Who Owns Intellectual Property?

Online forum now closed. Is intellectual property becoming community property? While the impact of change on the valuation of IP is of concern to some respondents, others wonder whether the issues are overblown. HBS professor Jim Heskett sums up responses to this month's column.
by Jim Heskett

Summing Up

Is intellectual property becoming community property? Is a new generation of users and consumers of intellectual property produced by new technologies bringing totally different assumptions and attitudes to bear on its ownership? Has new technology induced us, according to one respondent to this month's column, to "be bad actors with respect to copyright"? Is, as David Albert Newman suggests, " ... pirating intellectual property ... for the good of society ... (if) this is a correction to dysfunctional markets" acceptable? Is, as cantubury suggests, "stewardship ... a more realistic term today (with regard to IP) ... (in contrast to) Ownership ... a term from the days of the 'industrial revolution'"? Do you agree that in his words, "... in the multiverse, the more we give away, the more comes to us"? Or, as David L puts it, "... rights only limit the growth of innovation"?

The "societal view" of intellectual property was taken by Harsh Honmode, who said " ... a lifelong royalty on ideas will only dampen the spirit of another creative being to make it better." As Gustavo Fonseca put it, "Shouldn't we (as common people) be thinking into how to share solutions…?) ... Our ideas, our knowledge, should be public."

Or do you feel, as Gaurav does, that "the creator is the owner! If not, people will not create"? (Of course, one might ask him, "But who's the creator?") Umair Naeem puts much the same sentiment this way: " ... there has to be a defining identity that uniquely defines that idea ... if you do create something, you do own it, until you decide to do otherwise ...." To the degree that customers are becoming both creators and appropriators of intellectual property, it creates questions as to how the original creator and "owner" should act. As Gary King suggests, "Treating customers like thieves is a certain recipe for failure."

The impact of technological, social, and legal change on the valuation of intellectual property was a concern of several respondents. Santhanam Krishnan said, for example, that "assuming even the valuation is possible, it is a moot question as to how many buyers of such companies (unable to afford to defend their IP) would be willing to pay for that." Jon Oakes commented, "Investors should put more emphasis on how brand IP is managed in the environment rather than on the IP asset itself." Paul Jackson adds that "... it's got to be businesses (that defend IP) ... as laws get in the way of doing it right." This raises the question as to whether IP has the most value to those with the resources to defend its ownership, a kind of survival of the fittest philosophy?

Yet another school of thought asks whether these issues are overblown. D. R. Elliott commented that "much of the internet economy has the life span of a mayfly .... These economics will fall below the threshold of legal advocacy for infringement prosecution. The angst ... seems(s) highly overwrought." Gerald Nanninga asks what's new. In his words, "Creative people have been exploited since the beginning of mankind ... the lyrics of the Who apply: 'Meet the new boss (the consumer who rips you off), same as the old boss (the corporation who ripped you off).'"

So many questions, so little time and space. What do you think?

Original Article

Two Chinese students, entrepreneurs designing a start-up involving software and products linked to an Internet website to be developed and distributed in China, had to come up with a realistic business plan projection a couple of years ago. It required an estimation of the share of potential revenues that would be siphoned off by others appropriating the students' ideas. They decided that 60 percent would be a realistic loss rate—a stark reminder of the perils of owning intellectual property in China at that time.

Turning to the Internet itself, and particularly to content-sharing sites, the matter of ownership is challenged in a different way. Content produced by news media as well as individuals acting as professionals or amateurs is being copied, spliced, and represented essentially as something so new and unique that it is often downloaded by hundreds of thousands of viewers who might not have watched the original material. Who owns the result? Does anyone owe others for the use of the content? If so, how much and for what share? Or has the culture of "free" become so deeply imbedded in the minds of a new generation of users that content developers can only hope for partial, occasional, or eventual financial rewards for their efforts?

This brings to mind some aspects of the way that the Internet facilitates cooperation in the generation of intellectual capital ranging from new product development to research. It helps explain why the Gen Xers we discussed several months ago find it quite natural to work in teams, either in face-to-face contact or online. In some cases, it is producing remarkable results. But whose work is it? Who owns the result?

While pondering these questions, I visited the website of the branding consultancy Wolff Olins, responsible for creating the branding for (RED), which raises money for The Global Fund being promoted by Bono and Bobby Shriver. (RED) is a brand, a piece of intellectual property that was designed purposely to be co-opted by others wishing to incorporate it into their advertising. Organizations such as Apple, Gap, and American Express have promoted their products and services using (RED) while raising money for The Global Fund.

Wolff Olins' homepage presents a provocative redefinition of brands as practical platforms that enable people to do things. In its words, "As brands become less the property of an organisation and more the banner of a movement, ownership will become even looser. Logos will be things other organisations, and individuals, can borrow and adapt." That belief, they maintain, will require that some companies, in their own best interests, relinquish control over brands and "be more generous" with consumers. In other words, they take the risk of transferring ownership and quality control of what used to be called their brand to others. In this case, who owns the intellectual property?

More generally, are views of ownership of intellectual property changing? If so, how will it affect the way intellectual property is valued for financial purposes? Are laws worldwide regarding intellectual property out of date? What do you think?

    • Jon Oakes
    • founder, Cruxy.com
    These are the types of trade-offs (between the run-away viral benefits of openness and the legal protections of proprietary ownership) that media creators, marketers, software developers, bloggers and others face on a daily basis. The Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org/) has tried to build a legal framework for the variety of ways that creators might want to slice and dice ownership over their work. But even a clever legal framework won't help when borrowing, mashing and outright re-use are accepted cultural norms and when you are dealing on a global scale (where legal protections may not stretch as far as your content does!) . I think there is still room for legal frameworks but that business owners (like your Chinese Entrepreneur example above) need to build this new "loose-IP" cultural context into their business model and into their market differentiation. Investors should put more emphasis on how brand IP is managed in this environment rather than on the IP asset itself.
    • DavidL
    I think, the value of intellectual property should diminish with time. It is happening quicker in the age of information. In the past, a company may have the law to protect such rights, but with the movement of innovation moving at a quciker pace, such rights only limit the growth of innovation. Indeed, as can be seen with open source projects, it is difficult for companies to keep up with grass root projects. Ultimately, a brand may give companies benefit by attaching a name to a product, in the long run, nevertheless, the company will need to build more innovative products. Like in the fashion industry, copycats are there, but is the company willing to embrace with the new or sink with the old?
    • CJ Cullinane
    Intellectual property has been changing for many years. The battles over music/MP3s, software, and the written word have raged for years now without a solid definition of ownership. It is a complex matter that will have to be studied under new ground rules. These new rules may have to take the form of assumptions and observations versus the traditional laws.

    Some of these assumptions could be that the new definition of ownership is boarderless, not a specific country or specific law. That intellectual property, in any form, is global property because it is difficult to protect (if not impossible). That the attitude regarding intellectual property has changed drastically in the younger generations and will continue to change.

    These are just a few of the assumptions I see as making the present laws obsolete and new laws necessary. I believe these new laws will be an evolution from the 'old' laws and will adapt as technology changes. It will be interesting to see this evolution unfold.
    • Paul T. Jackson
    • information consultant; writer, Trescott Research
    You bring up any number of questions and situations that would be hard to respond to without a long dissertation.

    First, the idea of "culture of 'free'".

    This has come about initially from the publishers of materials who, without giving back any renumeration to the authors, granted rights to others to put that material into databases for searching online in Dialog and more recently other web sites.

    This is happening even with Professional membership journals whereby a member writes something voluntarily as an article, and instead the "article" become a long letter to the editor...and anyone can have it...or so they think. I've had several things of mine show up this way and have had to have them pull it down. I don't give IP away, unless it is for a colleague, or my organizations.

