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How Current Copyright Law Encourages Innovation

Friday, June 10, 2005

This morning I've been listening to the latest issue of Audible's Technology Review, which discusses the copyright debate. I assume most people are at least somewhat familiar with this debate, so I won't summarize it. Instead, I'd like to raise a point of my own.

Supporters of free software like to argue that current copyright laws hinder creativity. In their view, creating derivate works is one of the pillars of creativity and copyrights make that virtually impossible.

I think that an argument can also be made that current copyright laws encourage innovation. Publicly licensed software, for example, is becoming more and more popular. Why pay for Windows if you can use Linux for free? Why pay for Microsoft Office if you can use for free? The people at Microsoft (and other developers of proprietary software) have to come up with an answer to these questions. They have to find out how they can add value to their products; what they can offer that free software doesn't.

This means that Microsoft will have to innovate. They can't just repackage Windows and sell it again, because Linux can now do the same things for free. So, Microsoft will have to add new value to Windows and come up with new, innovative products altogether. The open source community doesn't have the resources it takes to innovate in the way Microsoft does. After a while, though, they will be able to duplicate Microsoft's innovative product. This keeps Microsoft on their toes, forcing them to keep innovating. I'd say that's a good thing.

I believe it's good that there is software out there that is freely available for use. I believe open source is a great thing. I also believe that it's good that we have proprietary software and that companies can protect their products through copyright. In other words, I think that the most important thing is that people are free to choose which model they want to use. If you can write great software using an open source model, go for it. If you can write great software using a proprietary model, make it happen. Both methods are viable and the choice should remain with the developer.

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GBGames says:

Free and Open Source software are protected by copyright as well. Without copyright, licenses like the GPL or even Microsoft's EULAs wouldn't exist. When you say that Microsoft is forced to innovate, is it not possible that everyone would also have to innovate? Microsoft doesn't innovate because of copyright. It innovates because of competition. Note that it is finally announcing tabbed browsing in IE 6 even though the concept has been around for years. The open source community doesn't simply duplicate what's out there. Yes, the desktop, the web browser, and the email clients all mimic the functionality of proprietary software. But multiple desktops, browser plugins/extensions, and other innovations do exist with no serious counterparts on Windows. If Microsoft is being kept on its toes, it isn't just because of cost. It's because there are compelling reasons to switch.

Friday, June 10, 2005 9:42 PM

Joost Ronkes Agerbeek says:

You are right of course. Copyright alone is not enough to push developers of proprietary software to innovate, for that you need competition. My point is that the current system, with it's combination of open and proprietary software, both encourages innovation and makes (some) software available for free. I was using Microsoft merely as an example of a company that develops proprietary software. I'm nowhere near foolish enough to claim that all innovation in software comes from them. :-) Of course there will be some innovation in open source software, but innovating usually isn't a main drive behind open source. You need companies that are willing to invest money and fail a couple of times before hitting something that works if you want to truly innovate. The open source community isn't the ideal place for that.

Saturday, June 11, 2005 10:03 AM

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