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Patents Your Rights Online

Copyright and Patent Laws Hurt the Economy 597

Posted by kdawson
from the speaking-sense-to-power dept.
Norsefire writes "Two economists at Washington University in St. Louis are claiming that copyright and patent laws are 'killing innovation' and 'hurting [the] economy.' Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine state they would like to see copyright law abolished completely as there are other protections available to the creators of 'intellectual property' (a term they describe as 'propaganda,' and of recent origin). They are calling on Congress to grant patents only where an invention has social value, where the patent would not stifle innovation, and where the absence of a patent would damage cost-effectiveness."
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Copyright and Patent Laws Hurt the Economy

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  • Their site/blog (Score:5, Informative)

    by XanC (644172) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:44PM (#27142953)

    www.againstmonopoly.org [againstmonopoly.org]

  • Absurd! (Score:5, Funny)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:44PM (#27142963) Journal
    This vile proposal threatens to sacrifice shareholder value on the altar of the progress of the useful arts! The founding fathers would never stand for it.
    • Wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

      by seanadams.com (463190) * on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:49PM (#27143017) Homepage

      This vile proposal threatens to sacrifice shareholder value on the altar of the progress of the useful arts!

      Shareholders benefit because their money isn't going into lawyers pockets, and being lost to the invisible, incalculable cost of hindered progress.

      (yes I know you were being sarcastic. Sadly, that is actually the majority sentiment on this issue.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tubal-Cain (1289912)

      This vile proposal threatens to sacrifice shareholder value on the altar of the progress of science and the useful arts! The founding fathers would never stand for it.

      There, fixed your partial quote of the Copyright Clause.

      • Re:Absurd! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Binty (1411197) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:53PM (#27143065)
        While there might be a good reason to call Article I, section 8, clause 8 of the Constitution the "Copyright Clause" when talking about copyrights specifically, this clause of the constitution also authorizes patent law and perhaps other kinds of intellectual property that Congress hasn't been innovative enough to think of yet. We could call it the "Intellectual Property Clause" or the "Copyright and Patent Clause," but for my money I like "Progress Clause."
        • Meh, that's what Wikipedia calls it [wikipedia.org].
          • Re:Absurd! (Score:4, Informative)

            by crosbie (446285) <crosbie@digitalproductions.co.uk> on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @07:20PM (#27143391) Homepage

            Which it shouldn't.

            The US constitution did not specify that author's should be granted a reproduction monopoly, but that their exclusive right to their writings should be secured.

            See An Author's Exclusive Right [digitalproductions.co.uk] for more detail.

            • Re:Absurd! (Score:5, Insightful)

              by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @07:55PM (#27143799) Homepage

              No, it says that Congress has the power to secure it, if Congress so wishes. There is no Constitutional obligation, though.

              As for your essay, while I'd agree with you on some issues, and disagree with you on many others, I don't really see the point.

              There are really only three options for an author who would see his works published. First, make a deal with a publisher. As there are a lot of authors (who tend to be bad at making deals) and rather fewer publishers (who tend to be quite good at making deals), the author is probably going to get a bad deal. Second, self-publish, but this is often inefficient, as authors are unlikely to get the best deals, or have working relationships with retailers, big-name reviewers, etc. The Internet is making this a little easier, but not a whole lot easier, unless your sights are set low (e.g. being the top dog of some sort of fanfic community). Third, for the law to treat authors paternalistically, not allowing them to make deals which outsiders viewed as bad (by letting the authors terminate transfers, or be unable to sell the entirety of their rights in a work). This is offensive, and it certainly isn't in keeping with the normal level of government involvement in business dealings. If the author were selling land to a developer, we'd certainly let him make a bad deal.

              This is what we have under a normal copyright system, and I don't see how your somewhat Lockean approach really would help authors any.

              • Re:Absurd! (Score:4, Insightful)

                by decoy256 (1335427) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:26PM (#27145837)

                No, it says that Congress has the power to secure it, if Congress so wishes. There is no Constitutional obligation, though.

                There is no Constitutional *mandate* to grant copyrights and patents at all, but once Congress chooses to allow even one copyright or patent, they must do so on grounds that are fair and equitable for everyone.

