3.8 So what is intellectual property?

Intellectual property rights are limited monopolies, granted for a limited period, in order to ‘promote the progress of Science and useful Arts’, thereby acting as a benefit to the public. The quoted phrase comes from Article 1, Section 8 of the American Constitution. In other words, if we understand we can make money from intellectual property, we are encouraged to create intellectual property and exclusively make it available to the public, at a price, for a limited time. When the time limit on the monopoly expires, the intellectual property reverts to the public domain, i.e. public ownership. The author or creator or inventor can thus make a living and the wider public is enriched by having access to an ever-increasing vat of ideas. It's a win-win situation, in theory. Of course, in ‘real space’ (and cyberspace), things are a bit more complicated than that.

Note: There is a complex series of developments on intellectual property currently taking place at European level. These developments may be referred to in the media from time to time during your study of this unit. It is worth looking out for stories on three areas:

  1. European-level decisions about software patents.

  2. Cases or developments arising from the UK government's implementation (in the autumn of 2003) of the 2001 EU directive on the Harmonisation of Certain Aspects of Copyright and Related Rights in the Information Society.

  3. Implementation at member state level of the European Commission's 2004 directive on the enforcement of intellectual property rights and any cases arising from this.

Only one thing is impossible for God: to find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.

(Mark Twain)

3.9 The three-layers model of the internet