All It Takes is One Rotten Apple

Or why the industry needs more subsidies from the Government.

Imagine a good which, if you were to sell it, the person to whom you sold it could reproduce it almost endlessly. Imagine still if those reproductions were functionally identical. Imagine further if the techniques allowing such reproduction were being constantly improved so that reproductions were becoming cheaper and easier over time. It stands to reason that such a good would never be produced in the first place. Whoever went to the trouble of producing the first of these goods would not be able to recoup their investment. You can imagine, after their first sale, the purchaser could set themselves up in competition, undercutting the original seller. Free riding in the industry for such a good would destroy it and therefore deprive the general community of the goods.

I chanced upon one of these utterly remarkable goods down at the shops the other day. The fellow selling it called it an “apple”. Apparently this little device can be reproduced using technology already owned by most people (portable devices containing a plastic shell and some soil apparently retail for a handful of dollars). Indeed, with a little initial investment this thing reproduces itself practically ad infinitum and with little or no human intervention. Moreover, the techniques for reproduction of these things are constantly being improved.

While the fellow selling this thing seemed quite oblivious to the looming problem facing the industry there is clearly a need for action. Probably the best response would be to create a legislative monopoly over reproductions of the good. What do you think? This is something which needs urgent attention if we want our children and our children’s children to have the benefit of these goods.

Please write your local legislative representative before it is too late!


5 Responses to “All It Takes is One Rotten Apple”

  1. 1 George Michaelson 13 June 2008 at 12:15 pm

    good, but.. then again, there is a difference between the same SME in china selling iPods that it makes for apple, under a different badging for 1/2 price (thats also IPR theft of a kind), and me having some amazing 3-d printer which makes iPods (this doesn’t exist) and thus being able to give them away to my friends for free.

    and in context, there is the difference between the fact of a pome, in the form of an apple, and the *idea* of a pome, as a distinct class of fruiting bodies.

    IPR over ideas implies that if I want to teach people that pears are also pomes, I need to pay somebody. I cannot even express the idea that a pome exists without risking problems. Hence, songs like happy birthday have to be attributed in film credits despite clearly being in the realm of open public knowledge.

    the right to badge a specific apple-pome as a ‘fuji’ vests with the DNA behind a fuji apple. If I succeed in breeding a new apple, and only supply grafts which run true (and in fact, have to, since appleseed notoriously goes back to wild) then I need IPR law to prevent somebody from also grafting other daughters from this line.

    is this not possibly analogous? give a person an apple, and you feed them for an hour. give them an apple tree and a grafting knife and you can cover the world with that apple…

  2. 2 brendanscott 13 June 2008 at 12:36 pm

    Hi George

    The essence of the argument is the fact that reproducibility (which for an apple is very rapid according to the technology of all but the most recent past) has not prevented the growth of the fruit (or any other plant) industry. In fact, it is present in most everything anyone ever does and hasn’t stopped the growth of society.

    Your arguments about the idea of something being special seem to be a restatement of the justification for copyright. I don’t see there’s a difference in theory between the categories of effort (eg thinking up an innovation v cultivating a new fruit, perhaps found in the wild) involved. It is a question of whether the law should play favourites with business models.

    Re attribution – this is the topic for another post. In short, not everything in the Copyright Act is fatally flawed. Copyright is a melting pot of a lot of different concepts, and those with moral force are used as a cover to justify immoral ones.

    This is not to say, by the way, that a person should not be able to place any restrictions on these things, but the form and method for such restrictions is an argument for another time.



  3. 3 George Michaelson 13 June 2008 at 1:00 pm

    please don’t believe I wish to state or re-state any justification for copyright. I don’t. I don’t believe fruit varieties should vest with monsanto etc as IPR rights. I don’t like copyright extension or the DCMA or any of the changes we seem to be facing in this space.

    I observe that apples, and their reproduction are firmly rooted in the world of things, and that IPR is equally firmly rooted in the world of ideas. bridges between the two are necessarily less firmly rooted. Analogies are weak, especially in this area.

    reproducability for a pome is not fast btw. fruit bearing demands a) rootstock b) grafting skills, c) 2-3 years 4) investment in land, water, fertilizer and insecticide. if you don’t care about it breeding true, then you can remove some of these. I recommend ‘the botany of desire’ by michael pollan for a very readable history of the apple in america (and many concepts around IPR and food)



  4. 4 brendanscott 13 June 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Re timing – I’m implicitly assuming several years (or decades) is not necessarily slow in the scheme of things – except that it would be considered quite slow in the recent past (last couple of decades, maybe last couple of hundred years). Compare for example, the Sydney-London round trip time in the 18th Century or the London-Rome round trip time of the 11th Century.

    Re the disconnect between ideas and objects – it is not clear that analogies of characteristics of physical things are not directly applicable to non-physical things. See, eg, Boldrin and Levine’s discussion of intellectual monopoly v intellectual property:

  1. 1 2 flash gamez Trackback on 13 November 2008 at 11:09 pm

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