I was in a craft store and suddenly had an idea (stop the presses!) about something totally unrelated to my surroundings. As is my wont I fished a scrap of paper out of my pocket and jotted it down. The shopkeeper was at my elbow in a picosecond. "Are you taking notes?" she asked, obviously concerned that I might be copying some of the words from the rubber stamps and greeting cards that it was her business to sell. "We have to protect our artists," she explained, apologetically, when I showed her what I was writing.

Maybe her watchfulness was justifiable. Do people really come into stores to steal ideas? Or was this a micro-example of the increasingly commercial definition of intellectual property that our society seems to be evolving toward? It's clearly kosher to buy something and carry it away; there's cash flow then. But mere looking and learning? Go to a library (until they're shut down because they cut into bookstore revenues)...

I'm reminded of the authors who complain about the resale of used copies of their books. If it were possible, presumably a book should be an experience, like a sunset (oops, that's free) or a movie (ok, we can charge admission for that), not a physical object that persists and can change hands. Modern publishing is moving toward that, with ultra-cheap fall-apart bindings and rapidly decaying paper; even the initial purchaser can scarcely re-read a volume before it's gone. And then there are "e-books", ephemeral sets of bits that one actually rents rather than owns.

Maybe that approach makes sense for mass-market items where there are huge short-term profits to be made. But if most books were to instantly vanish upon reading, would people pay as much for them? (Hint: no.) Or buy as many of them? (Hint: no.) Would writers who want to have a long-range impact on the world have a chance? (Hint: no.)

Perhaps if an author thinks that his works are going for too little on the used-book market, then he should reach into his own pockets to buy them up. And perhaps I shouldn't write notes to myself in the vicinity of products that are for sale....

(for other remarks on intellectual property issues see MindMe (24 Jun 1999), TradingInGhosts (1 Oct 1999), GenomicBookshelves (27 Feb 2001), ...)

TopicArt - TopicSociety - TopicLibraries - 2002-07-02

(correlates: GiftForFiction, IntellectualHeirs, Ben Franklin on Intellectual Property, ...)