Introducing ethics in Information and Computer Sciences
Introducing ethics in Information and Computer Sciences

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Introducing ethics in Information and Computer Sciences

5.4 Intellectual property rights and value

Another important theme raised in the play is intellectual property rights (IPR). Ned's fortunes seem to rely on control of the IPR issues surrounding his invention. He challenges the rights of others to share in the IP because, as he sees it, they have not contributed anything. The assumption is that those that have the idea have IPR, but the IPR has value and, therefore, any proceeds accrued should be due to the person who has the idea. A problem arises here because of the phrase ‘intellectual property rights’. It does seem to link it to the person who has the idea.

When it comes to patents, the person having the idea is acknowledged, and the expression of the idea often does have value, but it is quite unlikely that the originator of the idea is able to express that idea without the help of all sorts of other people. Without that support, the originator might not have the time, the energy, the facilities or even the inspiration to develop and express the idea. So the question is, then, should those who supported the inventor get some reward? My answer would be yes, but, in this case, how is that reward to be funded?

The only source of income value is the expression of the idea. So the only source of reward for anybody involved in this is having a share in the IPR. However, Ned persists in believing the intellectual property is the property of the person who put in the intellectual effort. Perhaps the problem here is the term ‘intellectual property’, which stresses the intellectual component of what is likely to have been quite a collective effort demanding intellectual skills but also practical skills of various kinds. Perhaps it is not intellectual property that we are talking about. Perhaps we are talking about the artefacts that are created by a collective of people, and surely they all deserve a share in what is called the IPR.

Nevertheless, it seems that Ned is, more than anything else, seeking control. Ned is frustrated that he's got little control over how the invention is to be deployed. Shaw's Major Barbara comes to mind. Cumming says, ’I shall sell cannons to whom I please and refuse them to who I please’, and Undershaft (the arms dealer) replies, ‘Don't come here lusting for power, young man!’ Cumming continues, ‘Don't listen, the place is driven by the most rascally part of society, he is their slave.’ Undershaft goes on, ‘I’ll take an order from a good man as cheerfully as from a bad one. If you good people prefer preaching and shirking to buying my weapons and fighting the rascals, don't blame me. I can make cannons; I cannot make courage and conviction. Bar, you tire me with your morality mongering.’

Shaw is making a similar point to the one being made in Landscape with Weapon. The trouble is that, if you start trying to gain control over who gets the weapons, then you enter into the realms of politics, which is effectively what Ned wants to do. However, he has entered the wrong profession to do that, and, of course, he is ill-suited to enter the realm of politics because his fear of authority lies amongst the technologists and not amongst the politicians. If he actually does want control, then he probably needs to take up a different career and become a politician.

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