Individual interests and Innovation

If you have invented something very interesting, you want to get a share of the action. I would. But fact is that our copyright laws and patents create a monopoly. And in general monopolies are bad for us.
In this interesting article I read the case is made that Watt and the steam engine that he invented has been the greatest bottleneck for further innovation. Simply put, the steam engine and the industrial revolution only took of after the patent expired. Innovation builds upon the shoulders of previous innovators.
In the discussion on Brittanica Andrew Keen is making the case that the movement of free information will lead us to a “counter-revolution”:

As Gorman so ably argues, we now have a whole generation of digital idealists who believe that information should be free, that it’s liberating, and that computers are emancipating our intellects, unbottling our creativity.

If I look around the Internet I would say: free information is liberating and that I see a lot of creativity unlocked. If we look at the potential for social software you can see we are only beginning. But one of the key problems we have is the fact that copyright laws make innovative use of information impossible. It simply is not possible to advance our society without the (re)use of all kinds of information that is copyrighted. This is the classic example of the balance between Individual interest and the Common good.
Watt, due to good political relations of his partner, was able to extent his patents. The same is happening at the moment with information. Fact is, companies like Brittanica should realize that their old business model simply do not work anymore. In a society where information is able to flow completely free it is impossible to rely on business models of the past, where the publishing and distribution of information was expensive. This led to fairly small production sizes (per item used by many, e.g. in a library) and so high costs per sold item to produce the content.
Now the unit is measured in views, not in books. Publishing and distribution costs zilch. Of course it still costs a lot of money to produce the content of the Brittanica. And society would be worse of if the business of creating quality content would become impossible because others “reuse” your results of hard work. But fact is that the context has changed so much that a) the old business models simply do not work anymore and b) society is harmed by enforcement of these antiquated models. Maybe the future is in hybrid models where professionals and amateurs work side by side. I do not know.
If nature changes than farmers have to adapt to the new reality. There is no need to complain against mother nature. Just like the content producing industry must adapt to the fact that information will flow freely.
The free flow of information has become the fuel for the advancement of our society. It has become too important for the common good to be left to monopolies that have no interest but their own.

One Reply to “Individual interests and Innovation”

  1. Generally I agree with you. But I think the comparison to Mother Nature is wrong. Nature changes in ways, many of which are as yet beyond human control. But the changes in information flow are entirely aritfacts of human activity, and it is thus perfectly sensible for those aggrieved by those changes to address themselves to the perpetrators of change and request them to do differently.
    -Steve

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