What's the purpose of IP rights?

The purpose of intellectual property rights is to encourage the most creativity in a society. That’s why they were invented. In the words of Thomas Jefferson:

Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody.

By their nature, ideas are meant to be shared: When you give it to me, I now have it, and you can’t take it back. Yet at the same time, you have no less of it. In other words: Ideas are meant to spread. Ideas are like fire, not rocks.

So we as a society agreed to grant a temporary monopoly on exploiting a work (copyright) or an idea (patent).

For how long should that temporary monopoly be? Just enough to encourage the creator to create the work. No more and no less. Initially that was 7 years for copyright, extensible for another 7 years to a maximum of 14 years. Some seem to think that’s still the ideal copyright term. I would tend to agree. So does The Economist. Here’s another one.

The problem with the discourse today is that the discussion has changed so it’s no longer “ideas are inherently sharable, but we’ll grant a temporary monopoly for the greatest benefit of the collective” to “ideas should belong to their creator, and when they go into the public domain, that’s basically stealing it from the creator”.

Can we please remind ourselves what this whole thing was originally intended to be about?


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