The Zombification of Intellectual Property and the Tool That Could Finally Reform It

The Zombification of Intellectual Property and the Tool That Could Finally Reform It


The zombification of intellectual
property and the tool that could finally reform it: how IP funded basic income
could enrich the public domain by Scott’s anton’s you know what a zombie
is right do you know why you know you know because of a mistake that through
Night of the Living Dead freely into the public domain bypassing all standard
copyright protections purely by accident George Romero’s groundbreaking film
became instantly a horror classic that could be licensed at no cost the result
was a movie that every theater could show every TV station could broadcast
every artist could adapt and build off of it was essentially a gift to the
entire world I think the success of zombies as a worldwide phenomenon
provides an excellent case for looking at the entire idea of intellectual
property differently what is the purpose of IP what is its history what should
its future be and how can we best get to that future to answer these questions
let’s go back to where it all started censorship and money the dawn of the
undying IP originally it was pretty easy for both church and state to limit
thought by controlling the pen but then technology advanced as it always does
and the printing press greatly repriced the pen worried that this new technology
would enable all kinds of new ideas to be published Queen Mary in 1557 granted
the worshipful company of stationers a Royal Charter giving them the exclusive
right to publish upon the expiration of this charter england’s parliament signed
into law the statute of Anne in 1710 which was the first copyright law where
authors themselves were granted by the state a monopoly on their words for 14
or 21 years and no longer control was shifted to authors but control remained
and part of the reasoning was to avoid the quote ruin of them and their
families in other words authors needed money to
live and copyrights could help provide that meanwhile patents were seen as a
way of raising government without taxation which would then also
allow for the granting of favors to secure loyalties by paying a fee those
who paid and were approved could become protected from competition was also
meant to encourage inventors to disclose the details of their inventions in other
words to help society more than to help inventors as written to the US
Constitution in 1787 Congress has the authority to grant patents to promote
the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors
and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and
discoveries besides just raising government revenue patents with us
originally seen in the United States as a way of encouraging innovation through
temporary restriction fast-forward hundreds of years today corporations
worth billions of dollars now gobble up intellectual property like a pack of
zombies at a brain buffet and have successfully and repeatedly fought to
expand the duration of IP protections why for innovation no the reason is
because corporations love IP as a barrier to entry to restrict competition
and to extract unproductive economic rent from the economy they are rent
seekers intellectual property costs money
corporations have money corporations use that money to buy IP not only to protect
ideas they’ve invented or purchased but to function as a shield against lawsuits
and to use as leverage for protectionist deal-making
so for example two companies can sue each other or threaten to and as a
result decide to cross license to each other
protecting themselves from competition companies without the money for patent
arsenals can’t compete in such ways and are open to patent lawsuits thanks to
larger IP armed companies having little fear of being countersued this isn’t the
capitalism of competitive free markets this is rentier capitalism where the
size of corporations and the our governments are utilized to extract
profits without innovating we see this kind of behavior and drug companies all
the time if someone events something new and innovative and they sell the idea to
a big pharmaceutical company that company may lock away the patent and use
it to prevent anyone else from using the new idea it could then continue business
as is without productive investments to improve itself the result is a lack of
innovation the exact opposite intent of patents the idea of intellectual
property has been twisted and malformed what was always clearly mandated as
being temporary as a means of giving innovators a head start has become
measured in terms of lifetimes instead of decades current copyright law extends
copyright for 70 years after the author’s death and corporate works for
hire are copyrighted for 95 years after original publication copyright law
started in the u.s. at 14 years with the right to renew for another 14 years
current and patent law provides protection for 20 years from filing it
started at 14 years of issuance on its face this isn’t an extreme change for
patents but was has become extreme is the way they’re collected unmask by
corporations with the deepest of pockets who are consolidating into a handful of
