Law in the Internet Society
*Everything That Can Be Shared for Free, Should be Shared For Free*
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Technology is blurring the line of property laws. A teenager can easily send a copy of the song of her favorite artist to her friends; college students can download copies of textbooks for free; anyone can distribute the newest Hollywood movies on the internet. Publishers and movie distributors do not seem to be able defend their property rights in books, music and movies, despite their efforts in lobbying the authorities in China, Korea and United States to enforce the laws.

As the technology makes book, music and movies extremely accessible, copyright and the patent laws turn into hurdles on the road to the democratization of access to knowledge. Knowledge sharing on the internet, for the first time in the human history, reduces the costs of learning to zero.

Before the Sui Dynasty in ancient China, the selection of officers were done through Chaju (recommendations for offices). A prerequisite of office appointments is to be knowledgeable of the Confucius Classics (Liujing). Even though there were only six books to be mastered, the books were written on bamboos, which makes books expensive to maintain and to reproduce. Only a handful of prestigious families had the resources to teach their children about the classics, which, in return, ensure all important positions were taken by these families. These families arranged marriages among themselves, established the monopoly of power for over a thousand years. To give an example of how powerful these families were, Emperor Tangwenzong once asked his chancellor to marry his granddaughter to the crown prince. The chancellor rejected and married his granddaughter to a man of the Cui family. The Emperor sighed “my family has possessed the crown for 200 years, and still cannot not match the families of Cui and Lu.”

What came to destroy the monopoly was the invention of paper. Full rooms of bamboo books were replaced by paper copies that could be easily transported and transferred. Papers were also cheap to produce. Any landowners who were able to feed their families, could afford to educate their children. Offices started to be filled by people of poor upbringing. The few families that had dictated the politics for over a thousand years were forgotten.

Now comes the age that knowledge costs zero. So close we are to free sharing of knowledge through digital copies and online lectures, yet we let copyrights stand in the way. Property is the sole and despotic dominion over a thing. Personal property rules were developed over a long period of time for legitimate reasons. Land was the most important form of property. Property rights solve the problem of common property. When a community owns a forest, individuals have incentives to take as must as he can from the land. By doing so, he externalize most of the costs, and obtain all the benefits. If everyone does that in the community, the resources will be depleted quickly, and the future generations’ interest will be harm. This concern does not apply to knowledge. Sharing knowledge does not diminish the knowledge or deprive the future generations’ ability to access knowledge. Sharing knowledge actually creates more knowledge and makes knowledge more accessible to future generations.

Property rights give the owner the sole discretion to price his property. The presumption is that people are rational, and the market will function to ensure efficient distribution of resources. This theory only works if resources are scarce, so that resource can be possessed by the people who value it the most. Knowledge lacks the nature of scarcity. When knowledge can be distributed at cost at zero, any distribution will be efficient. The owner of intellectual property should not have the right to price knowledge however he wants.

Property rights are in rem rights. For example, when a property has an owner, you only need to contract with the owner in order to receive the permission to build a dam. Otherwise, you have to contract with everyone on this land to build the dam. In contrast, one’s use of knowledge does not affect another’s ability to use the knowledge. You do not need to contract with everyone in the world to use some knowledge in exclusion of other users. Hence, there should be no in rem rights in intellectual property.

In order for anything to constitute property, it must be scarce. Intellectual property lacks the nature of scarcity, and property rights should not apply. The argument that absence of protection of intellectual property will discourage people from creating can be addressed in two parts. First, there is no evidence that people lacked the incentive to create when there was no intellectual property laws. Second, even if we want to encourage people to create by making such creation profitable, the court is perfectly capable of using liability rule to price any creation. If the Delaware court is capable of determining what price is fair for a stock, courts are capable of deciding what price is fair for a book.

The history of China showed that the power was dispersed after the access of knowledge became dispersed. First time in human history, the powerful and the privileged are losing control of who should be educated and how. As the cost of knowledge sharing approximates zero, intellectual property laws become the only way to artificially inflate the price of education to prevent access to knowledge for free, for all, and forever. Everything that can be shared for free, should be shared for free.


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r2 - 16 Dec 2015 - 05:34:25 - LianchenLiu
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