Ideas come from the community

In his 2003 book Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity, Siva Vaidhyanathan notes that creative works always build on previous (often traditional and/or public domain) creative works, and that creativity will become nearly impossible if writers (or those who “own” their output) are permitted to exercise absolute monopolies over use of their products.  Potential remedies include shorter and looser copyright terms, placing works into the public domain, licensing them as open source, or using another of the Creative Commons licenses.

Michele Baldrin and David K. Levine, in Against Intellectual Monopoly, provide numerous historical examples of patents retarding, rather than promoting innovation, and note the finding (p. 92, regarding the software industry) that patents were not an encouragement to research and development, but rather a substitute for them.

Now, in  Where Ideas Come From (in Wired Oct ’10) Kevin Kelly and Steven Johnson sort of combine these two ideas by asserting that innovations are not the products of individuals, but of communities.

It’s amazing that the myth of the lone genius has persisted for so long, since simultaneous invention has always been the norm, not the exception … [T]here’s a related myth, that innovation comes primarily from the profit motive… If you look at history, it comes from creating environments where [people’s] ideas can connect.”

And they tie this into another kind of property rights:

One reason we have this great explosion of innovation in wireless right now is that the U S deregulated [allowed unlicensed use of parts of the] spectrum.  Before that, spectrum was something too precious to be wasted…But when you deregulate– and say, OK, now waste it– you get Wi-Fi.

All in all, a very Georgist article, the authors of which have also written what I hope are very Georgist books (both coming out next month):

Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From

Kevin Kelly What Technology Wants

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