oligopolistic mega corporations the story of how he went from temporary
protection to a century or more of monopolist to control can really be
simplify it down to just one word Disney the mouse that won’t die Walt Disney is
a name we know because the stories he told where did he get those stories he
got them from the public domain as told by their Brothers Grimm where did they
get their stories they got them from the public domain too as folk tales passed
down from generation to generation the Disney name was built on the public
domain as it’s very foundation well Disney then excluded his stories from
the public domain the intellectual property law but IP law as it existed at
Disney’s time wasn’t good enough for Disney’s company after his death because
it would mean of every one of being able to create stories about
Mickey Mouse and his friends so the Disney Company started dumping money
into perhaps the most lucrative corporate investment of all lobbying had
disney and others not la baited for extending the duration of copyrights
Mickey Mouse would have entered the public domain in 1984 but thanks to the
power of corporate lobbying in 1979 with 5 years left to go that date became 2003
thanks for even more corporate lobbying in 1998 with five years left to go again
2023 became the due date with five years left to go as I write this we may see
another extension any time these extensions have also had retroactive
consequences on countless other non Disney owned works when Congress changed
the law in 1976 it gave all existing copyright protected works published
between 1923 and 1977 a term of 95 years because of this works from 1923 will
only begin to finally enter the public domain in 2019 meanwhile works from 1961
his arrival under the public domain would have originally been expected in
2018 now won’t enter the public domain until 20 57 and duration wasn’t the only
change another change made to copyright law as it became automatic upon creation
that it once was not automatic is how zombies as we know them came to be
before reading further their recommended watching the above video essay created
by Captain Christian it’s a fantastic video in it he explains how prior to
1976 copywriting a film required the copyright mark be affixed to the title
card at the beginning of the film at the time of its first public viewing due to
a last-minute renaming of the film from night of the flesh-eaters
to Night of the Living Dead as to avoid confusion with an existing filmed name
the flesh-eaters the title card that had the copyright mark was swapped with one
that didn’t the result was a brilliant film being released directly into the
public domain any movie theater could screen it
any TV station could air it as a result it appeared everywhere including within
other movies and shows artists were free to adapt it to use George Romero’s
vision of zombies within their own new works zombie movie after zombie movie
was born each using zombies that looked and acted like Romero zombies that
followed the same zombie rules of being slow-moving reanimated corpses they
required destruction of the brain to kill this would never have been possible
of zombies as depicted in 911 dead were protected property yes it was a good
film but its ubiquity is a huge part of how it came to spawn an entire
multi-billion dollar industry The Walking Dead would not exist if 90
living Dead’s title card had included a copyright declaration
neither would Game of Thrones exist as we know it name your favorite zombie
movie show book or comic none of them would exist as we know them if at all
had George Romero been given a monopoly on his zombie z’ there were other
examples of this too what’s your favorite Christmas movie is it It’s a
Wonderful Life if so that’s largely because it entered
the public domain in 1975 after not properly being renewed for an additional
28 years after its first 28 years of protection expired as described by the
Center for the Study of the public domain quote because its copyright was
not properly renewed after the first 28 year term the film had been a flop on
release but thanks to its public domain status it became a holiday classic why
because TV networks for free to show it over and over again during the holidays
making the film immensely popular but then copyright law ranted the picture in
1993 the Hilton’s film’s original copyright holder capitalizing on a
recent Supreme Court case reasserted copyright based on its ownership of the
film’s musical score and a short story in which the film was based the film
itself is still in the public domain ironically a film that only became a
success because of its public domain status was pulled back into copyright
unquote every year the cSPD releases a list of movies and books and music that
would have the public domain that year had
copyright law not been changed and works of art were allowed to enter the public
domain as according to the 1909 Copyright Act this year those books
included catch-22 stranger in a strange land
and the Phantom Tollbooth this year’s movies would have included Breakfast at
Tiffany’s West Side Story and The Parent Trap this
year’s music would have included Patsy Cline’s crazy a song stand by me and
