyright protection laws (as much as I hate to say that).

7. If someone can reverse engineer your “original” product, improve upon it, and market it better, they deserve to take all the profit.

I agree completely, but this is not a violation of IP in my view. You’re talking about improving. I’m talking about copying.

8 . A copyright is an unnatural construct. You conceived and shared your ideas on your own free will, knowing the consequences of how you shared your ideas.

I agree completely, but this is yet another purely philosophical argument that does not address the real-world problem I stated above. Not all sound philosophical concepts/arguments work in the real world. An example I’ve used many times before is communism. Communism sounds great philosophically and on paper. It really does. But if you actually apply it in the real world, it becomes a cluster fuck.

9. Nobody owes you anything. You are not entitled to any profits regarding anything you do.

Completely irrelevant to the argument. I’m not asking for nor expecting any guaranteed profits or monetary return on my work, nor should any other content creator.

10. You are not creating much of anything, just mostly rehashing content inherited from other people, much of which you got for free.

Read my answer to number 7 above.

11. Owners of taxi medallions in New York stand to lose a lot of money due to competition with Uber, so I don’t care if you didn’t get paid for your work.

Irrelevant to the discussion. Taxi drivers lost money because someone came along and created an improved system. For the third time, that is not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about copying, not improving.

12. If I was not willing to pay a creator up-front for protection costs, why would I want to be forced to pay it regardless through taxes?

Why do you pay taxes for an army that protects my house?

I create my content in my house, so you’re already paying taxes for my protection, whether you like it or not.

If your answer is that you also have a house, but you aren’t a writer, then my response is that I would be happy to pay some kind of government fee as a writer for copyright protection that you would not have to pay. That seems fair to me.

(If you’re an anarcho-caplitalist and you’re against the entire concept of taxes, that’s a different discussion, but if you’re not opposed to taxes, then I just answered your question for you.)

So if any of you have any new points to make regarding copyright law (not patents, since you already changed my mind on that), fire away. I’m still willing to listen if there’s anything new.

16 Comments on “My Opinion on Patents – Part 2

  1. I am still for copyrights. They are a pain in the ass, but are sadly required until such time as technology can prevent the theft of income from content creators.

    I’m pretty ignorant of this subject so I don’t know if it’s directly related, but what’s your opinion on how public domain is 50-70 years after the author’s death? Especially when the work is literary. I’ve heard arguments for and against, but my knee-jerk reaction is that it not only seems ludicrous but that even a ban on getting free copies while the author is alive if also absurd if the author has already had many years post-publishing to get the bulk of the profit that can be obtained from his book. (Also how about when people are living radically longer lives)

    An example I’ve used many times before is communism. Communism sounds great philosophically and on paper. It really does.

    Can you elaborate? The statement makes me curious because AFAIK many libertarians tend to find communism terrible both in on paper and in practice.

  2. I’m pretty ignorant of this subject so I don’t know if it’s directly related, but what’s your opinion on how public domain is 50-70 years after the author’s death?

    I don’t have a strong opinion on that. If a copyright expires upon an author’s death, that’s fine with me.

    a ban on getting free copies while the author is alive if also absurd if the author has already had many years post-publishing to get the bulk of the profit that can be obtained from his book. (Also how about when people are living radically longer lives)

    Disagree; allowing free copies of an author’s work while he’s alive means there is no copyright protection at that point, and I’m for copyright protection.

    Can you elaborate? The statement makes me curious because AFAIK many libertarians tend to find communism terrible both in on paper and in practice.

    Communism on paper: Zero unemployment! Zero homeless! Zero poor! Everyone has a job! Everyone has a place to live! Everyone has food and health care and no one ever goes without!

    Communism sounds attractive on paper just like most utopian systems. That’s why it was so popular. Of course I wouldn’t live in such a culture, but that’s just me; I’m talking about most normal humans.

  3. The title of this post is “My Opinion on Patents”, but you never really got around to talking about patents–just gave us a teaser about changing your mind, then talked about copyrights instead of patents.  Then, when I was anticipating the part of the post where you finally say why you changed your mind about patents, instead the post just ended.  Like watching the first half of Terminator and having it just stop mid-fight.  Just want to say how jarring that is from a reader’s point of view.

