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To Steal or Not to Steal – A Tale of Two Opinions

Seton Motley | Less Government | LessGovernment.org
As Best We Can – We Must Ctrl-Alt-Del This Key

I am a huge fan of informed debate.  I have on more than a few occasions been a part of of official, organized panel discussions with representatives of both sides of this issue or that.

But I have found two-sided panels to be an endangered species in Washington, D.C.  People here seem to prefer empaneling four five or six people – all of whom are in nigh complete agreement.

Our hyper-partisanship – imbues everything.

I found the one-sidedness to be…less interesting.  So when I still organized such events – I always did so with both sides represented.

So I was pleased to see Forbes magazine – within a week – offer diametrically opposite opinion pieces on the concept of Intellectual Property (IP).

Pro:

Feeding the Fire Of Genius: Intellectual Property And America’s High-Tech Future

And Con:

Five Lessons From The Toy Wars: How Intellectual Property Laws Can Restrict Your Career Mobility

In which are embodied the two sides’ broad stroke visions of how to treat IP.

As an admitted pro-IP person – I thought it would be interesting to analyze a little of both pieces.

In the interest of interesting – we’ll begin with the Con:

“Orly Lobel’s new book ‘You Don’t Own Me’ recounts the knock-down, drag-out and still unfinished ‘toy wars’ between Mattel, distributor of Barbie dolls, and nearby rival MGA Entertainment, distributor of the Bratz collection.

“The book shows how those wars ‘challenge the right and freedom to leave jobs, compete with incumbent companies, control ideas and innovate.’ What Lobel calls ‘the criminalization of employment mobility’ is a serious problem, and this article offers some first steps to protect yourself from its grasp….

“Under traditional law, your employer was entitled to the work you produced, and you were free to take your skills and knowledge elsewhere. Non-compete contracts, covered in an earlier article, interfere with that freedom. The double whammy is that so, too, do intellectual property contracts.”

The author finds it offensive that IP creators…want to protect their IP when their employees leave their employ.  Just as a tractor manufacturer doesn’t want an outgoing employee driving off the lot with an armada of unpaid-for threshers.

Only the employee leaving with IP – does so with content FAR more valuable then the threshers.  If you steal eight threshers – you have eight threshers.  But the IP you steal – is nigh always infinitely replicate-able.  Rendering your theft – endless…and endlessly valuable.

If people are stealing IP – people aren’t paying for IP.  Which means rather rapidly – no one will have other jobs to which to go.  Because when no one is paid for IP – no one can hire for IP.  Rendering “employment mobility” – ancient history.

The anti-IP author – fails the human nature test.  In multiple fundamental ways.

The pro-IP author – passes with flying colors:

“How fundamental are intellectual property rights, i.e. the rights accruing to an inventor or author or company of exclusive ownership of their own work or invention as enshrined in patent and copyright laws?…

“Strong IPR protections, for example, not only incentivize inventors and IP stakeholders,…(t)hose protections…generate a revenue stream of royalties through which companies can fund the next generation of innovation.”

If you steal today’s stuff – you’ll never get tomorrow’s stuff.  Because if today’s creators have their creations stolen – they won’t create anything tomorrow.  Because human nature.

If in Year One farmers spend nine months planting, tilling, watering and their crops – only to have everyone on the planet spend the last three months freely helping themselves – no farmers will plant anything in Year Two.  Because human nature.

And there go all the jobs planting, tilling, watering and picking the farmers’ crops.  “Employment mobility” – immobilized.

The late, great Ronald Reagan once wisely observed:

“There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.”

The answer to the IP question – is really very Reagan-esque simple.

We should readily know: Stealing IP – will cause IP creators to stop creating IP.  Because people won’t endlessly work for free.  Simple.

We should readily know: Stealing IP – is morally wrong.  Because stealing anything – is morally wrong.  Simple.

In fact – with apologies to Reagan: That we should vigorously protect IP from all things theft is both simple – and easy.

This first appeared in Red State.

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