surf and by the Beach Boys adapting any of this material or using it within your
own would have been absolutely free but that changed and now it won’t be freely
available for all of us to use until 2050 7 even science is being impacted
there were scientific papers published in 1961 that have would have entered the
public domain this year as well instead they’re locked behind paywalls for one
can be required to pay 30 dollars for one day of access do you think humanity
benefits when 60 year old science behind paywalls
who does this all benefit not us because it’s been estimated that the total
economic loss due to patents alone is about one trillion dollars per decade
it’s not benefiting the creators because many of them are already dead and the
argument goes that of copyright didn’t extend the 70 years past death creators
would create less another way of saying this is craters are only motivated to
create if they’re protected from competition for their entire lives the
lives of their children and the lives of their grandchildren and
great-grandchildren that’s an absolute lie the truth is that companies like
Disney want to be protected from competition for as long as they can
because money and because companies never die every new copyright extension
does far more to reward those who own the rights to existing works than it
does to encourage the creation of new works this is antithetical to the entire
point of copyrights ability to encourage new stuff so if copyright should not be
life Plus 70 years what should it be is there a kind of Goldilocks zone where a
government granted protection is long enough to encourage new stuff to
a greater degree than a lack of protection would but not so much as to
have no effect on incentives and even actively harm creation by withholding
resources for artists to use adapt and remix the answer may be 15 years in the
2009 paper forever – a day calculating optimal copyright term its
author Rufus Pollock of the University of
Cambridge built up first of its kind theoretically an empirically grounded
model and concluded the optimal copyright term would be approximately 15
years with a 99% confidence interval extending up to 38 years at the most
existing copyright law protects new works for far far too long all such
lengthy protections do as better enable corporations to extract rent why create
something truly new when you can just milk something dry for two centuries due
to enforced laughs up a competition the sole purpose of copyright as a tool is
to benefit the publicly at large they’re encouraging a larger pool of ideas
enriching creators has only ever been the means of accomplishing that purpose
not the purpose itself a rich public domain enriches us all a small public
domain costs us all it is creatively impoverishing copyrights being as long
as they are serve to actively restrict our total knowledge base we believe long
copyrights help the little guy but copyright extensions are not for the
little guy they were not the results of grassroots organizing by millions of
poor artists they were about those with money wanting more of it the little guy
just tends to go along with it because of the promise of the potential of more
economic security for themselves and for their families if you’re earning
royalties from from a book you wrote as long as you need money to live you’re
likely going to be for continuing that passive income until your death and
you’ll even support terms that exceed your death out of the same concern for
your family and the generations you succeed you therein lies the problem
but there in ulcer lies the solution as it stands copyright reform poses a hell
of a challenge and the challenge is global however unconditional basic
income is a potential game-changer the unconditional provision of an income
sufficient for the meeting of basic needs as a monthly starting point would
weaken the popular support for long copyrights why support copyrights that
last seventy years beyond your death if you know you’re gonna be okay your
family will be okay your kids will be okay your grandkids will be okay and
your great grandkids will be okay if everyone starts each day with enough
money to live then obtaining money to live is no longer the all-encompassing
overriding concern that it is now right there’s also an opportunity here to use
how we fund ubi to accelerate the expansion of the public domain because
we want a large public domain upon which we can all use to build new ideas and
the granting of intellectual property rights is something we grant
collectively I propose we charge an annually increasing fee to those wanting
IP protection where the revenue goes immediately to every individual as their
share of what’s being withheld from the public domain call it an IEP fee and
dividend or IP the–and rebate the IP dividend intellectual property dividends
could work like a carbon fee in dividend and for the same reasoning by
introducing an annually increasing price for IP protection it would eventually
become too expensive for companies like Disney to continue excluding IP from the
public domain but at the same time the longer something is kept from the public
domain the public itself would be increasingly enriched so either way the
