One of the strongest arguments in favor of deregulating industries is the promotion of innovation. Industries that are gearing their strategies to the regulatory and antitrust environment, the argument goes, are unable to focus on serving their customers.
However, too-powerful corporations can stifle innovation in plenty of ways. The motion picture trust tried to keep independents from producing unauthorized movies. The independents moved to Los Angeles and became the establishment. If AT&T hadn’t been broken up, it’s unlikely that we would have the consumer Internet as we know it today. Currently, the access monopolies are trying to keep us from accessing standard network protocols (SMTP, FTP, etc.) in order to keep consumers in a walled garden.
Freedom to innovate is a constant theme of Microsoft’s lobbying against antitrust enforcement. Freedom for whom? Freedom for Microsoft, surely. But what about the millions of consumers and independent developers who want to modify their computers in ways that contradict Microsoft’s strategy? Who’s fighting for their freedom to innovate? Microsoft isn’t.
Intellectual property law is becoming a threat, rather than a spur, to innovation. SCO’s lawsuits agains the Linux community doesn’t promote innovation, nor does the RIAA’s desperate rear-guard action against file-sharing, or the proliferation of software patents, or the DMCA’s regulations agains reverse-engineering and information sharing. What’s ironic is that IP is government-created fiction that has nothing to do with liberty. It makes private property of ideas and enforces its rights with government force.
I don’t oppose the idea of intellectual property, but I do oppose the hypocrisy of demanding “freedom to innovate” while using government guns to limit your competitors’ freedom to innnovate.