    After the publishers, comes the laws. The copyright acts, the TEACH act, the DMCA act and all the other crap that congress has passed and changed nearly every year has made it so impractical to know about copyright and what one can or can't do with a piece of intellectual property that people have just taken the attitude of "why care?" Add to that all the state laws which also come into play as to what one can use or not use in "fair use" or in a controlled classroom, and it gets even harrier...so people just figure as Google and others have, that if they've done something wrong they get sued and then protract with all their money, the outcome of the trial.

    And generally if the publishers get something, none is passed on to the author in any case. The Tasini vs NYT et al did win the electronic question of print "first rights doctrine" versus electronic publication of the same...and I have to ask why Google and the Universities (including my alma mater, to my chagrin) continue to mount electronically non-public domain source material to there "Library" project, I don't understand...except that no one, not even the government wants to spend money to fight it. Actually UMI (University Microfilms, inc.) was the first to do this en mass, without so much as a single outcry. That was probably because only Universities could afford the microfilm and hard copy photo copies weren't being made until around the mid 1960s.

    Similarly, lots of material is being stolen from web sites and used by other's web sites. In fact one case, where the perpetrator stole both the look and "feel" of a designed site including a special application that was written for the web master who initially designed the site. The application was coded by a friend. The friend nor the web designer could not without hiring expensive lawyers get the host to take down the site, under new laws developed by...who else, the courts.

    The crux of this is that the courts don't help in matters of justice any longer either...people can't do what is right (without tremendous paperwork, because the perpetrator can then sue the hosting company. Individual IP owners are at the mercy of those who think it is OK to steal.

    The commons copyright group started by Larry Lessig has done some things to help the individual fight back the publishers and others, so that people will know who owns what and who shall be compensated.

    Not finally, but the last thing I'll discuss, is the situation whereby programmers would offer free material online...since the days of FIDO and Compuserve, for their various buddies working on software projects. I had one programmer working for me when I owned a software house, who had a great little utility for PASCAL, something like TinyURL. It became a hit and we were being asked to send floppies to any number of programmers. Our accountant figured out that it cost our company $30 every time we did this, so we stopped giving it away and started charging for it. Of course, no one in the US would buy it, but a few Europeans did...although at the time the government wasn't allowing software to be exported.

    So to finish or recap; the Publishers, the government laws, the justice departments, and the software programmers, are in my estimation responsible for the idea that IP is free...when it isn't.

    What we do next to help the authors and others make a decent living, is anyone's guess, but I suspect it's got to be businesses that carry it forward, as the laws get in the way of doing it right.
    • Gustavo Fonseca
    • CEO, Poder Digital - Venezuela
    Dear Readers/ Professor,

    Since many centuries humankind have shared knowledge through a variety of ways and all of them accessible for those whom needed it.

    We, as part of that same humankind, have violated this ancient principle that let us get into our actual point of development (software, Hardware, literature, inventions, etc.). Then, I can only admit this new invention of copyright may be stopping future progress, or else? May our generation be enough clever to dismiss this obstacle and get on track again?

    Shouldn't we (as common people) be thinking into how to share solutions related to potential water shortage in the future or all the issue related to food production for the rest of the planet for the next 100 to 200 years? Our ideas, our knowledge, should be public and publicated..., and as Mr. Carl Sagan used to say: "with billions and billions and billions of stars...( )... this little blue dot is our only home our spacecraft"

    Best to all.
    • Harsh Honmode
    In a country like India, it will be tough to enforce the IP laws even if they exist.

    If one is able to separate the GREED of earning lifelong from a idea, probably the pains of IP rights being misused can be alleviated.

    It will be very difficult, if not impossible to get a royalty (like they do on books) on an idea whcih can be modified and adapted in an ever changing world. As it has been said in one of the comments, a lifelong royalty on ideas will only dampen the spirit of another creative being to make it better (or more so prompt him to copy and not pay for it).

    A good idea will find its way. Better to encourage the propogation by auctioning the IP there and there a current value, without dreaming of what profits the idea can earn in the next 100 years.
    • Richard Kisang
    • Consultant, Aberd Business Solutions
    Intellectual Property laws is lagging behind technological innovations. Knowledge access is limited in the developing world. Intellectual Property laws have to be innovative and progressive in facilitating knowledge sharing in a global village so as to bridge the economic, social and political divide.

    Enterpreneurs should design their revenue models to be sustainable in the long term. The operational model should focus on the social benefits of the innovation for the revenue model to be sustainable.

    IP laws should not be an excuse for making technology unaffordable. For instance, mobile banking technology has a potential of deepening financial access in Africa, but high costs charged by mobile telephony operators inhibit this growth.

    Motivation to innovate should come from the desire to help make the world a better place and contribute to it rather than taking away from it. We should be asking "What can I do rather?" than "What is in it for me?"
    • Manjunatha
    • Hebbar, HCL Technologies
    There will always be two sides for any proposition of societal impact. Creators have their own purpose while they should always keep in mind- the beneficiaries. Any invention or innovation if it fails to reach the targeted audience - mostly the larger part of the society in one way or the other, will remain limited in its use and application. This only ensures that someone else will also try and do something similar or drastically different about this - either for gain or for someone else's loss. I think it is important to see the larger picture of the impact of any IP than just the creator. We have only seen closed systems go through too much of difficulty in keeping the 'core' protected than gaining out of the differentiator. If we calculate the ROI - Return On Intellectual property, the cost of protection would have significant portion of sunken benefits.

    If inventions like electricity or bulb, remained caged in guarded closets, the entire world would have been continued in dark? I think, NO. Someone else would have surely found the same solution, may be differently. Inventions might be accidental. But, innovations are always purpose oriented. In effect, both have significance to the larger portion of the society than just the creators.

    I think Intellectual Property should only signify the thought leadership of the individual or organization behind the 'idea' and associated 'results'. They should not continue to own the same for ever! We should acknowledge the fact that they are the first to find, work and show the world about this wonderful 'idea' & its impact. Beyond this, it should be gifted to the larger audience to enable them use it - than, steal or replicate cheaply. This way, we will be able to protect the interest of everyone. Monetary issues associated with the underlying research cost, time, risks etc., should be appropriately covered while distributing the 'idea' to the rest. But, ownership of IP should be at large to make the innovation really great!

    I think Participatory Research and Public IP will lead the way forward....

    • Anonymous
    Even though digital IP sharing devaluate tangible IP financially, it is actually ethical to share such property with the intent of nonprofit and goodwill as long as the sharing platform is limited to a single economy.
    • RNP
    • CEO, theRPcompany
    I am always amused that people who promote theft of others' intellectual property almost always do it by having the audacity to tell others what is their self interest...

    That belief, they maintain, will require that some companies, in their own best interests, relinquish control over brands and "be more generous" with consumers.

    I remember when those promoting music theft through Napster promoted the same argument. Do you not think it is up to the owners of the intellectual property, and not those who would steal it, to decide what is or is not in their own self interests?
    • Gaurav
    • IP Manager, E I Dupont
    The creator is the owner! if not, people will not create.

    Any innovation should be given exclusive rights as in the case of patents. royalty depends on how much value the person has added to a particular product. If a person merely copy pastes, he shudnt given the benefit. There ceratinly can be legal body for handling such matters.
    • Anonymous
    Apologies for this long post - skip it unless you are really interested in copyright in the digital Internet age. To answer your core question, yes, the existing laws are fundamentally out of date relative to the Internet. It's a serious problem. I've been intensively learning and thinking about it for the past eight years.

    I became immersed in the copyright vs. Internet topic while serving on the board of a company as a venture investor. The company, Streamcast, was one of the three defendants in MGM vs. Grokster, arguably the most important copyright case in digital era.

    The SCOTUS Justices were persuaded by the media industry and provided the industry with the copyright inducement standard. There really wasn't even a conflict between the 7th court ruling on Aimster and the 9th that Streamcast's software was legal under Sony Beta Max, but they didn't seem to understand the architectural differences of one being a software product (Morpheus) and the other being a central service (Aimster) and granted cert.

    As Larry Lessig pointed out after the ruling they basically legislated what Senator Orin Hatch had failed to achieve with his much derided and tabled inducement bill. There were many great technology companies such as Intel and Verizon, and freedom of information oriented entities like the ALA that provided amicus briefs in support of the defendants.

