Intellectual Contributions

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"Intellectual Contributions" concerns a proposal by Nicholas Bentley to rethink the current doctrine of intellectual property and replace it with a more liberal philosophy of "Intellectual Contributions".


Formulated in the essay: Trading Rights to digital content

Difference between IC and GPL/CC approaches

Nicholas Bentley introduces the subject as follows, to distinguish it from other common domain efforts such as the GPL and CC licensing schemes: The principle difference between what I propose and GPL/CC is that I recognise that most content probably is and needs to be in the common domain but at the same time I think authors should be paid. IC and the Rights Office proposes a system where every individual manifestation is in the commons, ie if someone has a copy they can consume it, but at the same time there is a rights structure backing it up so rights holders can also trade access. I feel that it is this business structure that is missing from the other schemes. The Indicare article has a section entitled 'Contributions vs. other regimes' that goes a little further.


Abstract: Rights and Intellectual Contributions examines how an intellectual work is produced and distributed in the intellectual property environment. It examines the way in which copyright uses the proxy of copies as a means to link intangible expression to the tangible world and how this link breaks down when digital copies are the transmission medium. It proposes a new, contributions model for the creation and dissemination of creative works and suggests an alternative regime under which individual rights to the creative effort, itself, are allocated.. The paper concludes by presenting a 'Rights Office' System that would facilitate a practical implementation of the model.

On "Intellectual Contributions" instead of IP: "If we look at intellectual property in terms of 'Intellectual Contributions' can it help us rethink what society is trying to achieve within the institution of copyright? Can it help us form a new regime for rewarding the intellectual effort that goes into the production of a new intellectual work? How would this regime work in practice?

When we think of property we think of a single owner holding possession of a physical object. When we think of contributions we think of more than one contributor to a common cause. It can be reasonably argued that most new intellectual works or ideas are a culmination of many works that came before. We can see a chain of ideas and thoughts, artists and thinkers, leading up to the new idea or creation and in most cases there are many chains leading to the new intellectual work. (Work: a distinct intellectual or artistic creation)

There is also a second set of contributions: those that flow back to the source of the new work after its creation. Often there are financial rewards filtering back to the author. There is also recognition in the form of citations and reviews that focus on the work and these reinforce the author's creative efforts retrospectively, contributing to his or her standing as an authority in the area of study." ( On Common Rights vs. Collective Rights:

"We all have rights, rights are good. For example, one of the most sort after common right is the right to free speech. There is sometimes a negative connotation to the word 'right' when it is applied to intellectual property and this stems from the fact that, in most copyright regimes, rights are focused on an individual who is granted exclusive reproduction rights to a resource that has no naturally limitations in the physical world. Unlike a parcel of land, which can only support a limited number of individuals, many people can access an intangible intellectual product without physically taking anything away from other users. Therefore, why give individuals rights over this unlimited common resource? The answer has always been that these rights will provide incentives for authors to create new works and then publish them for the good of all. I propose that we maintain this incentive but that we apply rights to intellectual property in a new and more just way, while still granting the author some singular rights for a limited term others should also be able to obtain rights to the creative product." (

Another One-Page Summary by Nicholas Bentley: Intellectual Contributions is a model that describes the production, exchange and trading of intellectual products such as books, music, film or software and defines the rights of all users to those products. It is argued that the contributions model provides a true understanding of the social exchange of intellectual works and that regulation of rights is better suited to supporting this exchange in the digital environment than any attempt to regulate copies as copyright has done in the analogue world.

The Intellectual Contributions model maintains that any new product is the sum of all the intellectual work that came before and goes on to broaden the scope of this contributions premise to include any support of the author’s work or promotion of the product. In the broad context of the contributions model there are many users: some contribute directly to the content (creators of pre-existing works, the authors and the editors), others contribute by way of the remuneration chain (distributors, reviewers and consumers).

Further, the contributions model recognises that it is the work of the author or artist that is the true private good (the exclusive property) in the chain of production of intellectual products and it is this work that needs to be encouraged and rewarded by any regulatory regime introduced by society. Copyright achieved this in the analogue world by granting the author the right to reproduce and distribute copies and since these copies were effectively private goods and the production of physical copies such as books were difficult and expensive to realise by private individuals the copyright system worked well and was mostly self regulating. However, this self regulating characteristic largely disappears, as do the private goods (copies), in the digital world when multiple copies can be made and distributed far and wide at the push of a computer button.

The contributions model suggests that a better way to promote new products is to continue to grant exclusive rights to the author and encourage others to support the author by allowing them to purchase/claim rights of access to the product thus registering their contribution to the work as a whole.

To implement this philosophy in practical sense the Rights Office system describes a distributed Internet system of secure databases (known as Rights Offices) that regulate these rights to the intellectual products. The significant feature of the Rights Offices is that they would be numerous and operate in a peer to peer fashion; different offices representing the rights of different users or groups of users. In this way ‘digital copyright’ becomes self regulating again because the rights of one user is always reconciled to the rights of a second (author and consumer say) by a dual registration in a pair of ‘peer offices’. In addition, every copy produced will have two unique identifiers attached to it that will, via the rights offices, anonymously identify the rights holders and the source of the intellectual product. In this way the entire intellectual product (ideas, concepts and expression) can enter the commons, anyone can access the product with valid identifiers, while the rights of those contributing to the work are firmly established. These established rights in turn allow for business models that encourage rights ownership and hence trade.

More Information

The latest Intellectual Contributions essay by Nicholas Bentley: Trading Rights to digital content

An earlier work by Nicholas Bentley: Rights and Intellectual Contributions

Blog commentary at