18 May 2011

A Practical Reason to Abolish IP

I’ve often criticized IP from both philosophical and utilitarian grounds, but I haven’t often addressed some of the specific benefits that would come from abolishing IP.  Anyhow, here’s a story that offers a glimpse of a future without IP:

As companies compete to digitize the textbook market, there is one approach that shakes the traditional publishing business model: open source textbooks, whose proponents believe online educational tomes should be free.
Many universities, including MIT and Carnegie Mellon, post course lectures online for free use. A New York Times article last year explained some of the barriers to applying the same approach to textbooks.
For one thing, the textbook authors must agree to have them distributed online without charging royalties — something that may work well in the software world, where engineers often work on projects while keeping a day job, but typically avoided by writers who put their sweat equity into one book at a time. Also, books for K-12 classrooms must meet state standards, and most states don’t have procedures in place for approving open source textbooks.

Open source textbooks are a step in the right direction.  If you follow the link, you will see that there are serious savings offered by the open source book model.  If IP were abolished, these effects would be even greater, for students could buy cheap bootlegs or “pirate” digital copies for free which, as anyone currently in college knows, would offer extremely serious savings.

Basically, publishers and authors would not be able to artificially restrict supply; their monopoly would effectively be ended.  Competing publishers could copy the text and produce it cheaply, forcing the original publisher to either update the books every quarter/semester/trimester or drive down the price of their own books to be competitive.  Of course, it’s a hassle for professors to change books every quarter, so students would, more likely than not, be able to get their books on the cheap.  Therefore, those currently in college should support the abolition of IP as it will help them save money.

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