    While I am not a lawyer, the result as I understand it is that the bright line test of Sony Beta Max which Sony won after three trips to the Supreme Court has been blurred. That test basically said that a staple article of commerce had to have the potential of substantial non-infringing use and if it did, then it was legal even if many uses could be infringing (consider the computer itself for instance). Now any company can be sued by a copyright holder if one email from one employee appears to have induced anybody to infringe copyright, years after the fact, making it a lingering tertiary liability risk for the company.

    If this law had existed in Sony's VCR era we likely would not have the VCR or many consumer electronic products. That bright line was critical to innovation. This is not a good situation for Internet innovation or citizens who are also being sued for sharing content with fellow citizens. The same basic P2P networking approach that came out of file sharing (Kazaa) went on to power Skype for instance which is obviously an important innovation.

    Computers are meant to save, copy, network and process files so impeding that process is similar to arguing that computers should be hobbled. In theory does the computer itself induce infringement? Does the Internet itself induce us to be bad actors with respect to copyright? How about our desktop printers and our DVD burners?

    Is it appropriate to take an Orwellian stance here and have central surveillance know absolutely everything we do in the privacy of our own home with our computers and the Internet such that anything that is not "allowed" with content is stopped? Think about being required to swipe your Amex card when you view and when you print out your article instead of letting us read it for free. Copyright holders would love such a scenario of knowing exactly what you do with content everywhere and charging for every use. While that scenario is plainly rediculous it is not beyond consideration from a copyright owner's perspective. Is that kind of leverage of the network good for society?

    It is entirely up to the copyright holder to decide where and when to bring the battle so the mere statement by an industry leader like Apple's Rip, Mix, Burn campaign, while seemingly quite inducing to infringe did not attract litigation. Enforcement is selective.

    Lessig's efforts to reform the copyright system including his well-intentioned Creative Commons effort came pretty much to naught thus far at least in terms of meaningful copyright reform. This was apparently so discouraging to him that he has refocused on political corruption as his main cause. It seems his read is that as long as media controls the legislative process with respect to copyright that nothing will change in copyright for the better.

    Similarly, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has tried and valiantly defends the principals involved in litigation in this field, but has not been able to resolve it either. Litigation continues between copyright holders and Internet entities and users relatively unabated.

    There is no question that political influence by the media companies and their lobbyists which Lessig has taken up now is a big issue in the copyright collision with the Internet. Media has long been important to the election of officials, and it has become more important over time. Many of the elected officials that are backed by the media industry in their campaigns come back to sponsor pro-copyright legislation. Lessig has eloquently pointed out the result is bloated copyright duration which swelled from 14 to approximately 140 years. Other companies like Disney are attempting to extend that infinitely by transforming key copyrights to trademarks.

    Jefferson in the Federalist papers was on the fence as to whether to even offer a limited 14 year protection of copyright. Prior to the French and American Revolutions the publishers' guild had a permanent monopoly which was shortened to 14 years at the time of our Constitution. Now it is 10x that level! Imagine if a patent endured 140 years...

    The core assertion that copyright is necessary for creative authors to write, make music, or video should be carefully examined today. It wasn't necessary for Plato, or many great works of music. Free books such as the bible are still sold in hard copy despite being available online without infringing copyright. People buy water when it is freely available at the fountain.

    Copyright was initially created as far as I can tell so that monarchs would know when an author was about to write something disruptive so that it could be censored, and if necessary the author terminated. It don't believe it was created to encourage the author to write the work in the first place. I believe it was spun into that artist supporting position over time. I have yet to find good sources to substantiate these beliefs despite having read almost every copyright related text I could get my hands on.

    Nor is it difficult for an artist to be compensated by a share of advertising today. It happens all the time. What is disrupted in part by the Internet if one offers content for free is the productization and sale of the ware into a disc or hard copy. Yet hard copy - even discs - will still be sold just as bottled water is sold, just not as much.

    Copyright is a total mess given the Internet. It is a global mess. If history is any indication (e.g., radio history), the mess will not be resolved without visionary policy makers and senior administration attention to a compulsory licensing and regulatory solution. The advent of the compulsory licensing of radio for example was surprisingly spearheaded by President Hoover.

    There seems no such will or leadership to resolve the ongoing litigation over copyright and the Internet with a similar compulsory licensing of the web as was done with radio. Small innovative companies are hurt by the inattention to it. The administration sits by while tens of thousands of individual US citizens are personally sued for sharing music and videos with others. Some are sued for remixing too.

    Information today is all digital content. Sharing information with each other is fundamental to our humanity. The Internet and digital devices such as the computer enable it. Even the equivalent of copyright tank rolls in the middle of China will not completely stop people from sharing information even via Fax let alone via the Internet. Take it to the absurd extreme - martial law will fail to stop the search, upload, and download communication of files between people over the Internet. So too in the past the wholesale burning of books in the center of town by oppressive governments failed to stop it. The same extreme measures here in our country will not stop this fundamental human behavior either, nor should they.

    Yet today copyright law is very powerful and routinely brought to bear on companies and citizens in support of the premise and existing law that it is illegal and wrongful to share content, let alone remix it. Some countries, notably Brazil and Sweden see the light and are moving away from a copyright oriented approach to the Internet. Others, notably the US and France do not and seek federal funds to escalate what is essentially becoming a war on in information.

    Consider the greeting we all get when playing a DVD movie that illegal downloading is inappropriate for all ages and the educational campaigns about piracy. Then consider that Zenith executives dressed as pirates in the advent of radio. Now radio is the established medium that it is in large part owing to the acceptance of these "pirates" with a forced compulsory licensing solution.

    Given this background, I humbly submit that it is time, and that society would benefit, by the policy driven existence of a global free digital public library open to all the world's citizens. It is time for a GDPL and policy leaders to see that it is necessary to radically reshape copyright law to enable its existence on the Internet in a manner that serves society well. The Internet enables it. Just as in the Age of Enlightenment benefited from the press, the middle class emerged, and our prosperity improved, it will help educate the populace and lead us into a digital age of enlightement.

    We are heading that way already. The trouble is this reality of a GDPL collides with the business of private libraries (including HBS publications) which seek to restrict their content and charge users for it.

    Yet the purpose of copyright was to benefit society by encouraging the arts and sciences. It is undeniable that a public digital library similar to a physical library, should hold all manner of printed, audio, and video content, both old and new is in the public interest. It is also appropriate that new works could be freely and readily added to it by individual authors. Why erect a barrier to it while the very public libraries in our towns are struggling to become more cost effective, and raising taxes from us. We should embrace this digital future because it is inevitable.

    This vision is in part exactly what search engines are doing from Baidu to Google. Many files are routinely available on these centralized web search sites and others including such fundamental web services as Internet Relay Chat. It is the file sharing search engines that have been more typically targeted for elimination by the media industry litigation in an ongoing game of whackamole. Roughly 50% of all Internet traffic is user to user content sharing, more in some countries. This is not the act of a few pirates, it is a societal shift.

    The most successful players in media today are those that already realized that a free advertising supported approach to content, and to this global digital library is the end game. Google is the prime example, and others are leading this push. Google came out of the Stanford Digital Library Initiative. Google has thus far been big enough to withstand the litigation of the book publishers and even Viacom's $1 billion suit over YouTube.

    Smaller companies are rarely able to withstand the copyright litigation. Many creative companies have fallen by the wayside under the industry litigation strategy, from the Napster to MP3.com. While digital media innovation continues it is highly risky and hobbled given the copyright situation. Webcasters are struggling with the uncertainties. Many of the bit torrent services are at risk from yet another wave of litigation. Unlike Google they are likely too small to withstand it if the large media companies turn their attention in their direction. The open source software company behind Limewire and its CEO is personally sued by the media industry while it remains one of the most popular applications.

