In the debate over intellectual property between so-called “hawks” and “doves,” we here at the Captured Economy project put ourselves squarely in the dovish camp. While we see a role for well-designed patent and copyright laws, decades of recklessly expanding the scope and increasing the level of IP protection have thrown our laws badly out of balance. See this blog for regular updates on the unhappy details.
A new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation takes a decidedly different view. Painting with a broad brush, it labels IP critics as ill informed, lacking in nuanced analysis, or in the pocket of Big Something:
IP rights have come under attack from a loose coalition of academics, nongovernmental organizations, multilateral groups, and others whose opposition threatens to undermine innovation, growth, and progress on key global challenges. IP opponents make specious arguments to falsely portray IP as a tool to benefit large corporations and developed countries at the expense of human freedom, the diffusion of ideas, and growth in developing countries. To maximize global innovation, the international community needs to forge a stronger and more wide-ranging consensus on the importance of IP to every country—developed and developing alike. Countries with robust IP rights should work together on all fronts to push back against opponents, make the case that IP is central to global progress, and strengthen the international framework of IP rules, norms, and cooperation.
The report begins promisingly enough, with the standard fare of pro-IP arguments, mainly focused on the benefits for innovation and international trade. While we have covered the arguments for why IP is not necessary for many types of innovation and can prove a hindrance in some cases, there is one argument that the report harps on quite heavily: that developing countries with stronger IP protections perform better than their peers in foreign investment.
Bryce Farbaugh has addressed this argument specifically. Wile many developing countries with tougher IP laws do attract more investment, the causal relationship is not clear. It is possible that nations adopt strict IP laws to attract investment, or these places were already attractive and adopted stricter IP laws for other reasons. This is not to say that IT&IF is wrong, but that the implications of the facts they cite are unclear.
Most of the report, however, veers off course into an attack on IP skeptics. The “naughty list” naming intellectuals and institutions alone is three pages long. Some of these ne’er-do-wells, like Dean Baker and Paul Krugman, the authors put into an anti-globalization left camp. Others, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Cato Institute, “erroneously reject IP rights as simply being government-granted monopolies.” Worst of all, neither the Niskanen Center nor The Captured Economy made this rogue’s gallery.
As disappointing as the report was to read (I was hoping to have my dovishness seriously challenged), it is an interesting look into the IP-hawk mindset. IT&IF’s arguments for IP are one-dimensional and lack nuance, while their attacks on doves border on the conspiratorial. The silver lining to all of this is that if doves can first show that we are far from the radicals the report makes us out to be, and then inject the nuance into the IP debate that IT&IF won’t, reform just might be possible.