                Congress cannot merely grant copyrights and patents to whomever they choose based on mere whim. That would violate so many Constitutional provisions... Off the top of my head, the 4th, 5th, and 14th amendments and the General Welfare clause. There may be more, but that would be sufficient for someone to force Congress to apply their copyright/patent rules fairly to everyone.

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by cpt kangarooski (3773)

                  Well, I dunno. I think that you'll find that everyday copyright legislation would be judged on a rational basis standard. Sure, if copyrights were whites-only or something, that would be overturned, and rightly so. But granting copyrights only for books and maps, and not for music, or visual arts, would likely stand, even though it treats different classes of works, and thus authors, differently.

                  Off the top of my head, the 4th, 5th, and 14th amendments and the General Welfare clause

                  Not granting copyrights i

        • Re:Absurd! (Score:5, Informative)

          by progManOs (898592) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @08:43PM (#27144321)
          I believe it is time to repeal this clause of the Constitution. Some of the advocates of the Constitution promoted such nonsense to make America a mercantilist union.
          Below is a fitting quote from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to Isaac McPherson ( http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/a1_8_8s12.html [uchicago.edu] ) :

          If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Kirth (183)

      The founding fathers would never stand for it.

      Actually, Thomas Jefferson said THIS about copyright:

      "The saying there shall be no monopolies lessens the incitements to ingenuity, which is spurred on by the hope of a monopoly for a limited time, as of 14 years; but the benefit even of limited monopolies is too doubtful to be opposed to that of their general suppression."

      I dare say this Thomas Jefferson would beat the RIAA, MPAA and the congress which allowed those copyright-extensions to bloody pulp.

  • by corsec67 (627446) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:45PM (#27142967) Homepage Journal

    Copyrights should only be a limited amount of time, not the current infinity+ that it is now.

    More than the authors life is excessive.

    A picture I took today shouldn't expire in 75 (if I live to 100) + 70 years, or in 2154.
    If I had a son, he might not be alive at that point.

    That is just way too long.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:54PM (#27143069)

      A picture I took today shouldn't expire in 75 (if I live to 100) + 70 years, or in 2154.
      If I had a son, he might not be alive at that point.

      What I dont get is why your son needs to be rewarded for you working in the first place.
      Outside of world leaders & royalty, no other profession gets a free pass for their children.
      Are the children of copyright owners incapable of working like everyone else has to?

      (not directed at you but at copyright holders)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jurily (900488)

        What I dont get is why your son needs to be rewarded for you working in the first place.

        Why should you indefinitely? 5 years should be enough to capitalize and come up with something new to sell.

        • by timmarhy (659436) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @07:21PM (#27143405)
          5 years, i might also add is greater than the cut off most business ventures view as the break even point. usually a proposal needs to pay back and less than 24 months to be considered. that means 3 years of totally milking your invention, should should be plenty. it will also force companies to creat more because they can't just sit back and milk one innovation forever.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by rossz (67331)

            I disagree. Too often it takes years just to take a patentable idea and turn it into a viable consumer product. A reasonable time would be at least 10 years, but probably not more than 20 years. I have nothing against patents. I have everything against patents for stupid and obvious ideas.

            Now copyrights are another matter. A book or a piece of music is going to sell now or not at all. So 5 years is reasonable. I'm willing to compromise and go to 20 years. This forever minus a day is just bullshit.

            Th

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by caitsith01 (606117)

          Why should you indefinitely? 5 years should be enough to capitalize and come up with something new to sell.

          What if, like many creative people, you struggle in obscurity for years before gaining a reputation?

          When you get your big break and your work finally has some real dollar value, should large corporates be entitled to move in and use your work for free?

          • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @08:11PM (#27144001)

            What if, like many creative people, you struggle in obscurity for years before gaining a reputation?

            You mean, like everybody else does in life? Start out small and work hard to develop valuable skills, contacts and a reputation?

            When you get your big break and your work finally has some real dollar value, should large corporates be entitled to move in and use your work for free?

            If your work has value, then make some more and sell it.

    • by JCSoRocks (1142053) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:55PM (#27143091)
      Indeed. The changes to copyright law have pretty obviously been made solely to benefit huge corporations. Dead authors, musicians, artists, etc don't see any benefit from it - they're dead.

