Against Intellectual Monopoly

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Against Intellectual Monopoly  
Against intellectual monopoly cover.jpg
Author(s) Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine
Country United States
Subject(s) Economics
Genre(s) Non-fiction
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Publication date 2005 (online, 1st edition)
2008 (print)
Media type Print, Digital
Pages 298 p.
ISBN 9780521879286
OCLC Number 187300457

Against Intellectual Monopoly is a book written by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine. The text details the utilitarian case against intellectual property, arguing that neither copyright nor patent are part of the free market order, but rather they are the product of positive law, a modern invention of the state, and one that is the enemy of technological progress.

The authors argue that intellectual property is a misnomer; that the term monopoly is more accurate and the text examines the institution the same way all monopolies are examined in economic literature.



Chapter 1: Introduction

An overview of the central theme: intellectual property is in fact intellectual monopoly and hinders rather than helps innovation and creation.

Chapter 2: Creation Under Competition

Would the world be devoid of great or lesser works of art without copyright? This chapter illustrates the markets thriving without intellectual monopoly.

Software industry

In few industries has there been such extensive innovation as in the software industry – and few technologies have changed our way of life as much. Virtually none of the innovations in this industry took place with the protection of intellectual monopoly.

Prior to the 1981 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Diamond vs Diehr, it was not possible to patent software at all and the current burst of patent lawsuits originates in the subsequent extension of patents to software products in the 1994 Federal Circuit Court ruling In re Alapat.

Not only did patents play no role in software innovation, copyrights played only a limited role. While computer programs were often copyrighted, in the early years of the PC industry, copyright was seldom respected or enforced.

Microsoft made little effort either legal or technical to protect their "intellectual property" in their early creative days. It is in the 21st century, that they invest their time and energy in the prevention of copying.

The best evidence that copyright and patents are not needed and that competition leads to thriving innovation in the software industry, is its thriving and innovative portion developing open source software.


Without a copyright, how can the author of a novel get paid? During the nineteenth century in the United States, anyone was free to reprint a foreign publication. The American publishers found it profitable to make arrangements with English authors, and these authors sometimes received more from the sale of their books by American publishers, where they had no copyright, than from their royalties in England. (At the time, the US market was comparable in size to the UK market.)

The American publisher who bought the manuscript had every incentive to saturate the market for that particular novel as soon as possible, to avoid cheap imitators to come in soon after. This led to mass publication at fairly low prices.

This enabled the establishment and rapid growth of a large and successful publishing business in the United States; also, and more importantly, it increased literacy and benefited the cultural development of the American people by flooding the market with cheap copies of great books. As an example: Dickens’ A Christmas Carol sold for six cents in the US, while it was priced at roughly two dollars and fifty cents in England.

In the modern publishing world, virtually everything written is copyrighted, whether or not intended by the author. There is, however, one important exception – documents produced by the U.S. government. Despite being available for free downloading, some documents became genuine bestsellers (like the 9/11 Commission Report, with the first publisher selling over a million of copies).

News industry

Most major news agencies have a website where news stories may be viewed for, at most, the cost of a free registration. Far from discouraging the copying of news stories, most sites invite you to "email a copy of this story to a friend." In fact, news is available so freely over the Internet, it is possible to create an entire newspaper simply by linking to stories written by other people. An example of such a "newspaper" is the site run by Matt Drudge, which consists almost entirely of links to stories on other sites. Yet the incentive to gather the news has not disappeared.

Especially noteworthy is the market for financial and most other valuable news. Here, highly impatient customers pay substantial fees to purchase from Bloomberg, Moodys, or Reuters the real-time news and quotes. The news and quotes then trickle down from websites to cable TVs, to national newspapers, and so on until, often a whole day later, the NYSE quotes are published in most newspapers around the world.

Chapter 3: Innovation Under Competition

What would happen to innovation without patents?

Chapter 4: The Evil of Intellectual Monopoly

Why are patents so bad anyway?

Chapter 5: The Devil in Disney

What is the big deal with copyright?

Chapter 6: How Competition Works

How would artists and innovators get paid without copyrights and patents?

Chapter 7: Defenses of Intellectual Monopoly

What is the conventional wisdom and why it is wrong.

Chapter 8: Does Intellectual Monopoly Increase Innovation?

This is the heart of the matter: there is no evidence that intellectual monopoly serves the purpose that both the U.S. Constitution and economic logic dictates. There is no evidence it "works" to increase creation and innovation.

Chapter 9: The Pharmaceutical Industry

But what about life-saving drugs?

Chapter 10: The Bad, the Good, and the Ugly

A look at various policy options.


See also