Glyn Moody on the Ethics of Intellectual Monopolies

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= Glyn Moody - Keynote: Ethics of Intellectual Monopolies at FSCONS 2011

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"In the past, there have been two main classes of things we can share: physical objects and abstract ideas. Generally, people have regarded ideas as non-rivalrous, and so something that can and should be shared quite naturally (although many institutions have tried to put a brake on that for various reasons), whereas *not* sharing physical things is generally the rule because of the rivalrous nature of physical objects that have become property (the commons is obviously an important class of things that can and are shared).

But today, we have a third class of objects: digital artefacts like text, music, image and video files. These are not physical - although they have to be stored in some physical way - and they are not purely abstract like ideas: we can copy them and hand them around in various formats. So we need to think about what kind of sharing is appropriate for them.

The music and film industries are currently engaged in a war against the idea that these digital artefacts can be freely shared: the Digital Economy Act in the UK, HADOPI in France, ACTA globally. But these are artefacts with zero marginal cost; once the file is created, it can be passed on to every human being on this planet with the means to use that file, for effectively zero cost. This gives everyone with a computer/connection access to *all* human knowledge and creativity once it is digitised - an unprecedented situation.

I would argue the power of doing that - and the moral rightness of giving everyone in the world equal access to all knowledge and creativity - is now so great, that existing legal systems that try to apply intellectual monopolies like copyright and patents to stop it are not just unworkable (as we see) but ethically wrong. I believe that the arrival of this new class of digital artefacts with zero marginal cost brings with them a new imperative to share - and also means we will need new business models to sustain them."