    The media players are endeavoring to control the wild Internet situation relative to copyright any way possible such as doing deals with each other (e.g., music and MySpace) now that they don't like the control Apple has garnered. Yet it is fundamentally out of control given the Internet. Only about 35-40 of the songs on each iPod are actually purchased and it has the capacity for thousands.

    This is a very painful situation for all involved with a majority of citizens and many innovative companies out of step with current copyright law in the digital age. Something does need to happen to resolve the issue because it won't go away, just as the litigation around radio did not go away, until compulsory licensing resolved it. The hope that it will self-resolve is not a strategy. I doubt that it will resolve without policy changes because the parties have fundamental opposition to this level of change so they will not voluntarily change the law to fix it.

    One likely viable approach for policy makers is an Internet usage fee which could be levied and distributed to artitsts much like ASCAP/BMI/SESAC distributes broadcasting royalties. Artists would get a share of Google's and others' online ad revenues. This is not a new idea. It's been around for a while, but it doesn't sit well with the existing business models of music or movies. It works for radio, television, magazines, etc. The ad supported path looks like one of the only viable solutions for all copyrighted content whether it is free ad supported software, audio, text, or video content.

    The core issue that it is time for a global digital public library will not recede either. There is no solution to the fundamental tendency of humans to share their private libraries with each other. Nor should their be - for arguing for it is the same as arguing for a digital dark ages.

    We should also bear in mind that it can be dangerous to have the global digital library controlled by one or a few huge corporate entities, and the populace's reading data mined. The history of libraries is repleat with examples that support this assertion. Knowledge is power. That is why tracking what readers read in the library is generally bad policy for societies. Think about that as Google stores everything you search and read. Should Google manage all the Universities digital libraries or should it be a societal asset? It didn't work out too well for Chinese dissadents when Yahoo handed over email records. They were apparently tortured and are in jail for emailing about China's restrictive media policies.

    In essence a thoughtful policy on how to establish a free advertising supported global digital public library is long overdue. While your own libraries at Harvard were I believe supportive of the Google plan to digitize them, many seem to have retreated from this issue after the litigation broke out. MIT did elect to distribute all of its courseware free on the Internet, perhaps because as a technical leader they knew that it was the right thing to do.

    How is HBS going to deal with its own case and book product oriented business model given this change? Should all HBS content be freely available as MIT's if we endure advertisements? Wouldn't that advance the schools purpuse more than holding it in a restricted manner subject to payment for access?

    Is it remotely concievable that HBS could actually play a leadership role in resolving this important conflict between the Internet and copyrighted content? Does the School have the courage? Many fellow HBS alumni are dealing with it every day, from the President of Yahoo to the CEO of Azurius. If your group and the School really has the courage to deal with this issue I could be interested helping that happen. It is a fundamentally important topic.

    I would be happy to discuss this further - given the length of my post that should be apparent... If you wish to follow-up just email me. Thanks to the reader(s) for enduring my treatise on the topic...
    • Firozali Mulla MBA PhD
    • Head Of Studies, Waterloo Commercial College
    Who Owns Intellectual Property?
    Before I look at the mind, I look at the mysteries that surround us all and what have we done to this. I will elaborate.

    Once upon a time there was a place in America that had many minds all sorts .This meant form the local Americans and the ones who had come form the Asian, African and European continent, and others. They worked day and night, made fortunes and let the corporations also have the best of the software and hardware. All benefited. In fact, the IT we see is the creative work of all put together working in the different environments of wearing jeans and having coffee in the mugs. All told the ladies and gents working in different shifts at odd hours altering the image of the clock tic tic tic hours to new concepts of work as your will but work for eight or nine hours at least.

    More work was outsourced and America was then the IT giant. Then the corporate image started changing in 1990s. The different ways of looking at the home countries took place. this is not patriotism however the employees must have felt that they were either not paid well or the cultural change started changing or this or that, but the youths started going back to their own home towns and started the IT there. Blow the now IT create the IT at my place feelings. Then the youths had the IT and did what they felt best. Yahoo and Mail etc created were either kept or sold. The cash in America could buy few things with the cash they received but this cash at the hometown could give those houses, corporations, offices, more employees and they became bosses rather them employees. The place I talk of id Bangalore in India that is now the IT Silicon Valley outsourcing the world's IT and helping all.

    Come to China, there are piracies I admit however we must not forget these are created for those who cannot afford the USA version. No one would write up the piracies or sell if no one wants these. Al right if you do not want these we talk of cheap shoes and clothes. The world buys these. Then when we see the China, Japan, India boom up in the trade, we call the Chinese good painted with the lead and magnates calling off and try to ban the toys, shoes etc.

    Are these individual intellectual properties?

    Are these better than the CEOs siphoning the money form the kitty. That too may sound the individual property but that is cash of the investors. The investors saved for the life to see these for the children. Now what is the difference between the two?
    I thank you.
    Firozali Mulla MBA PhD.
    P.O.Box 6044
    East Africa
    • Tigger
    The original intent for protecting IPs is to protect business interests involving them. Technology and market has dramatically changed, so the approach on maximizing values of IPs has to be changed. No gains, no IPs. We can refer to one chapter of the book "Information Rules".
    • Umair Naeem
    • ABM, Reckitt Benckiser Pakistan
    The comments have tackled a number of questions. For me, the IPR situation is twofold:

    Firstly, someone here said that if the creator is not the owner, then he would not create. This is true in the larger sense, especially for inventors, writers, designers and so on. But on the other end of the spectrum, there are creative parties that 'create' as a service, and the ownsership of the idea becomes transferable. It is important to draw a boundary here, in the sense that if you do create something, you do own it, until you decide otherwise.

    On the other front, I agree with the sentiment that in the global village that we live in, ideas and concepts are easily shareable using the Internet; but at the same time, there has to be a defining identity that uniquely defines that idea. For example, if Apple or Bono are involved in RED, it maybe is a community based initiative, but Apple and Bono will always be unique in their own sense, and can own the IPR for what they put out. Somewhat like a unique signature that will always signify a particular brand.

    I think in a country like Pakistan, it is vital that we begin from the grounds up, and ensure that IPR is understood, and individuals know what their rights are. Logos, designs, processes and concepts, among other things, can all be registered and safeguarded from copying.

    • Marco A. Pina
    • System Engineer, Grupo Elektra
    When I was a teenager, I remembered well that jeans were sold in every store, even in public markets. But suddenly a designer brings a new model which has his own signature. After that moment the jeans have a social status, those without signature are for poor people and those with it are for rich people. Even in those days Levi's was for poor people for the reason of had not signature.

    That becomes a fashion, if you wish to have a higher social status your clothes had to be signatured. The people become to be a publicity media, without a cent for revenue, even worst we have to pay more for a T-shirt that one day before, did not have a logo or signature.

    When famous people start to use designer clothes, seems trademark disappears. The preferred products become to be which the preferred famous wears. As my teenager son, he changes of glasses according with Bono wears them. Something I feel, there is no loyalty for a trademark but a rock singer star.

    Thru the years, I heard this answer in the preference.
    70's - "This car is old-fashioned, ugly" "Yeah, but it is a Volvo"
    80's - "This T-shirt is similar that another you owe". "Yes, but this has a golden logo".
    90's - "Another sunglasses?". "My favourite rock star starts wearing yesterday".
    2000's - "A new cellular?" "It brings a complete music collection of my group"
    Nowadays - "I like RED". "They help people"

    Who is behind that answer? Product's quality? People preferences? Fashion? Or just simply, the ideas of the people who live and influence the moments. Are they the real intellectual owners? And, do they receive any profit of that?

    It is true the content in Internet are growing, but, always depends of whom publish them. Is not the same the words of a man in a far away country in the mountains that a popular politic man of London, even from a pop music singer.

    By the end, the true creators of nowadays products, sometimes don't receive the revenue for the jobs, but the have more than that. Something so simply as prestige or influence, which is a investment for long years.
    • Kapil Kumar Sopory
    • Company Secretary, SMEC (India) Private Limited
    An intellectual property is owned by the original creator who merits all advantages of the ownership. When specific warnings are issued not to reproduce,download or transmit ahead the material, I.P. laws enjoin upon everyone to honour such warnings or be prepared for hefty penalties. Thus the laws are there but enforcement is a ticklish matter.

