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Against Intellectual Monopoly Paperback – January 25, 2010
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"Boldrin and Levine, highly respected economic theorists, have produced a lively and readable book for the intelligent layman. In it, they challenge conventional wisdom about patents and argue that we would be better off without them. The book will open a fresh debate on the policy on intellectual property protection." - Boyan Jovanovic, New York University
"There is a growing and important skepticism about the fundamental rules we have used to regulate access to information and innovation. This beautifully written and compelling argument takes the lead in that skeptical charge." - Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law School
"For centuries, intellectual property rights have been viewed as essential to innovation. Now Boldrin and Levine, two top-flight economists, propose that the entire IPR system be scrapped. Their arguments will generate controversy but deserve serious examination." - Eric Maskin, Nobel Laureate, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
"This is an important and needed book. The case made by Boldrin and Levine against giving excessive monopoly rights to intellectual property is a convincing one. Monopoly in intellectual property impedes the development of useful knowledge. I think they make the case that granting these monopoly rights slows innovation." - Edward C. Prescott, Nobel Laureate, University of Minnesota
"Boldrin and Levine present a powerful argument that intellectual property rights as they have evolved are detrimental to efficient economic organization." - Douglass C. North, Nobel Laureate, Washington University in St. Louis
"How have we come to view ideas as if they have some physical existence that we can lock up behind a set of property rights laws akin to, but remarkably different from, those we use to protect our physical property? This is the central question in Against Intellectual Monopoly by Michele Boldrin and David Levine. The answer they come to is startling: except in a few rare cases, intellectual property protection does more economic harm than good and ought to be eliminated. The technology of digital computers and the Internet, as Boldrin and Levine show again and again, has exposed long-standing moral shortcomings of current intellectual property laws in a particularly stark way." - Stephen Spear, Carnegie Mellon University
"Boldrin and Levine expose many real and costly flaws of the U.S. system of patents and copyrights.... [and] provide support for further reforms of intellectual property law." - Richard Gilbert, University of California Berkeley, Journal of Economic Literature
Top Customer Reviews
I was pointed to this book while arguing that intellectual property is needed to overcome a public goods problem. After reading it, I've moved from confidently supporting minimal IP rights to tentatively advocating their abolition.
The authors provide plenty of evidence and a few intriguing theoretical arguments to bolster their position.
It definitely won't be the last word on this subject, but it will widen the debate and point it in new directions. Very much worth reading, if you're interested in IP issues.
The book is a simple and clear set of reasoned arguments against the existence of intellectual monopoly. Boldrin and Levine are careful to distinguish between intellectual property rights and intellectual monopoly: intellectual property is argued to be just as important as other property rights, while they eventually equate intellectual property to something close to public theft.
No difficult math or statistics are employed, so the average reader will be able to understand the arguments and agree or disagree. Each chapter also includes references to statistical and mathematical treatments of the subjects, although I wish they'd included brief outlines of these in an appendix.
The ideas themselves are impressively simple. Arguments in favor of intellectual monopoly can be made to seem very obvious. Arguments against intellectual monopoly can be a little complicated. It's easy to say that patents and copyrights are necessary to pay back authors and inventors for their risks and creativity. But how much should they be payed back? And does it occur without government intervention in the forms of patents and copyrights? Does piracy actually put the legitimate creators and inventors out of business?
One striking example from the book was the Linux company Red Hat, which distributes the open-source Linux platform and provides support. Its pirating competitors sell the same thing for cheaper (and indeed, the whole thing is available for free!) and yet Red Hat has grown and its competitors have shrunken or disappeared altogether. Boldrin and Levine point out that while something may be free, people are still willing to pay for other peoples' knowledge. There is value in knowledge, and consumers don't always have the time to educate themselves. Those with a background in economics will remind themselves immediately that there is no such thing as a free lunch: even pirated material has an opportunity cost of time, or might require a certain level of knowledge. Another interesting example was the pornography industry. Here is an industry that has always been a constant target of piracy, yet it continues to grow!
Boldrin and Levine have managed to simplify the arguments into clean examples and easy statistics. Unfortunately, I find that when the statistics do not go in their favor they are more likely to wave away the outliers than attempt to explain them, a choice I find leaves their argument looking weaker than it might otherwise be.
Overall, the book is a pretty quick read that will inform you of several arguments in the anti-monopoly position. The writing is clear and direct. Boldrin and Levine also have an off-beat sense of humor, which at times made me smile but mostly made me grimace.
Recommended to anybody interested in this current debate, regardless of the side of the debate on which you may fall.
This lack of consistency and rigor--both literary and logical--detracts from the overall punch. I, for one, am thoroughly convinced. But I'm an easy sell. Unfortunately this book is unlikely to convert intellectual property proponents or fence sitters. It's something of a missed opportunity, though I certainly appreciate and commend the authors' efforts at writing for a lay audience.