Copy Fights: The Future of Intellectual Property in the Information Age

Cato Institute
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A debate on the theory of intellectual property, the
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Cato Institute
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Dec 31, 2002
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Political Science / Reference
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In What's Yours Is Mine: Open Access and the Rise of Infrastructure Socialism, authors Adam Thierer and Clyde Wayne Crews Jr. examine the hazards of mandatory "open access"-- a trend in which hyper-regulatory bureaucrats and central planners are increasingly commanding technology companies and industry sectors to share networks, facilities, or specific technologies with rivals. Telephone and cable companies, wireless carriers, electric utilities, the Visa/Mastercard network, Microsoft's Windows operating system -- all these and more have been targets of demands for forced access. Although supporters claim that open access is pro-competitive, the opposite is true. Forced access policies inevitably mean price and quality controls, stagnation, increased litigation, and a crippling of innovation.

Genuine competition requires that firms have the ability to exclude rivals. Government seizure of existing networks and technologies on behalf of rivals means that next-generation technologies will not be created by those rivals or the incumbents. The recent decision by the FCC to continue such micro-management of local telecom markets illustrates this principle; regulators have opted to continue to require sharing of local telephone lines and switches despite the fact that those rules have decimated innovation and investment in the U.S. telecom market. The key message for policymakers hoping for a high-tech renaissance: Competition in the creation of networks is as important as competition in the goods and services that get sold across those networks. Competition, innovation, and consumers will suffer if forced sharing policies are not abandoned. In today's world of increasing global communications and digital technologies, What's Yours Is Mine makes an urgently needed pro-consumer case for laissez-faire in the evolution of technology industries.

The rise of the Internet has challenged traditional concepts of jurisdiction, governance, and sovereignty. Many observers have praised the Internet for its ubiquitous and "borderless" nature and argued that this global medium is revolutionizing the nature of modern communications. Indeed, in the universe of cyberspace there are no passports and geography is often treated as a meaningless concept. But does that mean traditional concepts of jurisdiction and governance are obsolete? When legal disputes arise in cyberspace, or when governments attempt to apply their legal standards or cultural norms to the Internet, how are such matters to be adjudicated?

Cultural norms and regulatory approaches vary from country to country, as reflected in such policies as free speech and libel standards, privacy policies, intellectual property, antitrust law, domain name dispute resolution, and tax policy. In each of those areas, policymakers have for years enacted myriad laws and regulations for "realspace" that are now being directly challenged by the rise of the parallel electronic universe known as cyberspace. Who is responsible for setting the standards in cyberspace? Is a "U.N. for the Internet"or a multinational treaty appropriate? If not, who's standards should govern cross-border cyber disputes? Are different standards appropriate for cyberspace and "real" space? Those questions are being posed with increasing frequency in the emerging field of cyberspace law and constitute the guiding theme this book's collection of essays.

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