Home > futures, innovation, intellectual property > Rethinking Intellectual Property protection from Crooked Timber: ‘Information Feudalism’

Rethinking Intellectual Property protection from Crooked Timber: ‘Information Feudalism’

Information Feudalism — Crooked Timber.

Matt Yglesias writes:

A lot of our politics is about symbolism. And symbolically intellectual property represents itself in the contemporary United States as a kind of property—it’s right there in the name. But it’s better thought of as a kind of regulation. Patents and copyrights are modeled, economically, the same as you would model any state-created monopoly.I think the idea that intellectual property is property is too entrenched, at this point, for this to be an effective rhetorical strategy. Furthermore, rhetoric aside, philosophically the real breakthrough would be for people to realize that defending property rights is not tantamount to defending freedom. What strong IP protection generates is not a free market but something more like information feudalism: a market-unfriendly clusterfuck of fiefdoms and inescapably inefficient lord-vassal terms-of-service arrangements that any friend of freedom, in any ordinary sense, ought to look upon with disgust. The reason why libertarian rhetoric – defend property rights! – can underwrite feudalism, of all things, is that a certain sort of libertarianism, i.e. so-called propertarianism, really just plain is a form of feudalism. I’ve made the case at length.

More via link above. A good question is whether or not it is actually worth spending lots of time protecting IP in universities. Academics publish in peer-reviewed journals which are in turn gradually succumbing to open access (OA) trends and policies. OA is a bit of misnomer in the sense that even for the traditional academic journals, access to papers is available for a small fee (papers published in Nature are $32 each, for example); free-access might be a better term than open access. Lots of this work will also end in open access institutional repositories. Academic research is therefore already mostly open and freely available through peer-reviewed publication, and that academic IP in reality mostly comprises expertise, judgement, track record and know-how, not discrete inventions of new products (that might produce those so badly-wanted substantial revenue streams). Should universities spend so much time, money and effort on protecting IP? Maybe, but maybe not…

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  1. January 30, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Nature articles available only for $32 pay-per-view fees are NOT open access. Those articles are digital and online, but that’s not the same as OA. For more detail on the definition of OA, see my OA Overview.

  2. niall
    February 15, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    I think it depends on the field – engineering yes, classics no, biomedical research into diagnostics no, etc etc. However, at the moment the push is to try and make all science researchers into patent filing fiends. I’d still like to see some numbers on the argument though. How much has been invested in Irish Science, No. of patents produced, amount of jobs, revenue, generated by said patents, and the amount of money generated by sensible licensing agreements. Notice clarity popping up in a few places through what seem to be technology licensing agreements and have to say that appears to be a good model. I think knowing how much Tech Transfer offices cost versus their return would be an interesting question and presumably the numbers are out there. In finer grained detail it would be good to know if they make the majority of their money from a small pot of very successful projects or a large number of small ones. Anyway – numbers would help, and not necessarily ones from the US.

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