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Arnold Kling has a Ph.D. in economics from MIT; founded, one of the very first commercial websites, in 1994; separated from Homefair in January 2000 after it was sold to Homestore; is author of Under the Radar: Starting Your Internet Business without Venture Capital, and is an essayist. Send comments to us at

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« Geekonomics | Main | Echo Chamber, Con't »

February 18, 2004

An Intellectual Property Issue

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Posted by Arnold

From Steve Verdon:

Suppose I make a chair and then sell it too you. If we treated that chair just like we treat intellectual property law I'd have a great deal of control over what you do with that chair. You cannot duplicate any part for your own personal gain without my express permission, and gaining my permission might require a monetary transfer from you to me.

Actually, I'm not sure that I could copy the chair and then sell the copy without causing a problem. But I assume that making a copy for my own use would be ok. But, then, there are also "fair use" provisions in copyright law.

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: intellectual property


1. Steve on February 18, 2004 06:27 PM writes...

You mean like if say the design of the chair were protected via intellectual property law? Isn't that sort of the point? That people want to use the law to minimize competition and gain greater market power?

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2. Ravi Nanavati on February 19, 2004 01:28 AM writes...

You couldn't stick your chair out on your porch and sit on it because that would be a "public performance"...

And of, course, if the chair had an encrypted cushion on it, you couldn't sit on the chair unless you used the cushion [courtesy of the DMCA]...

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3. Ed Felten on February 19, 2004 07:59 AM writes...

You couldn't re-cover the chair with different fabric, because that would be a derivative work.

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4. Cypherpunk on February 21, 2004 03:10 AM writes...

Test post, I keep getting failures.

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5. Cypherpunk on February 21, 2004 02:22 PM writes...

"Your comment could n-o-t be submitted due to questionable content: n-o-t." I appreciate the emphasis on positive thinking, but eliminating the "n" word?

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6. Cypherpunk on February 21, 2004 02:26 PM writes...

If you promised n-o-t to do certain things with the chair as a condition of receiving it, then you should be bound by your promise. For example, maybe the chair was an heirloom of the seller and you promised to take good care of it. Or maybe the seller had hand-crafted the chair, only makes and sells a few every year, and he'll only sell to people who promise n-o-t to leave the chair outside in the rain. We used to sell puppies and we'd make people agree to a long list of conditions about taking care of the dogs.

In general, in any such purchase, whether of physical or intellectual property, we should leave maximum freedom for the parties involved to agree about whatever terms they see fit. A piece of intellectual property may be transferred with few or no limitations; a piece of physical property may be transferred with a great many conditions. There is no intrinsic difference between intellectual and physical property on this issue.

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