Sunday, January 15, 2012

Copyright, Patents, and Trademark

This is a plank of my "Left-Libertarian Platform". This post may be updated to better explain the left-libertarian position on this issue, and therefore the comments section is not the best place for esoteric discussion. However, I would appreciate comments that help to clarify the left-libertarian position. Please let me know if I have overlooked an important aspect of this issue, if many left-libertarians disagree with my description of the issue, or if there is a particularly good external resource discussing this issue in depth.

The existing system of intellectual property (IP) in the USA is corrupt. This system is supposed to promote innovation, facilitate honest commerce, and fairly reward productive work; yet, in reality it stifles creativity, enables fraud, and allows a plutocratic elite to transform their political power into monopoly profits. To make maters worse, in response to public disdain for the restrictive privileges granted to the IP industry, Congress is resorting to increasingly intrusive enforcement methods that threaten to disrupt the Internet and limit freedom of speech (e.g. the DMCA).

Left-libertarians support radical reform, if not abolition, of the intellectual property system in America and worldwide. In addition to the harm caused to Americans -- as consumers, producers, and citizens -- the USA's IP cartel is restricting prosperity-promoting international trade. They demand punitive trade restrictions on any country that does not provide them with powers similar to those that they have in the USA. These mandates are enshrined in treaties such as NAFTA and CAFTA, which have had the effect of limiting access to life-saving drugs (along with other technologies) for the residents of these developing nations. The people of America have been used as bargaining chips in these efforts to extend the USA's exploitative system of IP to countries that America's plutocratic elite have plundered for many decades (with the help of local elites). [see International Trade]

To address these problems, we must first recognize that intellectual property is a government policy (as specified in the USA's Constitution), not a natural right (as asserted by advocates such as Sonny Bono). As such, we are justified in limiting these grants of monopoly privilege in whatever manner serves the public interest. We support the following reforms to limit the powers granted by IP:

  • Immediate revocation of any copyright that has extended beyond its initial time-span (i.e. nullification of the retroactive provisions of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension act).
  • Elimination of the variable-time components of copyright duration (e.g. "life + 70 years) so that there is never any doubt over whether a copyright is still effective.
  • Reduction of the term of copyright so that important aspects of culture become public within a reasonable time. The initial term of American copyright (14-28 years) is sufficient to maintain most of the commercial value of most copyrights, while recognizing the role of the general public in creating value for cultural goods.
  • Expansion of "fair use" exemptions to prevent copyright from being used as a tool for silencing critics.
  • Greater scrutiny of inventions before granting patents, so that competing inventors do not need an army of lawyers to protect them from unjustified patent suits.
  • Greater stringency on the criteria used for deciding if an invention is patent-worthy.
  • Non-transferability of trademark to parties that cannot reasonably be expected to provide a product or service that is comparable to that provided by the original owner of the trademark (e.g. the Cult Awareness Network).
  • Limiting IP enforcement to civil cases seeking monetary compensation comparable to the lost profits arising from IP infringement.
  • Revoking IP (partially or fully) whenever the owner exaggerates the powers granted by IP, or denies the fair use rights of others.


anagory said...

Your IP agenda seems more reformist than leftist or libertarian. I find the most persuasive-to-me argument against patents to be the "tragedy of the anti-commons." A reformist way to address this would be to say that inventors are entitled to royalties, but not to veto power over a royalty arrangement. This should discourage mergers & acquisitions as "patent portfolio" construction. A more radical, but still merely reformist policy might be that intellectual property, like intellect itself, pertains to individuals, not commercial concerns.

Ricketson said...

In this situation, I consider abolition of IP to be the pure libertarian policy. However, part of the nature of this "platform" exercise is to offer reformist options in order to illustrate that we could gain some of the benefits of the libertarian option without producing radical changes to our economy. So I offered some options that simply limit the scope of power offered by these state grants of monopoly. The defense of IP is something that I associate with "right libertarians" -- a.k.a. propertarians, capitalists.

The "leftist" aspect comes from the emphasis on equality (both economic and legal) in opposition to plutocratic power.

I had thought to mention the productivity losses that arise from IP, but I don't think that it is a central component of the left-lib opposition to IP, and furthermore it is a difficult argument to make because it is inherently empirical, relevant information is hard to collect (even for professional economists) and a large number of factors interact in a complex way to determine if there is a net gain or loss from current IP.

Finally, I don't see the point in limiting IP to individuals, as opposed to "commercial concerns" (such as corporations?). IP is intrinsically commercial.