One of America's leading authorities on technology and telecom policy, Motley is a writer, television and radio commentator, political and policy strategist, lecturer, debater, activist, and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.
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We are in the midst of a presidential race that is fundamentally changing how many view – and thought they knew – politics. Donald Trump especially is radically altering that map. What many thought were permanent lines – turned out to be drawn on an Etch-a-Sketch. That the presumptive Republican nominee has spent the last year shaking into oblivion.
Much of what Trump has altered – desperately needed to be altered. Change can be a very good thing – especially when terrible ideas and actions have been ensconced and accepted as “the norm” and “that’s how it’s always been done.
That’s certainly the case in many instances with intellectual property (IP). Intellectual property has come to be seen as somehow less than physical property – and thus less worthy of protection from theft. In an ever increasingly digital economy – that’s even less good.
One of the first major purveyors of IP theft was Napster. Launched on June 1, 1999, Napster was a website designed to allow its users to steal digital copies of music. Millions of people downloaded songs – for which they did not pay. These same people – who would never have walked into a brick-and-mortar Tower Records store and stolen the same music on CDs – had no compunction doing the exact same thing digitally. In this way did Napster help begin to artificially, dangerously lessen the perceived value of IP.
But just because you aren’t stealing anything tangible – doesn’t mean you aren’t stealing. By illegally replicating a song (or movie, or book, or….) – you are lessening the value of the legal copies thereof. It is the exact same reason you aren’t allowed to print fake money – because it devalues real money. (Someone please tell the United States Treasury.)
Flash forward nearly two decades – and we have China. Which is Napster on uber-steroids – ensconced as government policy. On May 15 on Fox News Sunday, in defense of Trump’s call for a reanalysis of how we cut trade deals, Republican former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said “When you hear, for example, that the Chinese last year probably stole $360 billion in intellectual property from the United States, I think being tough about that’s a good thing. I think conservatives can be for very tough-minded trade.”
$360 billion is a LOT of heisted coin. Is that a correct count? Uber-Left PolitiFact actually said “It could actually be higher.” Equally uber-Left PundiFact said “The first thing we should note, however, is that the $360 billion figure is only for losses from cyber-hacking — a limitation that Gingrich didn’t specify. Of course, adding in non-cyber losses would only increase that figure beyond $360 billion.”
So Gingrich’s $360 billion of Chinese per annum intellectual property theft is a…conservative estimate. It’s likely much worse. And guess who picks up that massive tab? You do – in the form of higher prices for the music, movies and other things they’re stealing.
Keep that in mind when next you hear how much a “trade war” will cost you. If the “war” is negotiating anti-theft mandates – the benefits will far outweigh the costs. And will restore some sanity to intellectual property perception.
All of this raises another question. Why would our Congress work to undermine any aspect of intellectual property protection? Why would they make it harder for our creators to protect their creations? And thereby easier for the likes of China to continue – and even increase – their thievery?
Sadly, that’s what Republicans are leading the charge to do to patents. Behold the woefully misnamed “Innovation Act”:
‘Innovation Act’ Will Stifle Innovation: “For investors in technology start-ups, things are about to get much more complex and dangerous….(T)his bill actually will kill investment and innovation … The American patent, so indispensable to technology start-ups, is about to be rendered useless when faced with an infringer of disproportionate size … “
The Innovation Act Would Hurt Inventors Like Me, And Thousands Of Others: “(T)he Innovation Act threatens American inventors, particularly individual inventors and those working at small businesses and startups …”
Meanwhile, China and its ilk are licking their chops – hoping this terrible legislation becomes law.
We have decades of bad intellectual property precedent to undo. The Innovation Act isn’t helping.