This week’s reading for the IP reading group was Carla Hesse’s “The rise of intellectual property, 700 b.c. – a.d. 2000: an idea in the balance”. Hesse argues that since the enlightenment we have had two inconsistent notions of IP. Some view IP laws from a social utilitarian point of view — we give creators rights over their ideas because in doing so we encourage other creators to generate more ideas. According to this argument, we should give just enough protection for just long enough to original ideas to encourage the creation of new ideas. Others view ownership of an idea as an inherent and inalieabale right that creators should enjoy forever simply because an idea is the most personal of all possessions and therefore should be linked with its creator forever. She cynically points out that countries tend to move from the former view to the latter as they become exporters of ideas (with the United States as the prime example).
Hesse points out there was no such disagreement in the ancient world because ideas were generally seen as divine gifts and an author generally believed it his duty to share his ideas as a gift to the community. This notion of an idea as a gift rather than a commodity brought to my mind the difference between gift economies and our modern commodity economies and how we might use the model of a gift economy as an alternative framework for establishing IP rights. Read more in my response. Even better, join the project to participate in the reading group.