    Why does the creator/innovator spread the material amongst masses through internet without creating a selective limited access ? Obviously there is an urge that the knowledge be passed ahead for being utilised beneficially. If the receiver forwards it ahead, it is one and the same as if the creator's site was viewed directly as it permitted a universal viewing. The unethical behaviour would, however, be if the identity of the creator is destroyed by the receiver who forwards feigning as if he created the same. At times, using the material fully/partially by just making a few/many changes is also resorted to. And there are experts who can take cues and develop the idea cunningly. Now, a chain reaction can lead to the furtherence of such action by others. With the passage of time, the original creator could go into oblivion.

    The catch lies in execution of the laws as there is no foolproof mechanism for this. Hence the I.P.laws are at present paper tigers lacking any practical strength. Some cases do reach the courts but the number of those that escape any action is far more.

    Further research and innovation is, therefore, considered necessary for improving implementation of the regultory guidelines.
    • Pallavi Marathe
    This debate has been going on for ages and what with the internet becoming so popular, the issue has only worsened. Intellectual property has always been in jeopardy. Piracy is just one form of it. There are others as has been discussed by so many.

    Internet laws are definitely obsolete and even if new laws are made, they need to be enforced and the internet users need to be educated about them.

    As a child everyone is taught not to steal or kill, and we know from childhood what's right and what's wrong. There is a need to educate the children of today in the rules of the cyber world.
    • Gary C. King
    • Doctoral Candidate, Abaco, Bahamas
    I think most of us, if not all of us would agree that technology has changed people's view...Who Owns Intellectual Property? Reason being, the technology of sharing is too widespread, and most adolescents (and their younger siblings) no longer agree with the music, movie and publishing companies about right and wrong. Moreover, even some of the companies with big stakes in recorded music and movies seem to have recognized that lawsuits and technical defenses won't work. Sony, for example, sells computers with "ripping and burning" capabilities, MP3 players, and other devices that gain much of their appeal from music sharing. And the AOL part of AOL Time Warner has and continues to promote its broadband service for faster downloads, which many people will use to share music sold by the Warner part of the company.

    The lesson from this is that digital technology has unalterably changed the way a growing number of customers think about Intellectual Property. As such, if these industries are to prosper, they must change, too--perhaps offering repositories of digital music, movie and e-books for downloading (like Apple's iTunes Music Store), gaining revenue from the scope and quality of its holdings, and from a variety of new products and relationships, as yet largely undefined. Such a transformation will be excruciating for these industries, requiring the abandonment of previously profitable business practices with no certain prospect of success. So it is not surprising that the aforementioned industries have responded aggressively, with strong legal actions, to the spread of file sharing. But by that response, the industry is risking its relationship with a vital segment of its market. Treating customers like thieves is a certain recipe for failure.

    Finally, returning to the main question discussion regarding the necessity of copyright, I have come to different conclusions from pundits who advocate for the absolute necessity of this legal mechanism for the promotion of information. However, my conclusions are also at variance with those who advocate its abolition or at least a significant relaxation of current constraints. Rather, I suggest that copyright should be viewed in relation to other potential policy options and to the goals we (authors, inventors and creators) wish to achieve in supporting intellectual production and distribution both in North America and internationally. As such, I firmly believe that any adjustment to the level and degree of copyright protection must be considered in relation to decisions about trade, education, literacy and technology, to achieve and maintain an effective balance between promotion of new knowledge and a healthy public domain.
    • Ulysses U. Pardey, MBA
    • Managing Director, Am-Tech, S.A., Panama, Rep. of Panama
    Intellectual-Wealth Property, Content-Sharing Sites and the HBS Centennial

    Thank you HBS for your great contribution to the substantial advancement of business, management and leadership.

    From my practitioner's perspective and considering my deep interest in what you do, I can say that:

    All my comments in hbswk are my birthday present to Harvard Business School for its 100th anniversary on behalf of my family, for the benefit of everyone, foreign and domestic. This makes all my comments in hbswk the property of Harvard Business School.

    I trust that HBS will make good use of this donation.

    Happy Centennial HBS and all the best!
    • David Albert Newman
    • Project Leader Internal Auditor, Government
    The creator should hold rights in intellectual property but to what extent should it be protected if it leads to perversions of the markets by means of compensation for sharing of those intellectual property rights?

    For instance, before music downloads, CD's and DVD's were vastly overpriced which in turn led to overvaluation of entertainers (most of whom should be paid less than doctors given relative importance and risk of functions and benefits to society). There is no reason poverty should exist while these entertainers reap in millions of dollars.

    Thus, pirating intellectual property is for the good of society if the market overvalues the product or service. This is a correction to dysfunctional markets. The alternative is to crack down on piracy but to regulate how much entertainers are paid for their intellectual creations that merely emulate life.
    • Santhanam Krishnan
    The views of ownership of IP have not formally changed yet - otherwise we wouldn't have enacted the WTO and related framework and insist on its full fledged implementation across the globe. The only problem is its genuine implementation and the cost of enforcing. IP laws have become more sophisticated than before, but proper and rigorous enforcement have got out of hand! I do not think any scientific valuation would be able to value the compensation of nominal adoption of IP matters and the cost of enforcement. Assuming even the valuation is possible, it is a moot question as to how many buyers of such companies would be willing to pay for that.
    • Anonymous
    Neurotics build castles in the sky.
    Psychotics live in them.
    Psychiatrists collect the rent.

    IPR is clearly a power game & not an ideological issue. This is a domain where abuse by the powerful is more commonplace than occasional protection a genuine deserving creator gets.

    An Absolute Right to intellectual property has both serious logical & philosophical shortcomings besides even more serious factual (establishing facts) & social problems. Infringement of Brands is somewhat different. Present day, intellectual rights are almost like primitive property right, i.e. might is right, the strongest person owns whatever he finds interesting.

    Can a person claiming copyright over music claim his creation completely original? On the other hand, he stands tall over the shoulders of formerly renowned & obscure musicians. Even if just for the sake of argument, he has taken inspiration from the earlier composers, who draws the line between inspiration & plagiarism?

    Inventors stand tall on principles established by the scientist, particularly theoretical scientists (chemists, physicists, mathematicians, biologists et al.). It is their work, which is really an intelligent work, even though it is abstract.

    Frequently we come across cases where people have not just attempted but also have been successful in patenting ancient knowledge (e.g. use of turmeric for medical purposes), copyright traditional names (e.g. Basmati Rice - Texmati Rice).

    In addition, we live in a dynamic world, which isn't just fast but accelerating. Expecting lifelong gratification on onetime creation is just too greedy; even in extreme cases, it is important to have perspective and balance.
    • Gerald Nanninga
    • VP, Retail Ventures
    Back over 30 years ago, when I was getting my MBA, one of my fellow students said, "There are two types of people in the world--the creative people and the people who exploit them for profit. I plan to be one of the latter."

    Creative people have been exploited since the beginning of mankind. There are always people in power, be they Kings or corporations, who use that power to exploit the creativity of others.

    The difference today is that technology is shifting the power base, so that it is now the consumer who is exploiting the creative people rather than the corporation.

    Throughout history, it has been the rare superstar whose reputation for creativity is so great that they have the upper hand in negotiating how well they get compensated.

    I seen no reason for that principle to change. For the creative, it seems the lyrics of the Who apply: "Meet the new boss (the consumer who rips you off), same as the old boss (the corporation that ripped you off).
    • Henry Maigurira
    • Programme Coordinator, MTk Business Corporate Solutions
    The relationship between intellectual property rights and trade agreements at the WTO seems inseperable. Host countries with product lines that saturates markets tend to call the shots rearding exchange of goods and services. Scientific development has made it easier to share knowlegde, specifically one lap per child case in Africa is a sgn of achievement and demonstrating confidence of providing consumer goods at low prices to the most marginalised populations as first step towards digital technology, print media, sport, education and training.