      The entire idea is to give people a way to protect their source of income while they labor to create more stuff. If it takes you more than 10 years (off the top of my head) to create something else that people are willing to pay for then you should find yourself a new career.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Verity_Crux (523278)

        The changes to copyright law have pretty obviously been made solely to benefit huge corporations.

        That's the whole problem. If we had 10 years for a sole-proprietor patent, 5 years for a corporation patent, and maybe 12 years for a copyright we'd totally shut down all this wasted litigation money from corporations. I don't think an individual should be able to get a patent; if they aren't planning to make money on it, it should be given to the public domain.

        • I don't think an individual should be able to get a patent; if they aren't planning to make money on it...

          Patent owned by individual != Does not plan on profiting from it.
          Given the current lifespan of patents, if I have a good idea that can be profitable I would be tempted to patent it now and then work towards being able to start a business 2-5 years down the road that can make money from it. Or, if I am lazy, I could license it out.

      • If it takes you more than 10 years (off the top of my head) to create something else that people are willing to pay for then you should find yourself a new career.

        And that's exactly the argument that "content producers" are going to make, but in favor of extending copyright protections. As you say, those who cannot capitalize on their creations will find new careers, instead of creating more content. End result: less new content.

        I'm all for reducing or eliminating copyright. But, this argument won't convince anyone.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Ashriel (1457949)

          If content creators are creating content with only profit in mind, then we don't need their crappy content.

          Less new content is not necessarily a bad thing - the end result is more time to contemplate that which has already been made, and a lot less profit for artistic industry (art is never something one should endeavor to industrialize).

          I know we live in a "Ooh! Shiny! New!" culture, but have you ever considered that maybe that isn't entirely a good thing?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tubal-Cain (1289912)
      It originally was...what? 14 years?
      The copyright on Windows 95 would be expiring in a few months. Oh how on Earth would MS survive if Windows 95 was no longer protected by copyright law?~
      • Double that, I think it was 14 years, + 14 years if they wanted it to be extended. Which is about right, although personally I think 15 + 10, or 15 + 10 + 5 + 3 + 1 where the proof/necessity/legitimacy of the copyright is harder to prove/costs more with each succession.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Locke2005 (849178)
      Just make copyrights non-transferable and non-inheritable, i.e. you could never sell your rights to another person or corporation, so they would automatically expire upon the original creator's death. You could still license the use of your copyright to others to earn a profit by it (i.e. lease, not sell). Yes, there are a couple problems with this: 1) It creates an incentive to kill people to get free access to their work. However, since everybody simultaneously gets free access to the work, there is very
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by skribe (26534)

      More than the authors life is excessive.

      I'd prefer lifetime plus some short additional period (say 10-20 years) just for safety's sake. If you make it just lifetime it wouldn't surprise me in the least if some bright, young corpling arranged for an accident or two to 'free up the rights issue we're having'. To a corp it may be considered an acceptable risk to put out a $100k contract rather than fork over a few mill for the movie rights. Just sayin'

      skribe

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by corsec67 (627446)

        So how about a fixed period, maybe with an extension, and leave the authors life out of the length?

        • by schon (31600)

          Exactly. Basing anything on the lifespan of the creator is unfair.

          Why is the work of someone who dies at age 20 worth less than that of someone who lives to age 100?

          Why should an 18 year old receive more protection than a 50 year old?

          Why are terminal cancer sufferers less worthy of protection than those in good health?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Absolutely not. The Statute of Anne (Britain, 1710) set the term for copyright at 14 years. Copyright is about controlling distribution so that the author would have sufficient time to reap rewards for their labors. Distribution gets easier and easier as time marches on, technology improves and the general education of the masses increases. The ease with which information can be disseminated today should, in my opinion, mean that copyright terms should be decreased, not increased. 14 years, max, and re
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by dgatwood (11270)

          Distribution is easier, but creating the works still takes time. That novel that you took a year to write should be protected for more than single digit years. I would argue that the copyright duration should be dependent upon the amount of risk the creator or creators had to take on in order to create the work. Thus, a photograph's copyright might last only five years because it takes a fairly short amount of time to create it and the risk is thus relatively low. A novel... twenty years. A movie... te

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Fry-kun (619632)

      I agree, and this also applies to patents.

