The American Consumer Institute launched its newest survey, “Intellectual Property: Facts and Consumer Opinions on Counterfeit and Pirated Goods,” in DC fashion – lunch panel! The panel featured prominent experts who weighed in on the survey results, as well as what they hope to be the future of intellectual property (IP) rights. The ACI survey, which polled 1000 citizens across the US of varied backgrounds, demonstrated overwhelming support for the protection of intellectual property.
The panelists included Sandra Aistars, Executive Director of the Copyright Alliance; Timothy Lee, Senior Vice President, Legal and Public Affairs for the Center for Individual Freedom; and Todd McCracken, President of National Small Business Association.
Rep. Blackburn (R-TN) gave opening remarks which set the tone for the rest of the discussion. She highlighted how intellectual property is a constitutional right, as outlined in article 1, section 8 of the Constitution. As such, it must be protected to the best of our ability. Blackburn also noted how 55 million Americans earn their paychecks by working in intellectual property, and that this generates $5 trillion of the US’s GDP.
Following Blackburn’s opening, all three panelists had high praise for ACI’s survey. McCracken delivered his thoughts first. He highlighted the importance of intellectual property for small business owners, who are impacted the most by piracy and property theft. Because of their size, they often do not have the resources to hire an attorney every time their product is pirated, and are much less likely to file patents. McCracken also made the distinction of intellectual property not being a wall, but rather a springboard to the creation of new products.
Lee followed McCracken, taking a much more philosophic standpoint. He made two incredibly important points in regards to those who criticize intellectual property protections, the first being the view of intellectual property through the lens of utilitarianism. Simply calculating the utility of the actual product does not suffice, nor does it accurately portray the real effects of intellectual property protection. It goes beyond this—what is the most fair is if a person can receive the fruits of their labor. This is what stimulates greater utility and progress, as one will only get so far without proper incentives to improve upon products and designs already available to the public.
The second defense Lee made of IP protection criticized the belief of many opponents that these laws have become Draconian in the last 30 years, that they have “tightened the noose on innovation.” However, he begged the question of when in human history have we had a more productive, innovative, and wealthy 30-year period than what we have just experienced? The answer is never, and that there is no coincidence that intellectual property has become increasingly prominent during this incredible age of innovation.
Finally, Aistars introduced the perspective of the copyright industry. She heralded the high levels of support for IP protection as being support for simple common sense—copyright systems have incredible benefits, and are currently undergoing an update to become more streamlined, accessible, and up to date with current technology. A few statistics she introduced included that the copyright industry contributed about 11% to the US GDP, and that this produced 5.1 million jobs, with every 2 copyright employees contributing to another job someplace else in the economy. Of these employees, about 1 million are independent copyright owners and small businesses, a huge number that helps to dispel the myth of copyrights only serving big companies on the coasts. And to help all these innovative people involved in copyrights, Aistars pushed the idea that we approach the issues as partners who can reach a common ground, not two warring communities.
There was also concern about IP protection overseas. McCracken mentioned that small businesses often compete with their own products in countries where IP isn’t protected. Of course, the country on everyone’s mind was China, the source of a sizeable amount of IP theft. Aistars suggested that the US try to collaborate with these countries, especially through trade agreements. In several developing countries, governments and their citizens simply don’t realize the importance of protecting intellectual property, so perhaps with the right communication this problem can be fixed overseas, at least for American products.
One of the biggest questions asked by the audience concerned the growth of inequality that has accompanied the growth of innovation. However, Timothy Lee proved this to be not as big an issue as one would think. The rich have gotten richer, yes, and the gap between the wealthy and the middle class has certainly expanded. Lee pointed out, though, that this does not mean that the middle class has declined, nor has the lower class—when everyone’s income is doubled, the gap doubles as well, but still everyone benefits. The poorest Americans now have technology that the wealthy could not even imagine having 15 years ago. As he said, innovation “equalizes, not exacerbates.”
The system we currently have which honors the constitutional right to IP protection simply works better than its alternatives, as it benefits everyone. Aistar even cited a study that demonstrates how communities with higher GDP contributions from the copyright industry typically have greater prosperity and better economies.
Protecting intellectual property has pushed this country forward over the past few decades with the fastest growth of prosperity and innovation that we have ever seen. With soon-to-be updated copyright laws and widespread public support (as shown by ACI’s survey), we must work to continue to protect intellectual property and inform others of the issues at hand in order to improve this rate of innovation even more. Everyone must remember: this is a matter not just of legislation, but of the natural rights on which this country was founded.
You can read the American Consumer Institute study here.