2012 #2 - The Value of Intellectual Property

Lat week I sent the first of the newly-revived IT Skeptic's newsletter The Skeptical Informer in a new format: a (roughly) weekly letter on one topic, either topical or mined from the IT skeptic's archives.

This week, I want to talk about the perceived value of intellectual property on the internet, or rather the lack of any perceived value.

Kim Dotcom has turned out be quite a cool guy; our New Zealand police behaved appallingly; and I don't believe MegaUpload did anything illegal, any more than the postal service does something illegal if somebody posts pirate DVDs.

Nevertheless Kim wouldn't be living in a $30M mansion in the best country on earth if it weren't for theft of intellectual property ... by his millions of customers using his service and others like it.

I was involved in a twitter discussion on why digital books cost so much, sometimes more than a hardcopy. A primary principle of capitalism is that something costs what the market will pay for it. Digital books aren't selling bits, they're selling ideas, IP. They are absurdly cheap. People will only pay me a couple of dozen dollars to own my IP permanently encapsulated in a book, but they'll pay tens of thousands to get the same IP from me as a consultant. WTF is that about?

If digital books cost more than hardcopy, perhaps it is because the producers want a premium for the risk of that book being pirated on torrent sites. The Indians have freely copied hardcopy books for decades but for most of the world it was generally too much effort ... apart from university students who will go to great lengths to steal anything, even photocopying a whole textbook. But we are into a whole new ballgame now: the internet makes it easy and quick to steal other people's intellectual property; and that internet has somehow spread the idea that this is acceptable behaviour.

I am constantly appalled by the requests for piracy that pop up as comments on my blog. They mostly ask for free copies of the ITIL books, "dumps" of ITIL exams, copies of training courses. One employee of a huge hardware-and-software company asked me directly for a free copy of one of my books. (No). One of the requests for stolen IP came from a big consultancy.

If you really want to be appalled, take a look at what is on the torrent sites.

Of course you may not be as upset by all this as I am if you don't try to make your living as a content provider. You might subscribe to the idea that nobody owns content, that you have the right to ignore copyright and subvert DRM. Or you might view it as a trivial offense, like illegal parking, something that you do but don't admit and don't feel terribly guilty about.

I wonder where it ends. I think it ends with the only people creating content being:

  • those who want to sell something else: vendors, consultants, trainers
  • a fanatical few who create because they feel compelled to, either for ego or for a passion for the topic, or who want to share for philanthropic reasons

Neither of those groups have any real motivation to produce a quality product. I guess that doesn't matter to most readers because the 21st Century has abandoned quality but it sure matters to me. I want to produce independent, useful, quality information and I want to make a fair living doing so. That is very difficult, and my chances are diminishing over time.

The internet is driving down the value of intellectual property, in both senses: what you pay and what you get.

Related posts on the blog:
Limiting the Crowd to their own time at their own expense: the open community's distate for commerce in all but the largest of online communities the supposed consensus community content is actually created by a fanatical few. This is made worse by the online world's distaste of people making a living.

The community must police digital theft on the internet the price of digital respect is constant vigilance

Open Source is political: Blows Against The Empire open source tools will never prosper in business until they get aboard business.

Acend Corporate Learning systematically plagiarises copyright content What are we to make of a company whose livelihood is their intellectual property, who then set out to systematically rip off the property of others, and blatantly too? {They did eventually stop and take the content down]

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