Intellectual property, on the other hand, expires. In the United States, if you own the copyright to a song, for instance, you can pass it along after you die, but it will expire 70 years after that, at which point anyone can perform and record it without permission. Patents for things like new machines or pharmaceuticals expire 20 years after filing, although they can be extended. These time periods are set by law, which gives intellectual property an arbitrariness that physical property does not have.
Do intellectual property rights make sense? Are they necessary for the promotion of artistic and scientific creation? Are they enforceable in the Internet age, when more than ever, information wants to be free?
On the one hand, pharmaceutical companies claim that existing patent laws are not long enough for them to profitably develop new antibiotics, which could lead to really serious problems in the pretty near future. On the other hand, it’s hard to see how knowing that my copyrights will outlive me by 70 years is supposed to encourage me to write more. And actually, lots of artists are opting for a “pay what you want” model that bypasses the issue entirely. As musician Amanda Palmer suggests in a wonderful video, this model might not be lucrative enough to produce “untouchable stars,” but it can allow artists to make a good living—and it might just allow them to connect with their fans on a more intimate level.