Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Intellectual Monopoly

I've posted many times on the problems with our current Intellectual Property regime. It's ridiculous. I agree with many that we need to have some sort of incentive for intellectual property, so there should be patents, and there should be copyright. However, I think patents last too long (especially with the life and death pharmaceutical industries) and are approved with crank-em-out rubber-stamp fashion. I also think the Digital Millenium Copyright Right Act, which is Satan's Embodiment in Law and made copyright last almost perpetually, has done more to hamper cultural creativity and create those damned "frivolous lawsuits" Republicans complain about that anything done by Congress in the last ten years. And that's saying a lot. I'm always then told when I espouse such views that I am a pinko Commie leftist for believing the government shouldn't hand out monopolies to people either for long periods of time (patents) or forever (copyright) and let them earn millions or billions without being subject to any market pressures or competition. How wanting the market to be more free is socialist and wanting people to have monopolies artificially created and enforced by the government is capitalist, I'll never know.

But, anyway, I found out today Cato agrees with me, at least a little, in my Communist and lefty feelings about the excess of intellectual property law. They've published a brief today on how the Digital Millenium Copyright Law has had more than preverse effects on just copyright, but also hamstrung the entire hardware and software industry too. The issue revolves around that great savior of the content industry: Digital Rights Management. Explaining this is complicated, but its basically a thing within the law that forces manufacturers and programmers to aid the content industry, at their own expense, in their efforts to enforce their monopolies, and punishes them should they try to undermine these monopolies. Cato's Timothy B. Lee writes the following:

The result has been a legal regime that reduces options and competition in how consumers enjoy media and entertainment. Today, the copyright industry is exerting increasing control over playback devices, cable media offerings, and even Internet streaming. Some firms have used the DMCA to thwart competition by preventing research and reverse engineering. Others have brought the weight of criminal sanctions to bear against critics, competitors, and researchers.

The DMCA is anti-competitive. It gives copyright holders—and the technology companies that distribute their content—the legal power to create closed technology platforms and exclude competitors from interoperating with them. Worst of all, DRM technologies are clumsy and ineffective; they inconvenience legitimate users but do little to stop pirates.

Fortunately, repeal of the DMCA would not lead to intellectual property anarchy. Prior to the DMCA's enactment, the courts had already been developing a body of law that strikes a sensible balance between innovation and the protection of intellectual property. That body of law protected competition, consumer choice, and the important principle of fair use without sacrificing the rights of copyright holders.

That's just the website preamble, but the brief itself is full of useful facts and examples. I know I'm the only one who gives a shit about this, but you all should too, because it's probably the biggest example of people getting rich and profitable for no reason they should be. And in a way that makes all of our daily products and entertainment more expensive and less useful than it would be otherwise.