Check out this episode of the Exponent podcast by Ben Thompson and James Allworth.
Ben Thompson is the author of the stratechery blog which is an amazing read for Ben’s insights into technology. James Allworth, I am not much aware of but he was terrific in the above episode. I began following this podcast recently and have only heard one episode prior to this (on Xaomi, again a great episode; in fact the one on copyrights and patents continues on a point mentioned in the Xaomi episode).
This episode was great for a couple of reasons. I felt Ben was caught out of element in the episode, which is unlike how I have read/ heard him previously where he is confident and authoritative. In this episode he was against abolishing copyrights – which is what James was advocating for – but he didn’t have convincing arguments. So he resorted to the usual arguing tricks like prop up examples and try to get the argument to be about the example (and when it still failed he would withdraw the example claiming it wasn’t appropriate here). Or he’d just take a firm stand and refuse to budge. Or incite James by insults and such. Or try and win by conflating the argument with something else which had no relation to it. Basically, usual debating tricks I believe, but it was fun to hear and I was surprised to hear him resorting to these.
Eventually when Ben clarified his point it made sense to me. His argument is that patents are harmful when they apply to “ingredients” (parts of an invention, e.g. pull to refresh) but he has no issues when it applies to a whole thing (e.g. medicine). Moreover, the question is whether the presence of the patent is required to spur invention (not required in the case of technology, required/ preferred in case of medicines) and whether society would be better off without the monopoly afforded by patents (again, no in the case of tech as it leads to barriers of enter and unnecessary patent wars and trolling for new inventions). Copyright, for Ben, is neither harmful to society nor will its absence spur more innovation, so he doesn’t see why it must be abolished. He seems to agree that copyright has its negatives and is harmful in some cases, but he still feels it is useful to make supply scarce (by preventing others from copying the work).
James agrees with most of these but his point is that the same effect can be arrived at without copyrights. Maybe by innovation in other areas, or by agreements between the creator and audience. His argument is more about considering a world without as an option, and to look at how things can be done differently. Moreover, such a world will lead to more creativity and he feels that’s better in the long run.
I can’t write more as I have a flight to catch, so I’ll end this post now. And it’s better to hear the arguments than my summary. Go check out the podcast. It’s a great one! Skip the first few minutes as it is some user feedback etc.