Intellectual Property as a Legacy
For some time now, I’ve been contemplating the value of intellectual property. As I understand it, intellectual property are the creations we create for the use by others. Most individuals recognize intellectual property as the music they listen to, or a book they read or even a movie they watch. However, intellectual property is much more than that. It is anything an individual creates that others use. As an example, this blog is composed of intellectual property and is intellectual property at the same time. But it can be more than that; it can be the Crayola picture your son created this morning on your wall. Basically, intellectual property is anything you create, or compile through your own labor or the collaboration of many others. Because intellectual property requires labor, experience and knowhow, it has an included value to it. What that value is, is determined by how much someone is willing to pay for it.
However, intellectual property is also an amalgamation of the knowledge that is collected by humanity. The collective knowledge is distributed through various means, word of mouth, books and multimedia. Because it can be the collective knowledge of humanity, there is an inherent argument about whether it is fair to apply a cost to the distribution of the knowledge to others.
Originally, the cost for distributing the knowledge to others was determined by the cost of labor to hand-copy the knowledge into compendiums and the material used to make them. Initially they were time consuming and expensive to produce because of the intensity of the labor required. When technology advanced with the printing press, which in itself is made from intellectual property, the cost diminished and the penetration of the knowledge increased exponentially.
Knowledge became a commodity not only because of the cost to disseminate it but also because those with the knowledge had control over those without it. The need to control eventually outweighed the cost to distribute the knowledge. Centers of learning became, for the most part, moneymaking activities further controlling the information.
Prior to the Internet, intellectual property was easily controlled. Books and other materials were tangible products that could be readily counted and licensing fees applied to them. It was easy to distinguish a bootlegged copy of a music CD or a book. Forcing the unlicensed products off the marketplace was as simple as removing counterfeit products from circulation. The tangibility of a photocopied book versus an original was easily distinguishable by the population in general. That is no longer the case as a digital book is indifferent from a copied digital book, even side to side.
Even then, there was a power struggle between those making money from their intellectual property and those espousing that knowledge belonged to humanity unencumbered by the ability to pay for it. Although the Internet, like the printing press, exponentially increased the ability to distribute intellectual property, it nonetheless did not democratize access to knowledge. There is a cost inherent to the knowledge.
Through my blog, I add to the knowledge base by contributing my own perspective to an issue or issues. Although there is no obvious cost to what I blog from the readers’ perspective because the reader does not physically pick up a tangible item like a newspaper that does not mean that there are no costs associated to my blog posts. Unlike news media outlets, I do not have to pay overhead costs like labor or desks or telephones. However, the time it takes for me to ponder an idea, to gather the necessary information to produce my thought or the time it actually takes me to write the piece is a result of experience, knowledge and labor. Those all have a cost associated to them.
However, the ultimate value of what I write, or draw is ultimately determined by what the readers, such as yourselves, are willing to pay for it. Obviously, since my blog is free access the value is inherently nonexistent from a monetary point of view. The books and other publications have their value inherent in them because they are tangible materials. I control the distribution channels and therefore I control their worth. There is other material that is more difficult to quantify that nonetheless has a value to it.
I have been blessed recently with an eight-year old who has forced me to begin to think about what legacy I can leave for him. The obvious, of course, is the knowledge that I hopefully impart upon him that will help guide him through life. However, what about the traditional legacy of familial assets passed down from one generation to the next?
There are, of course the assets we are all familiar with. But what about the unconventional assets? There are also the intellectual properties that have tangible copyrights attached to them.
For more than a decade, I have been collecting, compiling and indexing almost ten terabytes of data, written and graphical. That is about the entire US Library of Congress in digital format. The data is comprised of news clippings, news videos, published and unpublished technical and other reports or manuscripts and various publications on various topics. The topics include US-Mexico border trade and geopolitics statistical reports and position papers. They also include various historical documents. Almost a terabyte of data is comprised of El Paso politics related information.
Throughout this time, I have looked for ways to share the information with you, especially the El Paso political data. Because the data sources are comprised of intellectual property, it is not as simple as putting up a website where anyone can access the data. For example, many of the data points are comprised of newspaper clippings. These are important for most political discussions as they give a context to today’s events with past events. Unfortunately, the newspapers are likely to impose copyright laws in order to force the removal of the materials although most of the articles are hidden behind paywalls or fees and difficult to search through. In essence deepening the chasm between those with the knowledge and those without it.
One result of sharing the data with you has been my blog. However, it is only a trickle of the entire compilation because of the time it takes to convert it into something usable.
I do not begrudge, although I am sometimes am jealous of, the newspapers for their ability to monetize their intellectual property. After all each intellectual property has an inherent cost to it that must be paid. The problem though, is at what point does keeping knowledge bottled up go against humanity’s right to access knowledge equally. It is too complex a problem to attempt to answer through one blog post, or even many.
As I continued to ponder my intellectual property and the possible legacy of it, I couldn’t help but think about Ray Gilbert, a political activist I had the pleasure of meeting in El Paso. As some of you know, El Paso politics, like many others is a result of historical events that contextually influence the politics of the city. I once met with Ray Gilbert in the parking lot of an event to discuss an ongoing political issue. As we discussed the issue, Gilbert periodically reached into his car and pulled out a report, or a newspaper clipping that he used to focus a discussion item for me. I remember marveling at his car full of historical data in his car, boxes and boxes of it. After his passing, I often wondered what ever happened to that smorgasbord of data that he had compiled and ordered into something useable. It probably ended up in some landfill only to be lost forever. That loss represents a microcosm of the loss of human knowledge that happens almost every minute on every day with the passing of another human being never to be known again.
Do not misunderstand me. I am not advocating that we do away with intellectual property rights; after all, I wish I were paid for my blogging. However, what about the loss of the data I compiled for years. It has value for someone, after all individuals read my blog regularly.
Landon, may, or may not have an interest in my data, both what I have published and what I have compiled. Regardless, if it has value then it is a legacy regardless of its actual worth. If I were to make it available for anyone to access it, it will eventually result in copyright lawsuits because of intellectual property rights. Giving the information to select individuals, similar to making Xerox copies of a publication for educational purposes, limits the access to certain individuals thus exasperating the limiting of information to certain individuals.
In Ray Gilbert’s case, as far as I know, the data he compiled over years was analog in nature and thus it was likely discarded. In my case, the information I have compiled over the years, and continue to, is in digital format making its dissemination much easier. However, the question remains does it have a value to it?
There are two values, one is the usability of the information as part of a knowledge base and another is the years of labor collecting, compiling the information and what that labor is worth to someone. After all, anyone contemplating collecting similar information would have to use labor to do so and that has an inherent cost to it.
If it has a value to it then it becomes an asset, a digital asset if you will and ultimately a legacy. On the other hand, is it better lost upon my passing because the value is only valuable to me? The answer was much easier to me before being blessed with Landon however now I have a responsibility to him in a digital asset that might benefit him.
The answer to this continues to elude me. Not only is trying to understand if the data has value to it but also waiting for the intellectual property laws to catch up with the realities of the Internet as well as reaching a balance between the rights to monetize your labor with the rights of humanity’s knowledge.
I hope that before I pass, I will find an answer to this question that I continue to ponder.