    The importance is in loyalyty and respect for protected ideas and authentic re-deisgn of such for furtherance in efficiency. Einstein 's theory of relativity seems plausible to analyse the question of IP ownership, to come with an answer however the greatest bearer of all foundational thought bears the the legal basis for enforcing rights and claiming damages in breach of jures of original ideas.Powerful ideas market themselves and resides perfect distrubutional justice. Lastly, the game theory would grant the IP holders destiny of glory if the first necessay step towards establishment is ideal and correct by all measures.
    • Brett Lyon
    Can thoughts really be owned? By who?

    The concept of intellectual property is a modern one, and much less a historically accepted fulcrum of or our society than what current stakeholders, like record companies and software producers, would like us to believe. Patent, copyright, and trademarks are inventions of a free-market economy to protect the commercial interests of artists and authors. The fact that it is so well supported in American life is an understandable consequence of John Locke's influence on the country's philosophy and social policy. Locke, famous for his triad of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, was an early "champion" of intellectual property rights. He wrote, "every Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his." The Marquis de Condorcet challenged Locke's ideas pointing out that the value of ideas is more rightly exploited by the society that
    effected their creation. Condorcet denied the individual, commercially motivated, claims to intellectual property because ideas where not created by the mind acting alone nor where they bestowed on people supernaturally--they are integral to society and should be owned by society. Obviously, Monsieur Condorcet's ideas on intellectual property did not go over well in western capitalist society.

    I am increasingly skeptical that our current system of awarding individual ownership rights to intellectual property, as envisioned through Locke's writing and a century or so of contentious jurisprudence, will remain either practical or the best approach for society's long-term good. Technological adaptation, much to the dismay of both lawmakers and commercial interests of our time, is moving perhaps 10, 100, or 500 times faster than the legal and social institutions it touches. It is unrealistic to suggest that the Internet will not continue to evolve and that new, more advanced, ways of distributing intellectual property over it will not spring up to circumvent actions by states and commercial entities. With the growing successes of the open source development and distribution model (the GPL and its many permutations) it is becoming apparent that shared, public, intellectual property has certain value to society, a value that proprietary, "private," ideas can never provide by definition. The English language itself is one example of how shared intellect creates value far greater than the sum of all the individuals possessing that specific intellect.
    • Paula Thornton
    • Experience Design Strategist, FASTforwardblog.com
    Favorite banner at FASTforward '08: "Intellectual Property has the shelf life of a banana." In a panel I facilitated the key message focused on the inefficiencies of the legal system. By the time you pursue a lawsuit against and infringement, the next best thing is already out. The costs (both time and money) become less relevant as products change on a more rapid cycle.

    Granted there are things with longevity that do need to be protected, but in case after case, the evidence shows a greater return (larger market) when things are shared rather than protected.
    • Vicky
    Thank you to all those who have contributed to this widely controversial question of what is whose, or is it whose is what? Even No. 12's which is great.

    Firstly, we should all bring our children or our friend's children to understand what copyright is and how it is important to recognise other people's work.

    Secondly, we are in a world with "knowledge workers"... What does this entail? People? People with knowledge of areas of concern to others? Knowledgeable people who are willing to share what they know with others? Aren't people generally willing to help, therefore share what they know with others so others may grow?

    I would agree that companies or individuals have been made to keep their secrets so that they may be distinguished from others. Some of these companies may not have wanted to share their knowledge because what they were doing might have been unethical.

    People who do research, do it because of the benefit that it might bring someone, consider those in the medical field. These people may or may not want recognition but they should be recognised for their work. This is what we need to realistically strive for. To be able to recognise those who care and work for the benefit of others so that others in our society continue to want to share what they do with others.

    Intellectual property belongs to those who have worked on it, who understand it and who can transfer it. Without this skill, others cannot really benefit from it, can they? Transferring one's knowledge is a skill. Without it, those in the field of education would not be in this field. Today's individualistic society has little to gain from hoarding intellectual property and more to gain from sharing their knowledge, for example in the field of environmental issues to educate our society's members on global warming.
    • Anonymous
    Branding from cradle to grave in the life-cycle of its products seems to be a huge problem.

    If I wanted to make a calendar of rusted out junk cars, I would need the permission of the auto manufacturers because they still claim ownership for the designs.

    If a small, local car club wanted to do the same for a fundraiser, they would need approval from whomever owned the designs. All associated advertising, and related paraphrenalia also need approval.

    The need for upfront fees and ongoing royalties also exists. When does enough become enough? If I buy an $80,000 Corvette, why can't I put it on a t-shirt?
    • Narendar
    • Director
    The intellectual property right has reached a point of no return. I fully appreciate that a lot of effort goes into the evolution and development of a product. However, there must be a line. Other day one of the companies patented 'Neem' a tree which has been used in all sorts of way by Indians in their lives. This is ridiculous. Today we are working in a knowledge era. A product or process so unique should be patented, not lines and words. Let the free flow of knowledge take place as long as credit is given by the user.
    • cantubury
    • court mediator, harvard dispute team
    I hearby claim the term "intellectual property" as mine. Now, we have a working knowledge of patents on ideas and names; pay me. On the othr account, "the best things in life are free". I guess we can have it both ways.

    In reality for some 30,000 American Native Americans felt that that no property, animals, nature or anything on the earth, including natural resourses could be "owned." They shared all they had and had it not been for friendly natives, Lewis and Clark would have frozen to death. Most of our "explorations and discoveries" are attributible to natives but they now do not even own land that ancestors roamed freely for thousands of years.

    I personally, have never been excluded from a fire ceremony, sweat lodge or full moon celebration by any indians. I feel more a part of native-americans than anyone in my own family or clan.

    Stewardship is more a realistic term today for the earth, ideas and resources. Ownership was a term from the early days of Fredick Taylor and the fledgling "industrial revolution". It seem that in the multiverse, the more we give away the more comes to us.

    "Giving back" is a ubiquitious concept. What does it mean? Janis Joplin, the singer who died way too young of a drug overdose and ridicule from a public who wanted glamor not heart-felt music, sang:"Freedom is just another word for nothing to lose" Maybe when we have lost it all by trying to hold on to it may be obtain our rightful items.

    "Two birds with four wings , two heads and 4 feet can neither walk or fly when bound together." Gibran, philosopher and poet . The age of transparency and openness is upon us and our hands are empty and unable to grip due to carpel tunnel of years of grasping the unattainable. WE should as the greatist society on earth try to fill our hearts, not our garages, homes and storage sheds. Unfortunately, hearts grow only from love and that will remain free; even a Governor of a great state found that love, affection, loyalty and sex cannot be bought. This idea is not for sale nor rent. Use it...live it.
    • D R Elliott
    • CEO, TEQ Development
    Professor Heskett once again raises a provocative and thoughtful question concerning the relationship of intellectual property to the IT economy. The term intellectual property is of course much broader than the context of the current forum. The core concept is that intellectual property must be created by a process of mind that connects in origin to one or more minds. Creation means not heretofore in existence prior to its expression.

    If we get this far with intellectual property, then as a matter of law in first world economies and increasingly in emerging economies we have a property capable of ownership for economic benefit. The question remaining is for how long. Much of the internet economy has the life span of a mayfly and when we divide this content contribution into the entire internet economy divided still further by the moment of days or hours when it is relevant, it rarely matters economically more than a few farthings. These economics will fall below the threshold of legal advocacy for infringement prosecution.

    Concepts that are more important and with significant economically useful lives will justify legal pursuit of economic compensation if it is not already provided for between content providers, users and the internet intermediaries.

