John Locke and Adam Smith

(IPRinfo 2/2012)

John Locke articulated the need of intellectual property. His pioneering ideas should be read in connection with Adam Smith’s much contested ideas about division of labor. Smith repeated his warning against the collusive nature of business interests, which may form cabals or monopolies to the detriment of consumers.

A third name to throw in naturally is Immanuel Kant, all too seldom mentioned in connection of intellectual property.

Locke and Smith probably thought of books, if the ideas of copyright crossed their mind. Plays were handled in England using the vehicle of public permission to stage a work. Composers’ needs were satisfied in connection of hiring the musical score so that both Mozart and Rossini actually got rich before the age of copyright in continental Europe.

The pioneers could not imagine the mass-market of intellectual property. These were created by steamers, railways, rotogravure printing press and ultimately the dramatic inventions that led to making paper of timber (pulp) so that the cost of printing paper dropped to 1/10th in 10 years. The costs and prices actually are well known today, especially in Finland, thanks to the recent extensive research on our forest industries.

Talking of technology and the so-called minimalists and maximalists in copyright we have the tendency of first thinking of music. But the great change happened before the advent of phonogram-records and broadcasting.

Plagiarism changed into a lucrative business only after the new printing procedures. It is not very reasonable to print without permission, if you first have to typeset all the book again. After photographic reprography the situation changed.

It seems to be reasonable to think that both the leading ideas of IPR and the expensive technology needed are quite often given a false interpretation when pondering upon the business-models of our digital era, the age of Internet.

Locke and Kant thought of single artistic and scientific works and their human creators. We still use that kind of conceptual framework in our legislation and in law-courts.

Now what is typical of mass-market? It is not interesting from the point of view of the wealth of nations, who owns intellectual property – the goods. It is utterly important that somebody owns them.

Today neither the people running shopping malls nor the customers give a hoot to the question, who owns the victuals, utilities, garments and other goods they are selling and buying. They think in terms of cash-flow and expenditure. The same seems to be true of works protected by copyright.

We are protecting the authors as we should be. At the same tame we are neglecting the issues of terms of sale and bargaining-power involved. In Finland we are discussing about free-lance journalists and photographers in terms of law and legal justification. This of course is necessary – but where is discussion about the economic conditions, the question of “wealth of nation” in intellectual property. Please, roll over Adam Smith. Smith was actually precede by the Finnish priest Antti Chydenius, but that is another story.