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September 24, 2002

The Confusion of Copyright

"Don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it's original, you will have to ram it down their throats." ~ Howard Aiken

I just realized while writing something else this morning that copyright creates confusion.  What I mean simply is this.  If it wasn't for copyright law, when someone saw something someone else didn't...instead of having to reinvent the wheel or rename the same thing, they could take it and build on it.

However, if an idea is the same as someone else's--with copyright--you just change the wording or modify the language and whammo, you have your own copyrighted...whatever.  Anyone who wants to create something new, just makes it different enough.

I've heard some people when referring to copyright say, when you steal from one, it is against the law, when you steal from many it is called research. 

What if we could just expand, change a little or modify someone else's "stuff" enough to make it better and use the same idea so we didn't have to create so many renditions of the same thing.  Instead of expanding something vertically, we could expand it horizontally.  I realize that we would have to deal with the issue of copyright.

However, wouldn't our society grow faster without so much confusion around the same thing.  We can't have agreement on much because we continually fight over who owns it through copyright.  Someone would say..."well, what's to keep people from duplicating it and selling it cheaply?"  Not that people don't do that now.  Actually, nothing.  Yet, would it not be better for humankind?

How could we reconcile the huge development costs and research that takes place?  Isn't this something that should be dealt with by government?  Because the huge costs to humanity through confusion and inefficiency are greater costs in the long run?  We have dozens of varieties of this and dozens of varieties of that while the confusion stifles the expansion of development?

I'm a business person and I understand the arguments for copyright and use them.  Yet, should I and others not rise beyond this short term issue and look towards the long term?

You say..."well, it is the long term issue here.  If we didn't have copyright protection we wouldn't have the incentive to do research and development, people wouldn't be entrepreneurial?"  Actually, that is probably not true if you understand desire.  Some people would invent and develop because that is what they do.  In fact, if we considered all the people who would rather invent and develop who aren't now because of the ramification of the business of research and development, we might actually free up more entrepreneurship and innovation, if we removed the copyright laws.

I realize we would have to overcome the issue of investment in long term R&D, but there ought to be a way that this was rewarded in some way perhaps by a collective investment through some form of tax (I know bad word) or contribution.  We make those same contributions now...yet here is the deal.

Companies must charge enough on the front-end of the release of their "innovations" to recoup the R&D in a reasonable payback period, or lose the ability to attract investors.  Ok, that is how capitalism functions.  What about beyond capitalism?  What if people who could not afford the innovation until it had gone through it price curve to recoup innovation expense could purchase it because we amortized the R&D expense over more units? 

For each unit a R&D contribution was made in some way by the purchaser and matched by the collective (possibly government), but we may have to get rid of that too and replace it with something more efficient.  Therefore the more sold (because of demand), the better it was for society and the better it was for the "innovators."

Again, I realize in thinking through it, we would have less "specialized" products that only the rich could afford because the demand for this product was small in society.  Then again, would that be better for the collective anyway?

I don't know, there are so many complications and ramifications that even as I write this, it seems like too much trouble.  Yet, the confusion created by everyone protecting their intellecutal property has to be slowing down the cycle time of societal growth and development.  I guess it comes back to the old us versus them argument.  I wonder if there will ever be a way to release ourselves from this purely human tension....


This material is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Financial, Legal and Professional information is not Financial, Legal and Professional advice. You should see a Financial, Legal or Professional in the area in which you live if you need advice.


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