  4. Understood; just remember this was a direct 2nd part of another article, which is why it doesn’t follow the usual structure I use.

  5. If there were no government involvement in copyrights, how would authors, artists, software developers, and other such creators make a living if everyone can just legally steal and duplicate their content? Many people (including me) would lose a lot of money and have literally thousands of work hours creating content wasted.

    Didnt you say that most of your money comes from the consultancy services? So even if people steal your books or website name you would still keep most of the money because it comes from the direct service you provide which no one can duplicate. Its like opening a restaurant with the same name and same decorations but the food isnt the same. Of course that doesnt work.

  6. Trademarks are not simply a monopoly on having a catchy name – a trademark is about making it illegal for other people to impersonate you, or rather: your business.

  7. 6. Future technology will prevent copying.
    Correct, it will. Someday, none of this will be relevant because illegally copying content of any kind will indeed be impossible or close to it. But until that day, we, unfortunately, need copyright protection laws (as much as I hate to say that).

    Nah..

    I strongly disagree.

    Technology is neutral. It’s work on both side of the coin. Some of you (undeniably) will use it to protect information, there must be on the other side with intent to render it accessible through the world openly(with technology).*

    Those two kind of Philo-Intelectual battle will never end. (It’s still probable of ending though, when privacy and secrecy didn’t matter anymore in the future).

    *) People had saying they could protect the ebook they had with such & such high confidence (with super security protection they have said). I just open that ebook, execute my 5 minutes script to auto capturing full screen from every page it has opened, in the end it will result images product readily in convertible to pdf. New fresh ebook unprotected).

  8. …(continue)

    Unless you had given it a visible watermarks on that pdf which will showing on every pages. Then I need use my new “deep AI algorithm” to open it’s source of that pdf/epub/etc file, find watermarks pattern, and teach it’s algo to filtering it in order to extracting it. All of it can be done in less than an hour, after the ebook released(which is mostly automated) and just using free version of software that available.

  9. If there were no government involvement in copyrights, how would authors, artists, software developers, and other such creators make a living if everyone can just legally steal and duplicate their content? Many people (including me) would lose a lot of money and have literally thousands of work hours creating content wasted.

    Services like Patreon? Steam? Some subcription models?

  10. Didnt you say that most of your money comes from the consultancy services?

    No. A lot though.

    So even if people steal your books or website name you would still keep most of the money because it comes from the direct service you provide which no one can duplicate.

    Correct. Per the Alpha 2.0 business model I have multiple and diversified sources of income so if one gets destroyed I’m okay. However, that’s completely irrelevant to the argument I’m making. Re-read objection #1 in the article above.

    Services like Patreon? Steam? Some subcription models?

    Read objection #5 in the article above.

  11. FWIW, something to thing about — really the only reason we have copyright law at all is because of new technology — specifically new technology in the 15th century of the printing press. Before then copyright basically didn’t exist because the cost of copying was so high that payments to the author were largely irrelevant. (It has been estimated that the cost of, for example a bible, pre printing press was about one years’ wage for someone like an artisan — shoemaker, blacksmith etc.)

    Copyright is a bad thing in the sense that it restricts people’s freedom, but it can be argued that the benefit of enabling authors (or other artists) to collect remuneration on their work  (when no other method is possible) outweighs this minor imposition on other’s liberty.

    There are a lot of interesting technologies out there that might make this doable. For example, books could be sold only to accounts on things like kindle (which is then manageable and controllable by standard private arrangements such as contract) but part of that contract could be to allow the user to own a paper copy (and perhaps have some rules about lending and borrowing.) If authors only sold their books that way, and could demonstrate that they did, then any copy in someone’s hands would have to have been obtained in violation of a contract and so some recovery could be made, or the property taken in violation of a contract would be evidently illegally obtained and can be confiscated.

    To be clear, this contract methodology is how trade secrets are protected without the need of anything except contracts.

    There are probably leaks in this approach, so it would have to be examined carefully. But that would allow authors to collect remuneration for their works without impinging on others freedom (except of course when a contractee voluntarily entered into such a restriction.)

    Coming back to my original point — technology created the need for copyright, it might well be that newer technology could remove the need for it.

    However, FWIW, I don’t strongly object to copyright in the same way I think that patents are an absolute outrage.

