Invention

Once everyone had a replicator – everyone would replicate the newest, coolest, best car.

And nobody would pay for it.

And the people who design cars wouldn’t have money to keep designing cars. And all of the advancement and innovation that we’ve seen since the first car and now would grind to a halt.

This is the cornerstone of the argument for so-called Intellectual Property. If I can’t find some way of extracting money from my invention, I won’t invent. The only way to extract money from an invention is via legal monopoly. Breach of legal monopoly is therefore theft because it denies me my rightful reward.

The logic fails at every step.

As many a creator has discovered, invention is its own reward. Or compulsion, if you prefer. Invention using computers is even more rewarding because, having built a thing once, we can effortlessly and endlessly replicate it. As well as alleviating that peculiar ‘itch’ that drives much of human creativity, digital inventors sometimes are indulged with community approbation and, occasionally, a pretty good chunk of change.

People invent because it’s an innate part of human nature. So is jealousy, of course, so it’s more natural for us to talk about ‘my’ idea than it is to talk about ‘an’ idea. Like three-year-olds, we exchange ideas, insights and other intellectual tidbits in exchange for social advancement. And, like three-year-olds, the recipients of the wit and invention of others honour the implicit contract: We express our delight and appreciation; we (mostly) attribute the idea properly; we reward it even in the absence of a contract.

Especially in the absence of a contract, I should say. Somebody who wants their reward up-front is usually resented and occasionally ridiculed.

But when, despite our best efforts, recognition and social advancement are not forthcoming, we try harder, not less. We change our conception of reward. We change our audience.

We do everything except stop inventing.

Posted: May 18th, 2010
Categories: geek, social commentary, soft-core, wonk
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