So, wikipedia is dark today in protest of an initiative in congress to block sites that link to sites that infringe on copyrighted intellectual property. Ever noticed before how many times a day you use wikipedia ?

Here is what I don’t get about this whole idea of “copyrighted intellectual property”. Is it something advocated on moral grounds or on economic grounds ? I mean, when Bob sneaks into Alice’s vineyard and eats the grapes without permission, we view it as a moral atrocity; It’s just a wicked thing to do; It invokes the wrath of the gods; Moses explicitly forbade it. To be sure, it’s hard to pin down what exactly makes the vineyard belong to Alice without getting into a recursive definition of ownership, and if we try tracing back the vineyard from one legitimate owner to another we arrive to the first man who just fenced a piece of land and said “This is mine”. But here the economic argument kicks in — Most of us don’t begrudge this initial act of illegitimate fencing because the bastard who committed it was the founder of civil society. We like the idea of civil society. We like prosperity and growth. Without protection of private property we will have none of these.

But what about protection of “intellectual property” ? Clearly this is not a necessary condition for a civil society. It’s also not a necessary condition for production of knowledge and culture. We had Plato and Archimedes and Cicero and Shakespeare and Newton before it occurred to anybody that Bob has to gets Alice’s permission to reproduce a code that Alice wrote. Coming to think about it, when did the concept of intellectual property pop up anyway ? Waitaminute let me just check it up on wikipedia. Oops.. What did we ever do before wikipedia ?

The White House thinks that intellectual property is justified on economic grounds

Online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy, and threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle class workers and hurts some of our nation’s most creative and innovative companies and entrepreneurs. It harms everyone from struggling artists to production crews, and from startup social media companies to large movie studios.

I wonder if this assertion backed by some empirical research ? I realize some people lose their job because of online piracy. Also, Some people lost their jobs following the introduction of ATMs. But we view ATMs as positive development since it made a certain service way cheaper. My guess is that the same is true about intellectual piracy — it makes distribution of culture and knowledge cheaper and therefore makes also the production of culture and knowledge cheaper. True, some companies, particularly the established ones, are damaged by intellectual theft. Other companies, particularly startups, benefit. One may argue that intellectual piracy destroys incentive to produce and therefore no new culture or knowledge will be produced absent some protection for intellectual property. But this is a claim that can be empirically checked no ? We live in a world of file sharing and user generated (often stolen) content sites. Are there less books written ?