Answering objections to Intellectual Ownership.


By Nina Paley.

Three years ago, I published an entry about a system of royalties based on socialism, which I called Intellectual Ownership, in contrast to Intellectual Property. In the IO system, content creators receive a small percentage of the sale price of whatever product uses their content (whether it’s a new factory process or a book). If there’s no sale price, there’s no royalty. So IO supports pirating, sharing of information, and so on.

I thought IO would be pretty uncontroversial. Stephen Kinsella published a completely content-less entry against IO, but I just saw this as more of his usual bluster. However, I recently checked his entry again and noticed something new: he told Nina Paley about it, and added her criticisms to his entry. I did not see this part the first time, so he must have added it later on.

Well, I was thrilled that Nina Paley knew about my entry (long-time readers may notice I’ve featured quite a bit of her artwork these past years). She is a known antinatalist and a strong advocate of the sharing of information. I support her completely. So I didn’t really expect her to criticize my position. However, she did, so I want to address this criticism, with all respect to Nina Paley and her tireless work, since unlike Kinsella (who is about as intellectual as a trout with a brain defect) she actually raised some important points.

Here is the relevant part:

As my C4SIF colleague Nina Paley noted to me:

Whaa? How exactly would the ”added cost of the innovation itself” (?) be controlled, enforced, etc.? Looks like it would require a ton of surveillance. … I definitely mind the implication that a surveillance state is a “solution.”

“The only limitation is that the cost-price must be raised by a certain percentage, reflecting the added cost of the innovation itself. In the case of artistic works, this percentage might be up to 1%, but in the case of innovations, it would be a range something like 0.1%-0.01%, the specific percentage in each case depending on how significant the improvement is.”

And who is going to decide “how significant the improvement is”?

The IO system is a system where using other people’s innovations is encouraged, not forbidden. Instead of locking it in with patents and copyrights, it is made available for a small percentage of the sale price. I gave the example of 1% for artistic works (such as the contents of a book) and 0.1% to 0.01% for technical improvements. I freely admit that these percentages were pulled out of my ass, and are only meant as examples. I don’t know what the actual percentages would be in reality.

Paley argues that the implementation of a royalty system such as the one I envision would require a surveillance state. The use of the word “state” is unfortunate here, since I am an Anarchist and don’t believe any economic function should be in the hands of a state. As a libsoc, I believe that such function would, like most institutions in a libsoc society, be undertaken by federated groups of free individuals.

Even if we exclude the “state” issue, Paley also believes that such an institution would entail widespread surveillance. I don’t really understand why this would be the case. After all, we are talking about detecting something that is in mass production or used for mass production, unlike pirating which, in the West, takes place on a small scale. I don’t see how this would entail more surveillance than, say, keeping tabs on work conditions in workplaces or preventing fraud in production and distribution, which are things that we need in any large-scale (i.e. non-face-to-face) economic system.

Paley’s second objection is more potent, although her question is strangely constructed. Answering any question about “who” would ascertain innovation costs presumes a profound knowledge of a global libsoc economy society which does not currently exist; at least I am not aware of any past or present libsoc system where this issue has been raised. In a federated libsoc system, I think that workers’ councils would be interested in resolving these issues in a global manner, perhaps by appointing neutral arbiters who would make these decisions under a set of objective rules.

Presumably Paley is not here asking for names, but rather is asking “how” the innovation costs would be determined, what objective rules would be followed. The issue here is one of relative importance. To a book publisher, the writer is of prime importance: no writer, no book. To the worker on a factory line, the invention of a new robotic arm is important but not nearly as important as the writer is to the publisher. The publisher is very much dependent on the work of the writer, and the factory worker is not as dependent on a new robotic arm being installed in eir factory.

It would be equally silly to go in the opposite direction and argue that the writer should get all the money, since ey also depends utterly upon the publishers to translate eir work into tangible goods. Likewise, the machine innovator depends on the workers to make use of eir innovation.

There is always the danger of such a system becoming legalistic, so simple rules should be adopted as much as possible. In practice, a ladder of percentages would probably be the most handy solution, especially if it lets producers figure out immediately how much of the sale cost they must set aside to pay for IO purposes.

There would also be a time limit on royalties, as we have now, and a public domain like we have today. Anyone who wants their work to be part of the public domain would still be able to do that.

Finally, I want to point out that the IO system is an addition to my egalitarian economic ideas, not meant to be implemented in today’s society. It assumes that we already have a society where everyone receives an equal part of society’s production because every person’s labor is necessary for every other person’s labor. Innovation is necessary, and therefore should be rewarded, but it’s more than that. Everyone’s labor is usually a tiny margin on everyone else’s labor, but innovation is different from that: it often represents a huge addition to a wide range of productive activities.

In our current capitalist system, I would rather see no IP or IO, rather than IO. I also find that IP is always reprehensible, whatever the economic system. So I agree with Nina Paley on that issue. The rest, I think, is mostly details.

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