Copyright is Going to Go Away and That’s Great.
It’s inevitable. Copyright and all intellectual property is going away. Sure it will exist on the fringes but serious players will be in the non-IP part of the economy. This is a great thing. It will lead to faster development of better products and services that cost less and make all of us more prosperous.
Some Economic Concepts Applied
Economists talk about a concept called excludable or non-excludable goods. An excludable good is a good or service that can be excluded from some people and sold to other people. For example, if I sell you a package of bacon, only you and those you share the bacon with can use that bacon. Even if you share it, each piece of bacon that you share can only be used by the person you share it with. No two people can eat the same piece of bacon at the same time. Bacon is an excludable good. The classic example of a non-excludable good is a lighthouse. If you built a lighthouse and shined its light out into the water to warn passing ships of a rocky outcrop in the water, you could not stop the eyes of ship pilots from seeing the lighthouse? A lighthouse is a non-excludable good.
Sometimes a change in technology can cause an good to switch its excludability status one way or the other. For example, radio was once non-excludable but with the advent of encryption, used by satellite radio, it has become excludable. Intellectual property, for lack of a better term, has never been truly excludable however its level of excludability has been greatly reduced recently. It used to be, that in order to get a quality copy of say, a piece of music, one had to invest heavily in expensive audio equipment and only record labels could afford to do that. Today, as everyone knows, it’s very easy for anyone to make a copy of music that is exactly the same as that produced by a record label. Music is almost completely non-excludable. The amount of copies that can be made, presently, is limited only by the desires of people to consume it, just as with the lighthouse.
Because of this move to a greater level of non-excludability in music and movies producers of this content have increasingly turned to the state to impose violence upon people who copy it and share it. The problem with this is that millions of people can copy and share it in the privacy of their homes and it’s difficult to tell who’s doing it. So many are doing it that if the state kidnapped all of them and put them in a cage, the entire economy would grind to a halt. The intellectual property industry has tried to introduce new technology and sometimes combine that tech with the violence of the state to re-introduce a greater level of excludability but it has been met with every turn by an equal effort to undermine this technology and hide from the state, by the market. The state continues to make these threats of violence though, because the IP industry lobbies heavily for it to do so. Also, people kind of see need for intellectual property because they believe it is needed for such content to exist, so there is some support among them, even as they make copies of said content, for their own use.
The Death Blow-Free Content
The next level of the end of copyright is happening now and is also technology related. The fact is, people simply don’t need record labels or publishers to record and publish content to the masses. It’s no longer a costly undertaking to do this. This has unleashed the market to produce content that is not supported by these mega firms that lobby the government. These little guys produce the content at very high quality and release it into the marketplace for free on websites such as YouTube, or their own websites. There is an increasing amount of this free content available on the web, it can be give away to millions of people and it is. There is less and less reason to pay for content anymore–except as a tip that goes directly to the producers. Even these legacy intellectual property firms have been forced to release much of their content for free, though they reserve the right not too. The have a copyright but release the content as if they don’t. This is because those who don’t give a away, will go away though. When was the last time you saw a Prince video? (Note: this was written before he died and not published for some time)
The above video is an example of this free content on the web. This is music that a group of people made, in a living room, with equipment that average people could afford to purchase. The sound quality is higher than the richest corporation could afford a few decades ago and is indistinguishable from what they can produce today. To date, this video has nearly 16 million views. Scott Bradlee, who produced the above video, has no need for a record label. The quality of what he produces draws viewers to him and his bands. He gets donations from the crowd and he sells concert tickets to people who are purchasing access to an excludable form of music production–live music. People like Scott Bradlee, are going to take over the music production business and make the final blow in the old business model of selling music with copyright.
How will movies be made if nobody has to pay for them?
Movies cost millions of dollars to produce. Clearly if we all download them for free on our computers, there won’t be millions of dollars to produce them. There are two things that go against this argument though. The first is that much of movie sales comes from selling movie views in theaters (much like concert tickets) that offer a superior experience (to many but not all consumers) to watching the movie at home. The second is the crashing of prices when it comes to equipment that can record high quality video, edit it, mix it with animation and special effects and distribute it. We’ve all seen drama’s on Youtube that looked polished. It’s been a while since I watched drama on YouTube and my search for it lead to a lot of free content by TV producers. It goes without saying that a person could easily produce a talk show of any kind using home equipment.
