The Paradox of Intellectual Property

Sunday August 29 19:06

Mine, not yours, buster.

This might be an old one, but I just recently heard about it while catching up on my favorite economy and finance Podcast — the brilliantly home-spun Planet Money. In it they are talking about their project to tell the story of how a t-shirt is being making a t-shirt, from buying the bales of cotton to getting it yarned and spun and made into fabric and cut and printed and sold. You can hear all about it in this short podcast which explains how they got this idea from The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli.

This is an intriguing story by itself, but I was particularly impressed with the mention and short discussion of a paper called The Piracy Paradox: Innovation and Intellectual Property in Fashion Design by Kal Raustiala and Christopher Jon Sprigman. Here is the abstract of the paper:

The orthodox justification for intellectual property is utilitarian. Advocates for strong IP rights argue that absent such rights copyists will free-ride on the efforts of creators and stifle innovation. This orthodox justification is logically straightforward and well reflected in the law. Yet a significant empirical anomaly exists: the global fashion industry, which produces a huge variety of creative goods without strong IP protection. Copying is rampant as the orthodox account would predict. Yet innovation and investment remain vibrant. Few commentators have considered the status of fashion design in IP law. Those who have almost uniformly criticize the current legal regime for failing to protect apparel designs. But the fashion industry itself is surprisingly quiescent about copying. Firms take steps to protect the value of trademarks, but appear to accept appropriation of designs as a fact of life. This diffidence about copying stands in striking contrast to the heated condemnation of piracy and associated legislative and litigation campaigns in other creative industries.

Why, when other major content industries have obtained increasingly powerful IP protections for their products, does fashion design remain mostly unprotected – and economically successful? The fashion industry is a puzzle for the orthodox justification for IP rights. This paper explores this puzzle. We argue that the fashion industry counter-intuitively operates within a low-IP equilibrium in which copying does not deter innovation and may actually promote it. We call this the piracy paradox. This paper offers a model explaining how the fashion industry’s piracy paradox works, and how copying functions as an important element of and perhaps even a necessary predicate to the industry’s swift cycle of innovation. In so doing, we aim to shed light on the creative dynamics of the apparel industry. But we also hope to spark further exploration of a fundamental question of IP policy: to what degree are IP rights necessary to induce innovation? Are stable low-IP equilibria imaginable in other industries as well? Part I describes the fashion industry and its dynamics and illustrates the prevalence of copying in the industry. Part II advances an explanation for the piracy paradox that rests on two features: induced obsolescence and anchoring. Both phenomena reflect the status-conferring power of fashion, and both suggest that copying, rather than impeding innovation and investment, promotes them. Part II also considers, and rejects, alternative explanations of the endurance of the low-IP status quo. Part III considers extensions of our arguments to other fields. By examining copyright’s negative space – those creative endeavors that copyright does not address – we argue can we can better understand the relationship between copyright and innovation.

Why do I blog this? I think this gets to the substance of many issues related to intellectual property rights and the arguments on both sides. It’s also suspicious the ways that the anomolies to the “orthodox” and rather instrumental consideration of new ideas are largely ignored, according to the authors. Of course there are going to be outlier complexities to the perceived canonical position that ideas can become property that can be protected in these ways — but the fact that they are not looked at closely as revealing new approaches is very suspicious to me. I don’t believe IP is a solid, like nature — it mutates as a concept. Gobbling it all up and protecting it — or measuring people’s performance based on their ability to create and protect IP — that’s just frustrating nonsense. People often put IP on their CVs as if it were war trophies or something like this. In many ways it reveals a lack of foresight and aspiration for their ideas to say they are protected and proprietary. G’ahhh.. It drives me nuts sometimes.

Oh, on a more happy note at the end of this podcast you’ll hear that our friends at Tinker Studios in London are going to have their t-shirt idea implemented in this Planet Money t-shirt — a QR Code on the t-shirt that links to, presumably, the story about how the t-shirt was made, which is the story that Planet Money is working on.

Here’s a link to the Planet Money Podcast.