    Though I certainly object to the idea that copyright lasts effectively forever now. The bargain in the constitution was that the monopoly of copyright would be granted for a limited time, yet Mickey Mouse was created in 1928, its creator died in 1966 yet its copyright won’t expire until 2024 (unless, as is quite likely, the copyright is extended again.) That might be technically a “limited time”, but longer than a lifetime doesn’t seem all that limited to me.

     

  12. Oh, something else I forgot to say in my very long comment above: Kudos to you. Most people, especially people who sell their wisdom as you do, will defend a position they took no matter how convincing an argument is made. To change your mind, to be convinced, and to do it all in public, that takes a lot of balls. FWIW, you have gone up several ticks in my estimation. (Not that you probably care about my estimation, but, just FYI, I really respect people who actually change their mind when the evidence convinces them.)

     

  13. The bargain in the constitution was that the monopoly of copyright would be granted for a limited time, yet Mickey Mouse was created in 1928, its creator died in 1966 yet its copyright won’t expire until 2024 (unless, as is quite likely, the copyright is extended again.)

    Absolutely, but this is because of corporatism, not copyright law. As I’ve reported here before, Disney is a corporatist monstrosity, so if it wants to keep extending Walt Disney’s IP essentially forever, its big government slave will use your tax dollars to enforce its will.

    If Americans stopped voting for corporatist congressmen and corporatist presidents like Obama and Trump, this crap would end. But they won’t, so it never will.

    Most people, especially people who sell their wisdom as you do, will defend a position they took no matter how convincing an argument is made. To change your mind, to be convinced, and to do it all in public, that takes a lot of balls.

    Thanks, but I have always said that my mind can always be changed by facts and objective, rational arguments. The problem is 95% of the time, these things are never offered by those who attack my views; instead I get emotions, irrationality, and bias. Not only will these things never change my mind, to me, they reinforce the likelihood that I’m right. (Since if I was wrong the guy arguing with me could give me facts and objectivity. If he can’t, that tells me something.)

  14. The reality is that copy “protection” is a nice idea from the age of paper. Regardless of how good and fair sounding the notion, and what business models it enables, it cannot survive the digital world. To back up this assertion I offer 3 arguments based on objective reality.

    1) New technology is (and has been) making it easier to copy things, not the reverse. This is the trend. Every form of copy “protected” material is easier to obtain for free today than 10 years ago. And it was easier 10 years ago than 20. Wishful thinking that “someday” new tech will solve the very problem that it creates is not in line with objective reality.

    2) DRM tech is quickly broken. CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays, eBooks, audio-books, paid encrypted video streaming services: none have offered lasting protection. The issue is that designers have to plug every possible hole both today and from the future while all it takes is one hacker to find one hole and it’s broken forever. The history of DRM breakage does not support a positive outlook on automated copy “protection”. You even state above that you’d rip the Blu-ray to your collection… the thing “protecting” that copy is 100% your personal decision and 0% Blu-ray DRM.

    3) The US and Western governments are collapsing. US copyright law is not a firm foundation on which to place the future of a business. Unless perhaps you think that the USG will become more effective at enforcing copyright law, worldwide, the more it falls into collapse. Does copyright enforcement in NZ, Georiga or other Western nations inspire more confidence?

    It seems to me there are only two things that that prevent blatant and massive copy “right” violations for any given content creator: obscurity and ongoing personal enforcement. The former is obvious, if nobody knows you then they don’t copy your shit. The latter it seems that you subscribe to, considering all you do to protect your own writing. Embedding personal info in each ebook and making legal threats. If you trusted the USG protection, why would you be stepping up your own personal protection efforts?

  15. Regardless of how good and fair sounding the notion, and what business models it enables, it cannot survive the digital world.

    You might be right. That doesn’t change my argument though.

  16. I dont know the details and specifics. All my knowledge pretty comes from CGP Grey’s videos on copyright.

    I’m ok with Patents and Copyright…with a reasonable time frame.

    Patents should be a shorter duration than Copyright. Copyright can be duration of the life of the creator. I believe most people will find that reasonable. The problem is if a company or organization holds that copyright. “Life” ends up being indefinitely so to balance it out. Copyright is like 150 years, which ends up being longer than the life of the creator.

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