Thursday, June 28, 2012

Intellectual Property: A Thought Experiment

In the comments on my latest piece at C4SS, there's a little bit of argument over whether the basis for intellectual property is the Labor Theory of Value or Locke's "labor theory of property." While thinking about this, I came up with a thought experiment to test the dedication of proponents to the latter.

It hasn't escaped most people's attention that these days it's possible to drum up computer automation of a lot of tasks ... and if the creator of such an automation process is the owner of what that process produces, then wouldn't it be interesting what might result?

So, let's say I write two programs.

One is a semi- random text generator that I periodically "salt" with words that get a lot of current use and set to work generating complete sentences according to some rules base.

The other is a random picture generator that I periodically "salt" with vague and randomly-customizable object outlines so that it produces, for example, 20 million pictures of chairs today and 20 million pictures of women's dresses tomorrow.

How long will it be before I've generated valid copyright claims on a huge number of novels and women's clothing options?

Hey, I did the work. I wrote the generator and mixed my labor with it. The product is MINE MINE MINE, right?

And if you happen to independently invent something that looks a lot like it, well, I guess it sucks to be you.

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