For the rich West and North, the copyright and patent monopolies are a moral nuisance and an impediment to progress, argues this anonymous guest contributor. For the third world, however, the practices are neocolonial and a matter of sovereignty and life and death. These reasons are often much stronger than the right to create.
There are many reasons for those of us in the first world to oppose the current “intellectual propety” regime:
- Some of us see it as trying to legislate water to run uphill
- Some of us appreciate the remix culture
- Some of us see it as blocking specific projects
- Some of us believe it’s morally iffy to create an artificial scarcity.
- Some of us simply don’t appreciate the way the system was constructed, on broken promises and overstated figures.
However, what you hear a lot, is the assumption – from others, mostly, that it’s all about not wanting to pay for a movie. Yes, go ahead and shake your head.
It may sound rude, but there’s a huge situation where that can be the logical driving force: the third world. There, the elaborate Pirate Wheel values are not necessarily as important as simple economic realpolitik.
First, for most third-world nations, the monopoly business is a simple net export situation. First-world content is broadly imported, but by and large, nobody is queuing in Los Angeles or Paris for the latest cinema hits from Cameroon, the new patented medicine developed in Tajikistan, or the top 40 music of Zimbabwe. A simple statistical analysis shows they get far less out of the monopoly industries than they pay out to the first world. By quitting the game, they can immediately staunch a flow of hard currency, and improve the balance of trade.
Second, these nations often desperately crave modernization. However, wherever they look, the path to the future goes via foreign monopolies. Want high-yielding, modern seeds for your farms? Sorry, patented, so you’ll pay a premium price and likely be forbidden from saving the resultant harvest for replanting. Need software to bring your business and government operations into the 21st century? Sure, if you’ll pay three times the per-capita income for a copy, and support contract, and forget about distributing it to each office that needs it. Those restrictions go away the moment the monopolies do – the guy running off copies on a street corner, or the local farmer who started with patent seeds, and the plant cranking out generic HIV medications, don’t care what you do with the product once you buy it.
There’s also a softer reason such reforms would appeal to the third world: a lack of entrenched interests. The first world’s monopoly beneficiaries are a small, but disproportionately influential group. In the third world, you might have a few poor local affiliates, backed only by the shadows of distant foreign firms. Abolishing monopolies doesn’t just make economic sense, it’s a strike for your nation’s sovereignty and uncorruptability by outsiders!
In a way, the current intellectual property system bears a surprising resemblance to manufacturing regulations placed on colonial states by their distant masters. It was an obvious system – by preventing the development of manufacturing in the colony, they can both line the profits of the home country, and prevent the colony from developing a free-standing economy of their own.
The second half of the 20th century was a period of great release for the third world, as it threw off formal colonial shackles. I see no reason the first half of the 21st century shouldn’t be the time period they cut that last cord to the old exploitation model.