    The angst felt by some constituencies to reconfigure the intellectual property rights of the internet economy a 'free commons' versus a market mediated zone of commerce seem highly overwrought. Economics of opportunity will sort out most of this along with a growing global respect for the rule of law. The right of citizens to create and prosper from intellectual property is one of the 'Rights of Man' I prefer to see remain in the civil rights than set aside for the sake of a technology which itself is a product of intellectual property.
    • Anonymous
    Scholars, draw a distinction. That's the key. IP rights are spoken in one breath today. That will not happen tomorrow. Should not happen even today. Each IP right would have (should have) its own identity beyond the "IPR family description" - beyond the identity today! Today IP rights are jointly addressed; in the near future they are nucleus with their own independent existence. This is not just owing to the corporate vision but mainly to consumerism. Customers seldom want the holistic IP package. Instead, they either want the inside (technology/patent/copyright) or the outside (brand/copyright). Few want or even know the both.

    IP and its rights cannot diminish. They can only become more exclusive and prominent. Even monopolistic (unfortunately) and intelligent. Beyond the current scope of understanding. IP in the near future would not just represent the companies and brands behind the ideas but also increasingly represent holistic content in beliefs and following of users. Consumers identify and acknowledge the brands, logos, marks, innovation and technology, and the comfort (customer friendliness) supporting these products and services represented by these brands.

    In the "futureage" of brand building and sustenance, IP rights would be of as much relevance as the identity of religion today. Societies and communities world-over relate to "their" beleifs because of identification with the concept of faith in that specificity and details. IP rights are increasingly of similar nature, this might be controversial to say though.

    Utility is specific to Patents, hence a limited protection and then in the public domain pool - to allow others to also utilize. Copyrights, subject to the author's life and after. However, Brand or marks cannot be diminished with time without decision (careless or intelligent) by the rights owner. Brands are forever, unless merged, acquired or consciously laid to rest. Like the "descriptions" of religions, sects, communities, countries, states, and the like there are and will be (forever) those specificities identifying the product/service, its quality, performance and promise to the brand and people standing behind it.

    The original school of thought that recognized IP rights has always been aware of what we discuss now. Patents can be protected exclusively for a limited period, Copyrights longer and Trademarks forever. That sounds like religious "evolution" of IP! Eureka! Religious - thoughts and principles (eg: morality; ethics: patents); methodology (of prayers, worship: copyright); and the description of beliefs (name of religion: brands)

    Can one ignore these facts today? Can one redefine the evolution of IP which are most next to human life?
    • Jeffery M. Lynch
    • Director of Business Development, Turner Construction
    The debate over the ownership of intellectual property could easily be applied to intellectual capital in general as well, and I think the distinction between the two is noteworthy. In the course of ordinary project work, professionals develop knowledge, means, and methods that have great value but are never captured or formalized. When they leave the firm, the knowledge leaves with them in many cases because the focus of the firm is production (or operations). Much of this kowledge cannot be transformed into intellectual property such as patents or copyrights, but it has value nonetheless. Companies would do well to recognize this value, and take care to capture and preserve it for the good of the company.
    • DanQ
    • CEO, IP international biz
    These days, IP laws are just used by many businesses as a club held over customers as well as competitors (eg, the entertainment industry). I feel this is VERY short-sighted and there is a decided lack of imagination by the legal-types and management. Those who think this way are killing innovation in many industries and it is reflected in the economic slump in the US in particular.
    • Bill Bittner
    • BWH Consulting
    As a software developer, I am always concerned about preserving the ownership of my results. Just as a movie producer or a product developer sells their "finished product" to the consumer, the people and companies who use my computer programs are receiving the benefit of my computer software.

    As many have stated, the Internet is a big challenge for IPR but perhaps in a different way than many have stated. The concern is not that someone might copy an original work of art, but rather that the benefit of a single work can be spread across the world. If the same animated cartoon can be dubbed in a hundred different languages, how many animators do you need around the world? If the same word processing application on a Google server can be accessed from browser equipped PC's (or cell phones) around the world, how many word processing applications do we need?

    Up until now, it has been laborers who feared the onslaught of automation as robots took over tasks on the factory floor. Now it is the "creative workers" who find themselves challenged by the widespread reach of the Internet. In the case of software development this has led to perversion of patent laws, which has created artificial barriers to entry.

    Besides the economic aspects of this whole thing, there are the societal issues that must be addressed. What do you do with the large number of members of society who are the "creative types"? How many "thoughtful and introspective individuals" do you need in society if one individuals production can be broadcast to the world?

    My head hurts :-)
    • Anonymous
    Thanks to post 28 for the kudos on my post 12...made my day.

    Appreciate the professor and all of you for asking this question and discussing it in an HBS forum. Inspired me to a second run on this one, may over amplify it...

    This is such a complex issue we have to look to history.

    Let's lift ourselves up from the tired piracy and enforcement arguments - even from our storied alumni - relative to the new Internet medium. That line is overly simplistic.

    Our fellow alumni the late Jack Valenti pursued that line relentlessly to the end of his days. Yet it does not hold true now in the Internet age.

    His velvet rhetoric - that innovations threatening copyright were "devilish" (satanic) expressed to our Commerce Committee (coincidentally created out of the compulsory licensing of radio) or that the new technology posed threats to national security, were classic hyperbole in the most sophisticated political sense, designed to protect the artificial scarcity of private film libraries prior to the advent of the Internet.

    In order for us to resolve this conundrum, or Gordian Knot, we have to elevate to another level. Cut. It is intractable in its present form.

    Copyright must be cut - redefined - and a clear path made for the global digital public library that my post humbly espouses. If you all have a better idea its most welcome.

    Google as noted came out of the Stanford Digital Public Library Initiative. That alone should be a clue.

    Anything else but recognizing that the global library is under fundamental transformation is basically akin to being lost in the weeds in tangled copyright detail. Details are important, but we need the big picture.

    Can we agree this is headed to a global digital public library of information? That is a key premise.

    Are we not on the way already with just frictional - yet agonizingly wasteful litigation based on out-dated laws?

    More subtly, the library shouldn't be owned by a corporation, perhaps not even by an academic institution even as lauded as Harvard, or single government iinstitution. Maybe even the United Nations as imperfect as it is should have it under its auspices. I do not have an answer presently to the impartial neutral arbitrator and storehouse of the world's digital knowledge store. Google? Amazon? EMC? Harvard? USA? You tell me.

    In any case we are talking about ownership of the world's knowledge in the virtual world.

    We even have emotional attachments to the physical libraries of our lives, like Baker Library with its elegant columns and stature. It is hard therefore to think beyond these physical constraints and recognize the similarities.

    Yet with bits and bites, and all library content more economically stored in silicon, in disc drives, on the Net, even as intangible knowledge, lacking the awe of the edifice of the library, the feel of the leather binding, the gilt edge to the page, and the Lions at the entrance and murals on the walls, this is still a library.

    Humanizing a virtual library with the feel of a physcal library like Boston's or Harvard's is a challenge for sure, and because of this the two will complement each other for a long transitional period.

    That doesn't mitigate the stupidity of the copyright litigation over this Internet sharing issue by the populace. Both physical and virtual libraries have old content - past copyright time and new content under copyright.

    Therefore conflicts around copyright and the Net must be relaxed and resolved for the betterment of society.

    Now security experts will worry, what about classified libraries, and I suppose they can be kept national, even though ultimately they too will leak out.

    Bottom line, we are at an historic moment when most unclassified information is really capable of being freed forever accesible to all. To the worry of security experts most of that info as we read, and understand is flowing too. It is all like fingers in the dike - copyrighted or not.

    Even the fundamental progress of science and learning cannot constrain the ability of societies - even dare I say to go nuclear - or to invent the latest high speed widget - or to be able to innovate beyond the current levels of the most advanced technology. It is actually even folly to think that we can somehow constrain the innovation proliferation information. It will not just leak out, but knowledgable scientists will re-invent it too. For goodness sake, many other cultures do a better job of teaching math and science than we do to a far larger populace of students.

    Knowledge just flows.

    Information - all of it - in the limit - can be shared infinitely at lowest cost to elevate humanity - which is not to say naively that some information can be dangerous.