public wins to illustrate let’s take Mickey Mouse as an example imagine of
Walt Disney had been granted 15 years of protection on Mickey Mouse for an
initial fee of $10 at the end of 15 years to renew protection for another
year it could cost say $20 the next year would be $40 the next year
$80 these are numbers that most people can
afford especially Disney but the increase is exponential at such a rate
in 1966 on the 38th year of copyright protection which remember has been
calculated as the upper most boundary of an ideal length of protection for
maximum public benefit in the year of his death Walt Disney would have needed
to pay a hundred and sixty seven million dollars to maintain exclusive rights to
Mickey Mouse had the Walt Disney Company wished to then continue maintaining
exclusive rights after Walt’s death they could have done so but it would have
been increasingly expensive in 1970 the fee would have surpassed two billion
dollars in 1980 it would have surpassed two trillion dollars in 1980 with the
population of the u.s. being 226 million people each person’s share of the feed
Disney paid that year to prevent everyone from freely using Mickey Mouse
would have been around $12,000 that’s a basic income and it would have been paid
for entirely by Disney and not by any taxes whatsoever
realistically of course Disney could never pay 2 trillion dollars but that’s
exactly the point every year beyond 38 years of protection should be
prohibitively expensive to the point everyone looking to maintain exclusive
rights would need to eventually conclude it’s no longer worth it to maintain
exclusive rights at which point the IEP would become available to all but for
every year they do consider it still worth it the public being prevented from
a larger public domain would still benefit in the form of a cash dividend
when win and let’s not forget the public is the original funder behind all the
patented ideas anyway the public as investors are already owed a dividend
conclusion intellectual property is a zombie that needs to be shot in the head
so we can stop living forever the weapon capable of this great task is
unconditional basic income because so long as people require money to live
they’ll defend IP laws that aren’t actually in their best interests
to get back to the true purpose of IP laws the common good our goal should be
whatever works best to promote the progress of science and useful arts
not when imposes artificial scarcity on an infinitely reproducible non-physical
resource ideas are infinite and they all originate from a global Commons ideas
don’t just appear from the nothingness like particles and antiparticles in the
quantum foam of the universe everything is a remix all ideas build off of other
ideas and so we need a rich pool of common ideas from which we can all draw
zombies got added to the pool accidentally and we all benefited and
not at the expense of George Romero because he benefited too he’s been
immortalized nothing could be more fitting in the fact that through his
zombies he will live forever it’s time we reduced the perceived need for
intellectual property by guaranteeing everyone in unconditional basic income
and funding it as an IP dividend using royalty fees from patents and copyrights
and aside from expanding the public domain if we do that a patent for a
machine that can do everything we can do there’s a lot less scary if we’re all
earning its paycheck but then again maybe you’re more scared of robot
apocalypse movies then you are a zombie apocalypse movies in which case all I
can say is there’s no fate but what we make for ourselves please note that in
the spirit of this article I am self-publishing it directly into
the public domain via the Creative Commons no rights reserved
CCO license this works belongs to everyone now use it however you like I
like to end this with a quote from Richard Stallman from the GNU manifesto
in 1985 in the long run making programs free is a step toward the post scarcity
world where nobody will have to work very hard just to make a living people
will be free to devote themselves to activities that are fun such as
programming after spending the necessary 10 hours a week
required tasks such as legislation family counseling robot repair and
asteroid prospecting there will be no need to be able to make a living from
programming we’ve already greatly reduced the amount
of work the whole society must do for its actual productivity but only a
little of this has translated itself into leisure for workers because much
non-productive activity is required to accompany productive activity the main
causes of this or bureaucracy and isometric struggles against competition
free software will greatly reduce these drains in the area of software
production we must do this in order for technical gains and productivity to
translate into less work for us

2 thoughts on “The Zombification of Intellectual Property and the Tool That Could Finally Reform It

  1. An Excellent idea Scott. I was thinking along similar lines with a reducing licence fee payable to to patent/copyright holder after 10 years reducing by 10% over the next 10 years. But I like your idea better as it can fund UBI. Good stuff!

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