In the last edition of The Freeman, David Levin and Michele Boldrin argue that “innovation could thrive” without an IP regime. And they propose that an “open-sourceâ€ model can accomplish this feat.Two heads are better than one…
For those unfamiliar with the open-source paradigm, in a nutshell, its proponents suggest that in terms of quality assurance, having hundreds of independent eyes scanning code can be far superior and more effective at rooting out poor code, as compared to traditionally closed projects with small development teams.
Or as Betrand Serlet of Apple noted a couple years ago,
having a greater number of people keeping an eye on source code leads to better software security. “A lot of security problems derive from the core,” he said. With open-source code, “thousands of people look at the critical portions of source code and…check (to make sure) those portions are right. It’s a major advantage to have open-source code.”
In addition, Levin and Boldrin touch on one of the webs biggest “killer-apps” called BitTorrent. A long story short, this open-source P2P protocol decentralizes the method for distributing data across the web (different than hierarchical systems such as DNS).
The authors note that a key metric used to monitor its proliferation and success is the fact that it is downloaded 50,000 times a day. However, while this is a relatively large number (as compared to other P2P apps), perhaps the best indicator of its success is that BitTorrent usage comprises 55% of all Internet traffic.
And that is not just movies of Pamela Handerson, Gonzo, or Paris Hilton gone-wild either.
The authors also discussed the concept of selling services and support to customers to pay the development bills — and they use Red Hat as an example.
However, it should also be noted that this method was first successfully pioneered by John Gilmore at Cygnus Solutions back in the late ’80s whom would later sell the firm to none other than Red Hat.
… or too many cooks in the kitchen?
In the end, the key for abolishing an IP regime should not rest on empirical data (what if there wasn’t any?), but rather an apriori argument along the lines of Against Intellectual Property.
Besides, the choice between proprietary code and open-source is a management decision which has little to do with ideology or law and is therefore IP agnostic. [Note: Chris DiBona of Google has also stressed how this boils down to a management strategy; i.e., perhaps it is not cost effective to maintain an open-source project]