Steve Tobak argues for “Intellectual Property”

Steve Tobak spreads confusion at C|NET by arguing for “Intellectual Property”. With complete disregard for commercial vs. noncommercial use, Steve states that downloading unauthorized works while criticizing those who sell unauthorized copies is a “double standard”. He then trumpets the virtues of patents in general, while failing to distinguish between software idea patents, patents on tangible objects, or patents on pharmaceutical products designed for healthcare – all of which bring up very different issues. Steve says:

By definition, a patent, a copyright, or a trademark–intellectual property–entitles the owner to reasonable compensation for its use by others. It’s the law.

The word “compensation” implies that whenever you listen to or view a copy, the original author has worked for you and that he should be compensated accordingly. This absurdly puts listening and viewing copies on par with situations resembling a live performance. However, if one were to manufacture then sell a similar but patented toy or sell a product using another’s trademark, “compensation” is an inaccurate descriptor. What has occurred here is best described as “damages”, not a situation where work deserving of “compensation” has been done. Steve sums up:

We are a nation of laws. Without them, I doubt we would have the quality of life we have. And without intellectual property rights, I doubt we’d have technology-enriched lives. It’s not a perfect system, but it works pretty well. You either buy into that or you don’t. You can’t have it both ways.

Steve demonstrates that lumping these disparate laws together often produces incoherent, misleading, and all-or-nothing arguments. Arguing either for or against “Intellectual Property” invariably spreads confusion. If we wish to construct reasonable laws then we must avoid the temptation to argue in such abstract terms (“Intellectual Property”) and acknowledge their disparity.

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