Continue reading The Paradox of Intellectual Property

RIG DataDecs / Data Materialization + Quantified/Historical Self

Get the flash player here:

var so = new SWFObject(“”, “PictoBrowser”, “500”, “500”, “8”, “#EEEEEE”); so.addVariable(“source”, “sets”); so.addVariable(“names”, “RIG DataDecs”); so.addVariable(“userName”, “julianbleecker”); so.addVariable(“userId”, “66854529@N00”); so.addVariable(“ids”, “72157623057949220”); so.addVariable(“titles”, “on”); so.addVariable(“displayNotes”, “on”); so.addVariable(“thumbAutoHide”, “off”); so.addVariable(“imageSize”, “medium”); so.addVariable(“vAlign”, “mid”); so.addVariable(“vertOffset”, “0”); so.addVariable(“colorHexVar”, “EEEEEE”); so.addVariable(“initialScale”, “off”); so.addVariable(“bgAlpha”, “90”); so.write(“PictoBrowser091223105407”);

Russell sent this through — a materialized quantified-self set of Christmas ornaments representing my activities in the online through various services. I got some wonderful “404” ornaments I guess cause the data was not found. Explanations? Well, I don’t, for no particular reason — or, I guess mostly because there is one DJ in the studio who takes requests and managed to get his computer to stream through the firewall. And as for no Flickr Aperture data — I think I made my camera details and photo location data not shared on Flickr, partially because I got super, duper paranoid last summer and went data/location quiet when I appeared on TMZ’s website and was on their seamy TV show and was not particularly politely pursued (including appearances at my front door) as a biological father to Michael Jackson’s kids. [[Mostly for my own records — but do enjoy if you wish — here is the video of this escapade. ]]

Anyway — thanks Russell + Really Interesting Group. This *Rules*.

Why do I blog this?Well, it’s a great holiday surprise present. Plus, this association between things materialized and things quantified is really significant. This is in the same idiom as Chris Downs perspective on data and its value — he has this perspective that ‘data is the new oil’ — that it has value in some form that can be sold or monetized and he is pursuing the business end of personal data analytics. The reflection of our activities online in something else is quite intriguing. In this case, the Really Interesting Group has turned my data into Christmas ornaments. In other instances, I am certain that folks (Google + all the others) are *securitizing* data and packaging it in various ways — such as lenses that focus and help better position advertising, which is valuable to someone, but much less interesting to us here in the Laboratory and, it would seem, much less interesting to the Really Interesting Group. To capture a nice idiom that has been mistakenly directly attributed to Bruno Latour but is in fact stated by Edwin Hutchins in his wonderful book Cognition in the Wild

..artifacts came to embody kinds of knowledge that would be exceedingly difficult to represent mentally.

[[p. 96]]

That is, ’tis better in some circumstances to make the data tangible than ’tis to not do so. The embodiment of data in physical, material form gives it a different kind of legibility. How else can you make your data hang on a Christmas tree?

(Looks like Preoccupations also received one.)
Continue reading RIG DataDecs / Data Materialization + Quantified/Historical Self

WiFi.ArtCache? Meet Processing

One possible idea for the UCI event this summer, and perhaps for ISEA2006, is to develop an ArtCache hybrid where the WiFi.ArtCache API is ported to Processing. It is presently just Flash. Same basic idea — anything written in Processing will work through an ArtCache library that allows for the behaviors of the Processing applet to change based on whether it is:

1) In or outside of range of the ArtCache’s WiFi node
2) How many times it’s been downloaded
3) How many people are connected to the ArtCache’s WiFi node
4) How many people are presently interacting with that particular object from the ArtCache
5) Whether are any available based on the limited quantity idea

Advantage here:

It would be nice if you actually downloaded the processing applet so you could run it at another time. This could be done through an option on the page that renders the art object. You could download an executable version of it somehow.

Why do I blog this? To remind myself that I need to revive the ArtCache API and see what I can do to bring some life back to it. It’s also providing some intellectual fodder for this mobile social software application I’m thinking of submitting as the core of a position paper for the Workshop on Mobile Social Software that is going to happen at CHI 2006.

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