// Intellectual Property, Weasel Words
// cturner, v1.1, 20230423

In June 2022, I read a syndicated WSJ editorial /Biden's patent gift to
Beijing/ [1]. The thrust of the article was reasonable criticism of a bizarre US
gvt decisions to give up advantage to China in an unforced move. But I choked
on my drink when I reached this sentence, "[Intellectual property] is a major
reason the U.S. is more innovative than China".

This claim was presented without anything resembling supporting evidence, and
is typical of the evidence-free gaslighting advocacy that IP interests and
their supporters run against western citizens.

I write this note to call out the nonsense.

::: Property

The concept of property evolved independently in every civilisation that grew
beyond a small tribe. It predates the nation-state, and the rule of law as we
now understand it.

Property is a simple and effective response to the dynamics of scarce goods.

    While person A is using a wheelbarrow, person B cannot use it as well.
    You can't raise cows on a piece of land while someone else also raises a
    crop of wheat there.

Our traditional definition of property, tied to scarce goods, goes back
thousands of years. Until recently it was respected across the most advanced

::: Open remixing

There is another practice that was respected across the most advanced cultures
for thousands of years: the free sharing and open remixing of songs, stories
and ideas.

Open remixing is thoroughly compatible with property, because it applies only
to things that are not scarce.

::: Intellectual Property

A rival concept has now displaced property and open remixing in the west:
/intellectual property/.

IP is a project to carry the protections that were traditionally limited to
property rights to concepts that are not scarce.

::: Discussion

IP cripples open remixing. This is unfortunate, because we know open remixing
is a better development model than IP. [2]

IP diminishes property rights in the traditional sense. Once upon a time you
could sing and play your instrument as you wished. Now you cannot. If you
transcribe something you heard in the street to paper, on paper that you paid
for, and give that to a friend, the law can rule your actions to be illegal.
IP creates cognitive distraction for any creative pursuit.

IP gives net benefit to only a few. But it serves those few very well, which
creates the climate for intense lobbying.

Traditional property rights and open remixing served us all, but nobody in
particular. Perhaps this is why few have stood to defend them.

Over a long time, but particularly the last fifty years, wealthy niche
interests have shepherded IP into western law at the expense of traditional
systems that had served us well, and which would otherwise still serve us

At no point has anything resembling a detailed, coherent case been made in
support for IP vs the old status quo. There is literature that expands on
this. [3]

In the twenty-first century, otherwise well-educated westerners are socialised
into IP because it is the status quo. Some would speak in support of IP if it
was questioned at a party. Yet, these people, who are morally conscious and
otherwise law-abiding, would easily and casually violate IP.

Maybe there are some die-hards out there with fetish obedience to law for its
own sake but speaking broadly, nobody has real respect for it. Not in the same
way that we respect the signature we place on a contract, or the moral
obligation not to bear false witness, or the respect we have to our wall with
our neighbour. Deep down, everyone doubts the moral case for IP, even if they
can't articulate it.

IP fails the character test for reasonable law on many levels,

    IP is complicated when the best laws are simple.

    IP raises the barrier-of-entry to a range of industries.

    IP is easily gamed by bad-faith actors.

    IP grants extra privileges to people who would already be elites,

    The benfits of IP cannot be harvested effectively by people who are not rich.

    IP is disrespected by the general population in their day-to-day actions.

    When economic justifications are given for IP, they fit into one of
    these categories,

        They are hand-wavey yet still falsified by evidence of western
        experience that predates them.

        They are circular arguments that point to institutional structures
        that exists as a response to heavy IP laws, for example, the US FDA.

    IP is impractical to enforce equally,

    IP muddies the water for concepts that have been foundations of our
    civilisation - real property and open remixing.

    IP is inconsistent with the principles of live-and-let-live and free

/Live and let live/ is a cornerstone western value. When somebody proposes a
law that diminishes it, the burden of evidence rightly lies with the proposer,
not with doubters. The standard of that evidence should be high.

People see things the way they are, and assume there is a reason or
inevitability to it. Let me reassure readers: there is no inevitability to IP.
It happened because our leaders were distracted or complicit. It got past the
radar of what is reasonable before we understood the consequences of it. But
there is no inevitability to it.

We should aspire to a system of laws that serve all of us, to laws that
live-and-let-live, to well-worded legislation that is grounded in morality and
sensible game theory. Our laws should align with the values of regular

This is not a call for revolt. The law is the law. As individuals, we do what
we can to navigate our world in pursuit of our goals, to be law-abiding, to
provide for our families, etc. If you run a business where your competitors
benefit from IP, you will engage in IP to avoid crippling yourself.

Rather, this is a call to see it for what it is.

Often we look at other societies, particularly historic people, and are amused
by the spectacle of them placing faith in silly things.

We can be ridiculous as well. IP is something that outsiders wlil look at,
shaking their heads with disbelief. "They are/were so advanced, how could they
be so naive?"

Western firms spend billions of dollars and years of time in the courts
pursuing one another through mindless IP plays. The dynamics of IP assist rich
interests to discourage new entrants and to shackle craftsmen and creators.

While this is going on, Chinese interests copy fearlessly, and with the tacit
encouragement of their government. Those firms enjoy the benefits of open
remixing while western creators are denied it by their own laws.

Humans have an instinct for weasel words. And humans grow confidence when they
know they are not alone.

You will have had doubts about IP long before reading this. You are not alone.

The law is the law, but that is all it is. If the government were to say that
black was white, this would not make it so. So it is with property.

Western civilisation is the greatest civilisation there has ever been. We have
a sophisticated morality, advanced governance and an unrivaled chain of
remarkable development and economic achievements. But the west has fallen into
a rut. All conversation turns to rumination, guilt-mongering, and generally
talking ourselves down in an unconstructive way.

We need to stop doing that, and make sure we are sending our energy and
reflection to things that matter.

We should constantly be asking: are we being the best that we can be?

The rise of IP has hurt the west. We dropped the ball. But laws can be

Moving against IP is a well-defined play that is available to us now that
would permanently boost our creativity and economic peformance.

::: Version history

v1.1, 20230423, initial post to songseed.org

::: References

:1 https://www.wsj.com/articles/bidens-patent-gift-to-beijing-world-trade-organization-intellectual-property-china-11655498904

:2 Free software such as Linux is covered by a copyright license that
essentially cancels copyright and forces open remixing. Advocates call this
Free Software, in capitals, not so much because it is free to use, like free
beer, but rather because it is free to remix, like free speech.

Software developed under this umbrella is the dominant platform of the
internet, and is significant across industry sectors. Since 2017, all
supercomputers in the index of the world's top 500 supercomputers have used
Free Software as their foundation.

These licenses are doing good work, but they are not able to entirely pull the
rug out from underneath IP in order to move to an open-remix world. As one
trivial example, there is no way to counteract patents. A full discussion of
these issues is beyond the scope of this paper.

:3 e.g. see Boldrin/Levine 2008