All Information Should be Free

I wonder, would society suffer or flourish if the current patent / copyright laws were abolished?
I imagine that this would be a very appealing idea for those of us on the internet. We live to consume information. Advertisements and subscription requirements seem to impede the natural flow of information.

I wonder about art in particular. How would the current music industry adapt if all previously copyrighted material was made legally free? Perhaps it would make generic artist less dominant in the field. Perhaps it would make it much harder to make a living as an artist. At the same time, obviously there would still be new music being produced. In fact, the music market would, I think, be revitalized. It would open up competition between artist who are primarily interested in having an impact, not necessarily making a buck.

People, of course, could still live off of money made through concerts. Presumably free samples would be given as advertisements. I could really see it working (at least in the music industry).

On the other hand, how might the liberalization of patents effect high tech industry?

Well, there is that little problem of needing to pay for food and shelter…

You expect companies to spend years developing Intellectual Property only to have their competitors use it the day after release? :confused:

You expect me to develop intellectual property, only to have it stolen immediately upon release? :confused:

All information should be free. And I have discovered a way to achieve this goal. PM me and I will give you information on how you can receive my newsletter that explains this. The first 100 people who subscribe today will get 12 issues for the price of eleven.

It would mean the end of mass market books, magazines, movies, TV, software, games, and music. The only people left doing such things would be hobbyists. Who’s going to spend 100 million dollars making “Transformageddon VI” when there’s no copyright protection?

Of course, computers make copying of digital media trivial, today’s massive hard drives make storage of digital media trivial, and the internet makes sharing of digital media trivial. And so, copyright is going to have to change to adapt to the technological reality. There was no such thing as copyright in the days of handwritten manuscripts. Copyright and patents are artificial constructs intended to advance the useful arts and sciences by granting to creators exclusive rights to their creations for a limited time. Intellectual property law is a human creation, not handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

But even so, simply repealing all intellectual property law would be a disaster. We need some mechanism of compensating the creators of intellectual property if we want them to create more stuff for us. But focusing on controlling copying is the wrong way to go about it, mostly because it won’t work. We need a scheme that takes for granted that copying and sharing is trivial, and doesn’t treat it as a disaster.

My idea is that everyone with internet access pays an extra $10 (or whatever) a month into a pool, and at the end of the month that pot of money is divided up among all content creators based on some usage formula. Or maybe something else. But trying to control copying and sharing in the modern era is insanity. The sane response is to stop trying to enforce an outmoded policy that worked well in the industrial era, but won’t work today.

Seeing as I hope one day to quit my day job and support myself as a novelist, I would be against this idea.

If you completely remove copyright protection then companies and artists will develop other ways to control access to content:

[li]Record only a few songs as promos. Save most of your songs for live performances.[/li]
[li]Stop releasing DVDs. Go back to the old business model of only showing movies in movie theaters.[/li]
[li]Stop making videogames for home systems. Go back to the old arcade business model.[/li][/ul]
There are plenty of ways for creators to make money off their creations even without copyright. It just means that consumers will have a much more restricted palette to choose from, and it will be more of a hassle to access. You’ll need to go to a theater or an arcade or a gallery to see cool new stuff.

That’s pretty much the way Canada does it.

Doesn’t seem like it would work for patents though.

This is basically the problem. Look at medicine where, IIRC, the average cost of creating a new drug is around a billion dollars. If the company that invests all of that money can’t recover the cost, there’s no incentive to create new drugs. That said, if there could be some other way to fund that sort of research, between donations, charities, government grants, and even various companies, maybe it would be manageable in another way.
Art, I think, would actually do just fine. As it is right now, it’s ridiculously easy to steal music or find it for free on youtube or elsewhere on the internet and the music industry is still doing fine. People will still want to see their favorite artists perform live, they’ll still want merchandise, and people who truly love the music will have no problem finding ways to give money to their favorite artists. Hell, I’ll easily drop $100+ on merchandise at a concert, and I go to a lot of concerts, because I want to show my support for those musicians.

Beyond that, I’d like to hope that, for the most part, there’s mutual respect amongst artists and they might establish a sort of general rule that borrowing other people’s works is fine, just make sure to drop them a few bucks for it.

Great. So post-whores on internet message boards would get paid for their blathering?

Patent and copyright are two very different things. Patent (which literally means open) is intended to get people to disclose their ideas to the public in exchange for a limited-duration monopoly on their use. It was originally intended to counter the perpetual keeping of secrets by guilds (what we would call trade secrets today), so that their ideas could eventually benefit all of society. If you have a secret method of making steel, and someone independently discovers it, he can make steel that way too and your monopoly is ruined. But if you patent your method, you get a monopoly for x years, in exchange for giving the idea to society. If there were no patents, people would still invent new methods, they’d just keep those methods secret.

Copyright is different because you can’t make money on a literary work you keep secret. If there were no copyrights, nobody would ever write a song or a book except for fun, and you know what Samuel Johnson said about that.

So when you make the “information should be free” argument, you have to construct different arguments against the different types of intellectual property.

Over against the “All Information Should Be Free” ideal, we have the “People Who Expend Lots Of Time, Effort, and Talent Deserve To Be Paid For Their Work By The People Who Benefit From It.” In an ideal world it would be nice to have both, but I’m not willing to give up the second to have the first—partly because of fairness, partly because the result would be a lot less high-quality “information” being produced.

Only if “much harder” means “impossible”.

“All information should be free” would be a huge blow to art. If artists want to give their art away for free, there are plenty of venues for them to do so. But artists should be able to control ownership of their work and be able to make a living selling their art.

If you want to reform things, work on cutting out the middlemen - the guys who don’t produce art but collect the majority of the profits by controlling the distribution of other people’s art.

If “Information should be free” has any meaning (or real-world application) “information” must be defined to exclude creative endeavours such as fiction, game design, or music.

Leaving us with lots of new music, but no new research? Why would anyone or any company spend time and money doing research on say a bio replacement for gasoline, if everything they write is open for others to use?

I don’t think that repeal of copyright laws would actually make much practical difference to musical artists, at least. Your typical musician, even your typical successful musician, gets paid only a pittance for CDs. In so far as there’s money in music at all, it’s in the live performances and merchandise. Now, you would need to keep trademark law, or some random schmuck could print up T-shirts with your band logo on them and cut you out of the loop there, too.

I’m not sure if there’s any practical way this could be extended to artists other than musicians.


We also live to consume food. I think it would be very appealing to me, a consumer of food, if it could flow unimpeded by cost onto my plate. Why shouldn’t food be free?