Like most posts having to do with the ethical use of information, last Tuesday's "If I can't get it legally is it OK to steal it?" drew a number of comments. Among them were those by Peter Rock, a teacher in Taiwan, who often weighs in on these issues. More often than not, we disagree on issues. Our conversation this week, in part, went like this:
Me: [Intellectual Property is] not a legal term but a common means of describing a general category of property
Peter: It doesn't describe property at all. Copyright, trademarks, and patents are not property. While there is an entire industry devoted to making the public think in terms of "property", this does not make it so. This does not make the intangible tangible.
Me: Ah, but the intangible can have even greater value than the tangible. You think I have a future as a Zen master?
Peter: No, but the RIAA or MPAA might be interested in your services. But seriously, how does the fact that an intangible can (depending on the particular comparison) have more value than a tangible back up the "property" view? I'm not following. Can you explain this?
I'll do my best. I am no economist, but some of this seems to be common sense. This is how I would look at the components that give a thing economic "value" and justify its price:
Price = Materials + Production Costs + Intangible Value
For example, if I were to buy a book for $10 and the materials and production costs were $4, its intangible value would be $6. (I am including things like transportation, marketing, editing, etc under production.)
So it seems to me we could have some fun putting things on a scale of low to high intangible value:
Low intangible value: gold bullion, gasoline, raw meat -> -> -> High intangible value: jewelry, DisneyWorld tickets, gourmet meal.
You can do this within a product category such as cars, too. Assuming all cars have a (relatively) similar cost in materials and production then:
Low intangible value: Toyota Corolla -> -> -> High intangible value: Lamborgini
Information or entertainment packages are interesting here. But I think you could place these on a scale as well:
Low(er) intangible value: physical books, CDs, DVDS -> -> -> High intangible value: mp3 files, live concerts, e-books.
(But I would argue that even on the low side, the bulk of the value in information and entertainment is intangible.)
Peter, it seems to me (and I am happy to stand corrected), that you are arguing that if you can bring the cost of material and production of something to near zero, one is also obligated to bring the intangible value of that thing to zero as well. Personally, I don't believe that.
Pink in A Whole New Mind uses the Michael Graves designed toilet brush as an example of how real value can be added to something through design, and that this value-added, intangible component is growing as the amount of disposable income in the world grows as well. It's an idea I hope my own children internalize - especially my son who hopes to earn a living doing production and design work.
Anyway, this is how I would explain how something intangible can have even more value than the tangible. I appreciate the challenge. As always, Peter, you make me think harder about things than I really care to do!
Now I am trying to put "experience" on a low to high tangibility scale.
Low intangible value: visit to the chiropractor-> -> -> High intangible value: attending a Broadway play.
Sort of works.