The Many Faces of the Public Domain
Edited by Charlotte Waelde and Hector MacQueen
Chapter 15: A Rights-Free World – Is it Workable, and What is the Point?
Graham Dutfield 1 Introduction 1.1 A Rights-free World – an Appealing Prospect … Imagine a world without intellectual property: one in which information’s alleged wanting to be free would at last be realised, standing on the shoulders of giants would be a right and not – at best – a wafer-thin experimental use exemption, and for those starved of science, culture and Coldplay’s latest CD there would be such a thing as a free lunch. It certainly sounds appealing. Surely we could then distribute AIDS treatments to the dying in Africa whether or not they have money to buy them. We would be able to ensure schoolchildren and university students in poor countries have access to the best and most up-to-date educational materials. Would not an intellectual property rights-free world also save developing-country farmers from having to buy expensive new seeds and pesticides? And, even if traditional knowledge continued to be available without charge, why complain if everything else is free? Becoming intoxicated by this vision, would-be abolitionists would no doubt scorn the objections of those claiming that without intellectual property rights inventors would stop inventing, authors would stop writing, and musicians would down instruments never to pick them up again. Did not Homo sapiens’ ‘creative explosion’ predate the Statutes of Monopolies and Anne by 40 000 years, if not longer, and the birth of the Renaissance by at least two centuries? Or, more prosaically, the ‘Upper Palaeolithic Revolution’. See Lewis-Williams, D. (2002), The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art,...
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