Copyright, Patent Monopolies Are Immoral Exploitation Of Third World

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.


  1. Isak Gerson

    Very true. Wrote a (swedish) text on the subject some time ago

  2. Nick Taylor

    Copyright Colonialism

    And if you take a look at this video on what Monsanto (et al) are attempting to do to the food-chain, it’d be tempting to think that it’s every bit as damaging as physical colonialism

    They call it biopiracy – but it looks to me more like what disney did back in the day in its appropriation of the public domain. “enclosure”

    Which is basically wealthy interests claiming ownership of the public domain, and then getting lawyers to draw up the title deeds afterwards. It’s Information Enclosure. Piracy is something else.

  3. Colin

    At least with software, GNU/Linux is available with a wide range of free applications. Of course, Microsoft and cronies don’t mention that; they prefer to create non standard document formats to try to lock owners – sorry – LICENCEES – into MS Office.

    As for the GM crop lobby, what they are doing to the planet in the name of their bottom lines is beyond obscene!

  4. steelneck

    Related news tip. Similar, but not copied, image found to breach copyright. This ruling means that all of us are criminals since we all are taking photographs of common things around us. Both pictures is of a red bus traveling across Westminster Bridge where everything but the bus is desaturated to black and white making the red bus stand out, a very common trick. The two pictures was not even taken from the same place with a completely different perspective. The first one with a much wider angle and much more surroundings, the second a lot more zoomed in. This means that any one taking taking a photograph of the moon and can be ruled to pay damages to any one deciding to sue them for it. If we compare this to other areas, like writing text, any one who has written a critical text of how copyright and patents hurt third world countries could drag Mr Falkvinge to court for this blog post, and win. This is what the ruling in the article above really means.

    To get back on this topic. A third world country could be said to be behind, to get anywhere they have a lot of catching up to do, but since these monopolies forbids them to do so, they can’t and are deemed to stay behind. Development in any area, no matter if we are talking about personal development, development of skills or the development of whole countries, is about standing on the shoulders of giants. That is to build on earlier knowledge and achievements. Like a writer, painter or photographer that learns and get inspired by earlier works. Authors pushing the development forward do not emerge from vacuum, just like a country cannot go from undeveloped to something more modern without taking all the steps that we did.

  5. rutros

    I agree regarding the copyright, but I think the analysis is not complete. This “taxation” from the US of the developing countries (and other counties) is the same as for trademarks, design patents, trade secrets, etc. Better call this a taxation of imaginary assets. It is a well-known fact that the physical weight of US export is getting lighter every year, while the weight of the export from development countries remains in relative terms

    The only part that is different i just patents, which only lasts for about 20 years. However there are numerous studies that shows that developing countries get the patented technology anyhow through subsidiaries to western countries in the globalization of trade we have now. In fact those investments are necessary in order to lift the development because the threshold is not in ideas, but in capital.

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