The internet has a way of democratizing knowledge. It has allowed free access to knowledge anywhere in the world by anybody who has a computer. When Napstar, an upstart music sharing software program allowed unprecedented music download and sharing, it forever changed the way copyrights were viewed and protected. Initially, intellectual property rights were created by industries to protect their rights to research, develop and sell with a monopoly for a certain number of years a product developed with the intellectual property rights giving them protection for a few years to recoup investment.
Now, the little guy can access that knowledge and dispense it freely. What is the direction of international intellectual property protection policy to be adopted? Should policy work towards an environment encouraging more innovation which comes only from uninhibited sharing of world – wide knowledge freely? Or should it restrict sharing of content at prohibitive costs, and discouraging free sharing of knowledge? Should policy protect the investments towards research and development which has greatly increased the life span of mankind this century, and allowed automobiles to connect mankind to ends of the earth? While this has ensured large profits for the industrialized, developed world, it has benefited many. Or has it? What about the developing country’s Shamans that freely shared their ancient medicinal knowledge with the industrial developers to isolate the active chemical compound from? Did the large company ever “take care” or continue to compensate for the life of the patent the barefoot shaman in an an impoverished country who with a toothless smile shared his timeless knowledge, perhaps for free or perhaps even offering their hospitality?
Such questions were asked in the past but the answers shrugged away. However, this recent 2009 -2012 world-wide recession has brought the world together through the internet with forums discussing international needs and internation humanitarian conditions and world-wide travel and space travel and border rights and free music and hollistic medicine and mixed marriages and mixed gene pools and air rights and water rights and more. Everywhere there are youngsters understanding the international language of computers in a way their educated, elders could not imagine even today.
What is this world of the future? Who are to make the new rules? How do we continue to serve the interests of innovation and progress with world-wide dissemination of knowledge best? Should knowledge be free?
There is this wonderful article by scholars of intellectual property at Duke University of USA, that asks these questions which you can read by clicking here. Here is an excerpt:
In fact, it is remarkable to consider that the areas where the Internet has succeeded most readily – for example as a giant distributed database of facts on any subject under the sun – are traditionally those in which there are little or no intellectual property rights. The software on which the Internet runs is largely open source, another Internet-enabled method of innovation to which policy makers have been slow to adapt. The Internet offers us remarkable opportunities to achieve the real goals that intellectual property policy ought to serve: encouraging innovation and facilitating the dissemination of cultural and educational materials. Yet policy making has focused almost entirely on the Internet’s potential for illicit copying. An example demonstrates the point.
• Copyright term limits are now absurdly long. The most recent retrospective extensions, to a term which already offered 99% of the value of a perpetual copyright, had the practical effect of helping a tiny number of works that are still in print, or in circulation. Estimates are between 1% and 4%. Yet in order to confer this monopoly benefit on a handful of works, works that the public had already “paid for” with a copyright term that must have been acceptable to the original author and publisher, they deny the public access to the remaining 96% of copyrighted works that otherwise would be passing into the public domain. Before the Internet, this loss – though real – would for most works have been largely a theoretical one. The cost of reprinting an out-of-print book or copying and screening a public domain film was often prohibitive. But once one adds the Internet to the equation, it becomes possible to imagine digitizing substantial parts of the national heritage as it emerges into the public domain, and making it available to the world. Now this is truly fulfilling the goals of copyright: encouraging creativity, and encouraging access.
Intellectual property firms are collapsing in 2012. The old model is no longer apparently working with a botique IP firm serving the needs of many. Firms are finding it cheaper to bring in their inhouse teams instead. Is the very model of protection being questioned? Recently Darby and Darby, a 100 year old IP firm in New York closed. Read here. Several law firms are merging to survive claiming they can survive the international clients better by being larger and offering diverse services. Read here.