    Yet it is not the popular content that is dangerous. While it does lead to most of the lititgation by copyright of users over music or movie sharing and remixing, it is just that free distribution as exists today becomes disruptive of private library economics.

    Concepts of artificial scarcity for economic gain in this open information condition - as espoused by private libraries - are suspect as they were resolved well in the case of radio and television with compulsory licensing.

    We need leadership to compulsory license and create the digital public library.

    Finally, having society pay for a plethora of lawyers to resolve its ineffectual view on copyright IP is an extraordinarily painful waste of societal resources - including the good men and women that prosecute and could find better productive activity in the society.

    The signal event is the war on information distribution by the populace - the litigation against users who share digital files with others. How absurd must it get?

    Very recently the RIAA served a homeless person with litigation over music sharing. This litigation of the populace for inately human behavior of sharing info is senseless. They continue the "strategy" of suing their consumer - even if the customer is destitute. One can argue they just "missed", it is a typo, but we can't reconcile that with tens of thousands of defendants.

    The law in a word is OBSOLETE.

    Why can't you and I share what I know with my fellow man/women even if it is copyrighted given it isn't threatening to the world order, to morality, etc.? Where is the limit set? This is the key question.

    Google's stock just soared back up a record 20%. It is the biggest media company in the world. They are about free ad supported info - all of it. Isn't it obvious?

    Should we define fair use? It is a gray area too. That too is a rathole given the end game is a global digital frictionless public library.

    Copyright must change to allow the digital library explicitly.

    However, it must also be defined in a manner that is good/protective of society because as we know governments and theologies can be overly restrictive, even dare we say oppressive at times. Even the Olympic Torch can't make it around the world with joy these days.

    From the standpoint of the Net, we need openness.

    We must be allowed to post, share, to remix, to do so without fear of litigation.

    Each of us is like our own broadast tower, our own radio tower now on the web and all citizens need that compulsory license right to share our library of information. Words that sound cacaphonous like "blog" herald this age.

    If a provider or publisher monetizes it, with ads, etc., then a split goes to the artists - a la Sesac, BIM, Ascap. That is what we should establish as a structure in general essence.

    What is critical is that the policies for the digital public library draw from the experience of our prior library science. We must learn from historic mistakes.

    Of course this assumes that we all "like" or even "love" the library. That we recognize it is a lauded institution. That we make the "leap" that we are staring at the advent of the digital public library.

    This leap is essential or my post and this one sound too inventive, too radical.

    Yet as the history of libraries shows, it is not quiet. Surprisingly, the library is not quiet, it is loud with the wars and thefts of libraries for knowledge, and the purging of them for purity of a specific vision, etc.

    Because of this the reader's habits of reading should be their individual private domain. I think that is sort of US law right now though under stress given nationae security interests.

    Otherwise we may have a return of McCarthyism or worse. Just consider Sahlman Rushdie or Nazi's burning books in town squares. I mention these extreme examples to drive home why the ALA has the policies it already estblished for libraries based on history. I am not an ALA member, just found their logic on library policy compelling.

    Why is it that we think it is OK that this brave new digital library doesn't need to have similar regulation.

    Already we worry that the MySpace juvenile users are a risk from predators. There are many regulatory aspects of the existing library policies that if inspected inform us as to where to look to resolve the issues around the net.

    Given this library perspective, over the years I've felt we are all accidental librarians on the Net.

    As accidental librarians we have to learn how to be librarians. To be librarians, we must "tag" with metadata (like Flickr) to help atalog the content like the librarian, with the equivalent of an automated duidecimal system. Technologies will enable us to determine the nature of a given piece of content better and better, to search in the video, in the audio, etc.

    Overall, I really like the notion that the library is open to all publishers. That is in effect the result of web publishing or file sharing. I think gating publication is a bad thing.

    Maybe a wikilibrary is where we should head. It is not acceptable to have a Google library mining all of our data as the risks of that are legendary in the history of libraries.

    But to get there, whew.

    Even the University and the Harvard University Library itself, the edifices we look to for leadership in knowlege, are cowed by copyright law - i part by the litigation around the Google library initiatives.

    The Pho list, a list of digital media intelligencia started by Jim Griffin, former CTO of Geffen, goes on, logically, passionately, but endlessly debating the issues largely around music issues in copyright. Music issues are the canary at the forefront. A recent series was just speculating about how to deal with the entire known music content on a 1 inch chip in a handheld - and of course that it will be net connected. So what? A library in our hand? How wonderful.

    All music, all information is exploded across the net and the laws must come to recognize it.

    We must find a route through the business models of the day to monetize it, split a piece to the artists, and must establish a path that protects against the abuses of knowledge while passing royalties to artists from the global library.

    So circling back, in order to develop intelligent policy here - in a situation where folks can see the tech will outstrip the law 10, 100, 500 x (as a prior post recognizes well) - we must look to historical precident, the initial brilliance of our constitution, the guidance of its intent for the betterment of society, etc.

    The fundamental collision of our institution of libraries with that of the Internet should lead us to craft a cohesive, functional policy, with world leaders that works.
    • CJ Fearnley
    • Explorer in Universe, CJFearnley.com
    The concept of intellectual property is fundamentally flawed. Ideas and thoughts undergo continual evolution in a community of people. Buckminster Fuller pointed out that "you can't learn less", so ideas are continually expanding and growing. Also, ideas can be copied by sharing them with our colleagues and friends (and even our competitors). Since no idea has its source in one person or one company, in a very real sense every new idea is indebted to the rest of society for providing the basis on which the "new" idea was formulated. How do you trace this idea formation concept back to the rightful owners of the illions of concepts in each idea (the so-called IP)? There are over 6 billion people contributing to Humanity's ideasphere today!!! It is just absurd to "own" any piece of it.

    Of course, individual integrity dictates that each person's work should be protected and "owned". But not as IP in the abstract, only in the particular of "this report", "this software", "this painting" or other artifacts.

    Of course, I would value more highly those who choose to share their work with an open source or creative commons style license, because that will allow not just the ideas but the works themselves to be even more valuable as seeds in the next round of idea and artifact generation and re-generation.
    • Mahendra Bassarmalani
    • Business Analyst, Tata Consultancy Services
    Intellectual properties are creations of the mind, both artistic and commercial, and Intellectual property rights give creators exclusive rights to their creations. Thereby providing an incentive for the author or inventor to develop and share the information rather than keep it secret.

    Generally, the value and usage of Intellectual Properties diminishes with time, and it is even faster in 21st century. (For example from Software industry, availability of Open Source code on Internet has exponentially raised the chances of reusability of an intellectual property without authorization). Intellectual property is a global or universal property and difficult to protect. But offering financial rewards for an unauthorised usage is not only an insult to the creativity and efforts of the original owner of the content, but also dampens the chances of new and fresh developments and innovations.

    In 21st century, 'Innovation' is the key to keep pace with competition along with sustainable profit margins. And commercial parties (marketers, industrialists, entrepreneurs etc) are willing to go till any extent to woo customers and win their hearts. So, Intellectual Properties rights and laws at present are getting obsolete and definitely need to be transformed.
    • S K Kotwani
    • Asstt. Vice President, Indusind Bank Ltd.
    There is definitely a need for changing with the times, during the current times of advanced technology where Internet is a powerful tool for knowledge sharing.
    The protection given to copyright owners in the form of financial rewards need to be continued in order to encourage creativity and innovation, the basis of IPRs.
    However, the long period of protection, extending beyond the life of copyright owner may be curtailed, may be to match with Patents.

    With due regards to innovation at Microsoft or Oracle etc. and in my personal opinion, it may be observed that huge income has been generated for the owners and this may continue at least for one more generation. Innovations are also taking place say at Intel. But the income generated is comparatively much less since prices of Intel processors have reduced by almost 75% during the period of last around 6 years despite similiar technological advancement.
    I firmly believe that the protection given to copyright owners may be reduced in changing with times and advancement in technology.

    Further, the laws of the land need to take care of the protection provided to the IPR owners.