What got me thinking about the reduction in the cost of this equipment was a product called Lytro. Lytro is equipment that can capture a world in 3-D, so that it can be rendered for a virtual reality experience and computer graphics can be added to the world easily and without great expense. It’s a product designed to make virtual reality filming and animation affordable to the masses, both in terms of money and time invested to create projects. This is a step beyond producing movies and moves into the production of games, and other VR content categories that don’t even exist today. If they can do this, movies are going to be a snap. Eventually, there will be Scott Bradlees of movies. There will be no need for big production houses.
Open Source Software
Open source software is slowly but surely making inroads into the paid software market. It has the advantage of being free. Often this has meant slower development and sometimes lower quality products. This is not always the case though. I have the latest and greatest version of Microsoft Windows on my laptop, Windows 10. Windows 10 comes in more than one version. The pro version sold for $150, when it came out, but has come down some. Windows has sufficient technology to make this software semi-excludbable but it has competition from the open source movement that is producing software, that is superior in many ways, and did I say it was free? My latest and greatest version of Windows is incapable of doing simple things like shutting off my laptop or waking it from sleep. It also resets my mouse settings to default, every time I restart the computer. (After several months of updates, the mouse settings stick now but it still won’t shut off or wake) The most annoying part is that it takes over my computer for several minutes at a time to do updates. During this time, I have no access to the machine and I must simply wait it out.
The software also uses up more resources of my computer than does the open source software Linux. This slows its performance and reduces the computer’s usefulness. I have none of these problems with the new Linux machine I am writing this blog post in. It’s worth noting that I’m also using free WordPress software to publish this website and you can buy proprietary software for consumers in the hundreds of dollars that do the same thing. What motivated me to run Linux, on this computer, was my desire for the greater access to free, open source software. Specifically, I did not want to have to pay $100 for software to edit the videos I create. I got that for free too. The software is called Kdenlive.
What about engineering?
To be frank, I know little of the engineering market. That said, I don’t think it’s that much different in complexity from software engineering. If the market can produce complex open source software, there is no reason to think it can’t produce open source engineering. There is no reason, even complex products such as cars or computers, could not be designed for free and the production of them be the only thing that people pay for.
Open source engineering is already starting to happen. For example, OSVehicle is a modular open source electric car platform. According to its website, the company allows businesses and startups to design prototype and build electric cars. There is much buzz about open source cars in a google search of that term. There is a website dedicated to open source engineering called, osengineering.org. Of course, too, engineering is being helped buy the open source software movement, mentioned above. Here is an article highlighting 25 open source software packages to aid in engineering.
We don’t need the government to end IP. The laws could stay as they are and copyright will end itself. It will simply become impossible to do business under the old copyright model. People will simply stop using IP as a part of their business model. The government could, eventually pass some kind of legislation officially ending it but that will probably happen only after there are no more firms left to lobby for its continued existence.
How Can You Help End Intellectual Property?
If you want to help this process along, the best way to do this is not to spend your efforts advocating for the end of IP. You can advocate till you are blue in the face and the government is never going to change because of you doing so. What is going to change it are the things I said above, the market taking over with anti-IP content and products. If you want to help this process along, participate in that market. Participation could include simply finding free music, produced by the Scott Bradlees of the world and listening to that, sometimes, instead of listening to music produced by the big production houses. It could mean converting your first computer to Linux or buying an empty computer, as I did and putting Linux on it. Just having Linux means you will be exposed to a plethora of free open source software. You can donate to these producers of content, buy their tickets and merchandise, and/or use their add links to shop at Amazon. Spread the word about content you like to others. You could participate as a consumer as mentioned above or you could take it to the other side and participate as a producer. Make your own YouTube drama or talk show and publish it on your own website too.
Maybe if you produce a movie, you could convince some theaters to air it. If not the main theaters, maybe 2nd tier theaters. Learn to code and produce software. Learn engineering and produce free drawings for consumer goods for either for manufacture or for 3-D printers. Find ways to make money doing this, as Scott Bradlee has. All of these things will be 1000 times more effective than writing a paper or giving a speech. The legislators don’t care what you think anyway, begging them to change laws that are put there to protect big firms, that pay for their campaigns is a waste of time. If you really want to make a difference, innovate and produce. Use the market.