Sharing and Intellectual Property

A contested space in sharing is intellectual property. Can I share a song that I bought with all my friends? If I have a paperback book, I can share it one friend at a time. If I have a digital copy, can I share it with all of them at once? Does my sharing take away from the rewards the creator and producer get? The manufacturer doesn’t get any funds when I sell something at a garage sale or donate it to a cause. Should the maker of intellectual property continue to get revenue when the property is shared?

In a world of sharing, how can and will we reward the makers? If one person were to pay me to write a book (and they got one copy they could do anything with), it would costs them tens of thousands of dollars (what it cost me to write it). If hundreds or thousands of people all get copies, then my time and energy can be distributed across all of them, making the book affordable to each.IMG_4488
Creative Commons License photo credit: tsakshaug

I haven’t seen any strong solutions to the intellectual property debate. The sharing economy seems fantastic in many regards, and it doesn’t solve an age old issue of how to reward significant effort toward often intangible non-rival goods. In the very potential of real abundance and infinite sharing in the space of intangible non-rival goods, our incentive system seems due for revision and no clear compelling and convincing answers emerge yet to reward the makers financially.

Looking again at how technologists address the issue – the business models tend to be: develop the software and offer it for free, add a premium version, and then do consulting and customization for a fee. For writers, this is also the model most often practiced – write the book and make little to nothing on it. Give away to lots of people. Make a living from the consulting and speaking that comes from that.

If Rich Dad and Poor Dad is right, and we should be seeking the passive revenue stream, then we are going in the wrong direction as producers. Trapping ourselves in hourly wage work after producing something with a lot of man-hours that we aren’t paid for and that could have generated passive income.

What ways will we create to support creative and innovative people for the often non-rival – easily shareable work they generate?

What models for future practice exist? For example, in the fashion industry, designers can get top prices, but they can’t copyright their designs or lines. Where else is this flourishing?

a note on non-rival goods. Rival goods are things that if I have it you can’t have it. My coffee maker is mine. If I give it to you, it becomes yours. But I can’t give it to you and also keep it for myself. We tend to assume everything works this way. Scarce commodities. Scarce time. However, there are a group of goods that either don’t diminish by being shared or even increase in value. My cheesecake recipe is mine, but if I share it with you, then we both can enjoy making cheesecake (and eating it! Yum!). The recipe is non-rival. If I share it with hundreds of people in a community, someone might even contribute some improvements or variations. Then it gets even better. Partially rival goods are things like roads – they can seem non-rival until they hit a threshold of use then they become rival.