      Abolishing them completely is a bad idea - in fact, it would make people stop using their heads. Right now if something is patented, you need to figure out another way to do the same thing. Sometimes the new method is even better than the original. THAT IS THE [IMPLIED] GOAL. Without a patent, everyone would just use the 1st method and nobody would want to improve upon it.
      But if nobody can figure out another way to do the same thing, the patent does indeed stifle in

      • by Logic and Reason (952833) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @07:57PM (#27143821) Homepage

        Right now if something is patented, you need to figure out another way to do the same thing. Sometimes the new method is even better than the original. THAT IS THE [IMPLIED] GOAL. Without a patent, everyone would just use the 1st method and nobody would want to improve upon it.

        Why don't we outlaw the wheel, then? I'm sure that will force the market to come up with all sorts of creative alternatives. We'll probably waste billions of dollars in the process, but at least we'll be promoting "innovation"! Isn't that what's important, after all?

    • by dsginter (104154)

      If I had a son, he might not be alive at that point.

      No discussion about a daughter - interesting. Would she not be able to hold a copyright?

    • by kasperd (592156)
      I agree that copyright should be made a fixed number of years after the release. The exact number of years can be discussed. I think 10 is not too bad. But I'd say it could vary depending on the kind of work with a minimum of 1 year and a maximum of 20. I don't see any reason why any copyright would need to be more than 20 years.

      I also would like to see other restrictions in copyright. When releasing a work you should be forced to decide whether you want to protect it using copyright or technical means -
  • Their book... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NeoTron (6020) <kevin@scaryglid e r s . n et> on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:48PM (#27142993) Homepage
    Would it be irony if their book was copyrighted? ;)

    Also, I'm glad to see the description of the term "Intellectual Property" called for precisely what it is : propaganda. It's time for this term to be thrown out, and not to let so-called self-professed "intellectual property owners" inject this horrible term into the collective mind-set any further - it muddies the water of the discussion.
    • What do you call the design of your Intel Core 2 processor before it gets fabbed into silicon and metal? Are you claiming that the RTL/schematics/"design" of that processor are worthless?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Agreed. Somehow, not-copyrighting your inventions before they are actually manufactured (IP?) will protect against those awful corporations that can do anything with their money. Because that way, you, without any money, can eventually manufacture it and finally copyright it, while the corporation that could manufacture it in 2 months and start selling it sits idly back, scared of taking your uncopyrighted non-intellectual-property un-manufactured invention from you...

        [/sarcasm, if you couldn't tell]

        The s

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          The situation isn't good, but goodness, if there weren't ANY copyrights on non-implemented ideas, the idea of private "inventors" would be over; corporations could be in the business of stealing (only it wouldn't be stealing) ideas.

          Ideas are about as valuable as air, so I really don't expect that that's a generally valid worry. People who actually put in actual work would still find ways to get paid.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Tubal-Cain (1289912)

        What do you call the design of your Intel Core 2 processor before it gets fabbed into silicon and metal?

        Probably "Trade Secret"

    • Would it be irony if their book was copyrighted? ;)

      You don't have a choice in the U.S. to not copyright your works. It is automatic.

    • by brian0918 (638904)
      A man has the right to the product of his mind, and to do with it what he sees fit. If you believe you had a right to the text of a book, to do with it as you pleased, then why didn't you write the book in the first place? A right to property is a right to action, like all other rights; it is not a right to an object, but a right to the actions, means, and results of producing an object.
      • Re:Their book... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @08:01PM (#27143879) Homepage

        A man has the right to the product of his mind, and to do with it what he sees fit.

        I agree. The problem is that when you share what's on your mind with everyone else, now it is in our minds too, and we can use it just as well as you could. You're arguing against intellectual freedom and censorship. To argue in favor of copyright, you have to say that Alice has the right to censor Bob, merely because Bob is repeating what Alice said first. There may be a good reason to do this, but the right to censor others for no other reason than the provenance of what they say could only be artificial in origin. It's granted by the people who are being censored, in fact, which means you'll essentially need their consent, which is unlikely to be granted unless they're benefiting from it somehow.

