Intellectual property is an illusion

I advocate the worldwide abolition of intellectual property rights. I suggest to remove the concept of intellectual property from our legislations.

intellectual property

Intangible creations of the human intellect that are legally recognized as a private property. (inspired by Wikipedia)

The term can encompass artistic works like music, literature, movies and more subtle things like designs, slogans, symbols as well as scientific works like discoveries, inventions, software, methodologies, industrial standards. The term also sometimes encompasses corporations and trademarks, which I suggest to handle differently as identities.

My observations

  • The result of intellectual work is immaterial, intangible, just an idea.

  • Information and knowledge is for humans a basic need. It is like the air and the earth and the sun: everybody may use it, and nobody may spoil it.

  • When we consider published knowledge as common wealth of humanity, then it is a morally questionable activity to prevent others from using it.

All these “things” can currently be protected as intellectual property. They can have an owner –or a group of owners– and can be sold to another owner. The owner is free to decide how these things are to be used. Using them without permission is equivalent to theft. The rules of this game are formulated as copyrights, patents, and trademarks,

The term intellectual property appeared first in the 19th century and became common in the majority of the world only in the late 20th century.

My suggestions

Publishing an intellectual work should be an irrevocable act of sharing the result of your work with others and giving them permission to use and re-share your work, provided they respect your right of being identified as the author.

An idea should be considered common property as soon as it has been spoken out. For example, imagine that you have a genial idea about how to solve a common problem. You explain it to your neighbour. The neighbour writes an article about it and publishes that article in a scientific newspaper.

Where is the border between a spoken sentence and a recorded video clip? A single spoken sentence can be worth much more than a movie that took millions of euros to produce.

A classical answer to this question is that resources as such have no value, the revenue belongs to those who make a resource usable. We call this activity exploitation.

One problem with this classical view is that making knowledge usable is never the work of a single entity. A software product is the result of the collaboration of many humans, including developer and the end user. When an end user asks a question to a support provider, they actually increase the value of the software product because they provide the valuable information that some part of the product can be optimized. So who is the “customer” and how is the “provider”?

Another problem with this classical answer is that exploiting a resource potentially bears enormous risks, which are often unpredictable.