Manoj Ramachandran

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This is my page! What have I done?

What have I done?
My project was about repealing intellectual property law in a foreign country. I created content to post on a wiki. There are podcasts describing the issue, essays, conversations, the video of my presentation to the class, and answers to questions that people have asked.

What have I learned for the project?
I read a lot about libertarianism, including Professor Fried’s book and part of Nozick’s Anarchy, State & Utopia, as well as a lot of material specifically related to copyright and patents. What I wanted to figure out was how intellectual property fits into a libertarian framework and the best arguments for and against it. I think that the most defensible libertarian position that would fund an intellectual property regime would treat IP as a non-rivalous non-excludable public good. The problem with this approach is that the usual way that public goods are funded is out of the general revenue, and this poses more than a few problems with IP. First, the government would have significant power over the content that is created. Second, it is hard to value work ex ante. However, I do think that this sort of public good approach would work very well for things that are now covered by patent (for example, think about the NIH and medical research funding). The reward regimes of the type proposed by Professors Lessig and Fisher provide interesting alternatives, and I wouldn’t be opposed to them in a copyright context.

But, the more I thought about the copyright problem, the more I believed that the correct solution in this context would be no interference at all. For music, the business model could be focused on concerts and touring. Movies could focus more on the theater and have a larger window. Software business could focus on service and support, and the gestalt nature of software development means that open source software is a viable long term solution. Unfortunately, this argument is rarely made in the literature.

I also learned a lot about “campaign finance reform” for the project. From a utilitarian perspective, my main objection to the current regime is that optimality requires a perfect balance, but that balance can never be maintained while content owners can lobby for their own interests. Most people think that the solution is to take the money out of the issue, but I think that it may be best to take the issue out of the government. We feel that the rich are able to buy things that they shouldn’t be able to, but many don’t consider that some of these actions should never be taken by the government anyway.

What have I learned in the project experience?
When I initially started this project, I felt very “alone” in my thoughts, which is rather difficult to explain. The fact that very few people agreed with me was extremely disconcerting initially. This caused me to attempt to try to cloak my beliefs in one philosophy or another, thinking that by retreating to a popular position, I could bring people to my side. Now, I think that humans have an inherent desire for others to believe what they believe, and most people try to find a place to belong. Very few actually make a bona fide attempt to recruit others to novel positions, with most just searching out an existing argument in which to find a home, and I feel that my project was a sort of foray into staking out my own area and inviting people in.

I now believe that starting by attempting to convince one’s opponents is the wrong approach for advocating a new idea. One should instead focus on finding people who already think similarly. The highlight of my entire project experience was talking to Stian and finding out that someone in my intended audience already completely agrees with me. Honestly, when I started my project, I didn’t think that there was any chance whatsoever that any country would repeal its intellectual property protection laws, but now, having found someone, so near the place where I’m targeting no less, who agrees with me and says that many others near him agree as well, I have a renewed hope, and I think that a change in Sweeden is within reach.

Before the internet, it was difficult for people to come together if they held unique beliefs, but not any more. I hope that what I’ve posted online serves as a nucleus for at least a few people to gather around when they read it and think “Wow! Someone else actually believes strongly enough in this to put this online”. I think that the “empathic argument” is especially essential for unique beliefs, because I’m not working with a blank slate. The audience has been deluged for years, told that making copies of intellectual property is stealing, and warned that if they don’t pay there will be no more music, movies, or software for them to consume. An empathic argument lets them know that I’m like them, I think rationally, and I truly believe in what I’m saying. Finally, I think the greatest benefit of an empathic argument in this case is that it is extremely powerful when your opponents do not make one. Because content owners speak of infringement as if it were genocide and the millions of people that do it as if they were murderers, acknowledging their strong points and advocating in a reasonable manner makes my goal look even more like societal benefit and theirs, bare self interest, even though I have an interest in free music as well.

What have I learned in the course experience?
I think that the biggest impact the course made on me was to make me realize that there are a tremendous amount of good ideas waiting to be heard. Law school has an inherent bias, and people tend to focus on the issues that they think are vitally important to the exclusion of everything else. One of the main reasons that I chose the course was that I knew it would be different, that it would be willing to experiment with and deviate from tradition, and it would be responsive to the ideas of the students. Seeing the projects of all of my classmates was an eye-opening experience; even though I didn’t agree with their exact solutions, I always agreed that they had identified an important problem with the status quo. The problem is that people don’t have enough time for these novel issues, because all of their time is taken up by the ones that everyone already knows about. Perhaps instead of treating politics like an arms race, attempting to recruit more and more people on to different sides of the same issue, we should look toward ways to diversifying peoples’ interests and having them engage multiple, novel issues instead. If nothing else, I think that people who have taken this course will be much likely to avoid the standard fare for pro bono cases and, instead, search for something new to care about.