  • Read it Online, Free (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bob9113 (14996) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:48PM (#27142999) Homepage

    They put their mouths where their money is, or something like that (too late in the day to be properly witty). Read it online for free.

    http://www.dklevine.com/general/intellectual/against.htm [dklevine.com]

  • Genius... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by brian0918 (638904) <brian0918 AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @06:52PM (#27143043)
    "They are calling on Congress to grant patents only where an invention has social value"

    And of course, such a thing as "social value" can be easily determined before the product has the ability to hit the market...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DustyShadow (691635)
      Patents already have a utility requirement. The PTO and courts have pretty much ignored that requirement though.
    • I don't think I like that phrase "social value" in this context. Does it mean we only allow patents on devices that improve your odds of getting a date? Or does it mean we only allow patents on devices that demotivate the truly motivated people in this country? (In which case I hope somebody got a patent on minimum wage and graduated tax levels.)
  • Limited Time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sanosuke001 (640243) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @07:15PM (#27143317)
    I'm not sure getting rid of either entirely would be the best option but I don't see much use of limits being longer than five years. Protection is supposed to give the original creator a short monopoly to give them, and others, incentive to create more. As it is now, someone can make something and sit on it for the rest of their lives; where's the incentive?
  • I oppose this proposed abolishment of all Copyright. Anyone who does should suffer the same fate that I have: die in a drug-induced sex-binge only to come back to life, unable to earn money on songs written 'yesterday' relative to myself.

    Furthermore I submit that royalties be amended to include BRAAAAAINS.

  • by systemeng (998953) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @07:28PM (#27143485)
    I went to ye olde library today to get copies of 2 Articles from the Journal of Applied Polymer Sciences, a Wiley Interscience Publication. Xeroxing the articles under fair use from the library was free for me.

    The Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Moment came when I checked online to find out how much it would cost to subscribe to the journal. I thought someone misplaced a decimal point: $23,245 a year is the institutional subscription rate! That's about what I paid yearly in college tuition back when I was in college. Even worse, it's almost the value of the lab equipment I'm using in the work I've been doing on my own time.
  • by westlake (615356) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:41PM (#27145949)

    I'll begin simply by suggesting that companies strong in IP are looking pretty good now.

    GM is the penny stock.

    Not Microsoft. Not Pfizer.

    They are calling on Congress to grant patents only where an invention has social value, where the patent would not stifle innovation, and where the absence of a patent would damage cost-effectiveness."

    Now this scares me.

    Because it means that "social value" would be defined by the legislator, the bureaucrat, and the courts.

    --- and how this new measure of socially redeeming value - could be limited to the denial of a patent or copyright escapes me entirely.

    The politician, after all, likes to be pro-active.

    I am not sure what it takes to "stifle innovation." I don't even have a clear notion of what innovation really means.

    A patent only implies only distinction - a measure of originality in concept and execution.

    The examiner does not have a crystal ball.

    He does not ask and can not know whether you have accomplished anything significant and lasting.

    The geek who would give the politician - the bureaucrat - that crystal ball and demand that he play oracle does enormous harm, I think.

    "Cost-Effectiveness" is a lovely phrase.

    Damnation in two words.

    Big Pharm gets the Malaria patent because Big Pharm can quickly and safely ramp up to full production.

    The little guy will botch it.

    Cost-Effectiveness is about economies of scale. Technical competence. Managerial competence. Financial resources.

    Cost-Effectiveness is also about papering over the politically unpalatable choices you know you have to make.

    I'll admit to having become very cynical about this sort of thing.

    But it still surprises me sometimes how High Church the geek really is.

  • They do have a point (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Plekto (1018050) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:46PM (#27145991)

    China, which is kind of like our Wild West(tm) right now, does whatever it wants. And it's going to completely leave us behind much as we did with Europe. Remember, Europe at the time had very restrictive guilds, laws, and regulations. The U.S. didn't. So we invented and invented. We built and didn't really care that much if it was someone else's idea.

    Just like China now is doing.

    And you wonder why they are going to put up their own space station modules next year and beat us to a habitat on the moon... We have to dismantle the idiocy or we'll never be able to move fast enough to keep up.

    Honestly, if I was interested in space or technology or just making new things, I'd be making a beeline to China and doing it there without the millions of laws and tens of thousands of lawyers all suing everyone into oblivion over idiotic patents.

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