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IP is a thought crime by Joren De Wachter at TEDxLeuven (Transcript)

Full text of IP strategist and thought leader Joren De Wachter on IP is a thought crime at TEDxLeuven conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: IP is a thought crime by Joren De Wachter at TEDxLeuven


Today is a very special day for me. And I would like to share that day with you in a traditional way by singing a song.

So I’m going to ask you to share a song with me. I think you know how it goes. So, on the count of three if you would sing with me. One, two, three.

♪ Happy Birthday to you ♪

♪ Happy Birthday to you ♪

♪ Happy Birthday, dear Joren ♪

♪ Happy Birthday to you ♪

Thank you. That was lovely.

Now I have two things I have to confess to you. The first one is that, although today is a special day for me, it’s not actually my birthday.

And the second confession is that, by sharing this song, by performing publicly, we are all potentially liable of going to jail for committing a crime, because the song “Happy Birthday to You” is still under copyright.

And this is what I want to talk to you about today. I want to talk to you today about copyright and patents, those systems that have been developed in order to promote innovation and creativity.

And this is the first point I want to make, which is that the purpose of these legal tools is to promote innovation and creativity, to make sure we have more of it. The protection they offer, the exclusive rights they give are only the tool to get to that point.

So, if we look at the system, we need to see: does it actually give society more innovation and more creativity? And we’ll look at the system from three angles, asking three questions.

The first question is: “Is the theory valid?” It is the argument of the head.

The second question is: “Does it actually work? Is there empirical evidence?” It’s the argument of the gut.

And the third question is: “Is it fair? Does it feel right?” It is the argument of the heart.

Because when the head, the heart and the gut are aligned, we know we have a good system.

So let’s look at the theory. Why would we go to jail if we share “Happy Birthday to You”? Well, the reason you would go to jail is to promote the creativity of the authors. And you can see the authors there. Unfortunately, they’ve both been dead for several decades and the song is almost a hundred years old.

So obviously that makes no sense. The idea that you would promote the creativity of dead people by sending a lot of people to jail because they share what they’ve made is obviously absurd.

But, those are not the two most important flaws in the theory I want to talk you about.

For the first flaw, I need you at this time not to sing, but to listen carefully.

[Music starts-

♪ Good morning to you ♪

♪ Good morning to you ♪

♪ Good morning dear children ♪

♪ Good morning to you all ♪ – ]

Now you will have recognized this song. It sounds very much like “Happy Birthday to You.”

But if I were to ask people here whether you think this is a copy or something new, whether it’s an acceptable innovation or a piracy copy, a lot of people would disagree. And it would be difficult to say if this would be allowed or not. It gets us an important distinction. Because if you’re on the wrong side of the opinion, you’re a criminal. If you are on the right side, you are a creative genius.

And I think that doesn’t work, because the distinction of intellectual property theory makes between a copy and an original, the distinction it makes between imitation and innovation does not actually work.

In reality, anybody who has ever created anything knows that any innovation starts with and consists largely of a lot of imitation. And most imitation leads to innovation. So you need both of them to work together. They are part of the same continuum.

But intellectual property does not agree. It says “No.” When you look at innovation and imitation, you have to make a sharp separation. One of them is good: innovation. One of them is bad: imitation. But that doesn’t work.

The second flaw in the theory that I will show you today is represented by this slide. You will see the artist. And the artist it is said needs protection before he can get to his audience. But in between the artist and the audience there is somebody else. There is this middle person: the distributor.

And what we see in practice is that it is the distributors who actually take all the money. Artists on average earn 6% of their income through the sale of records. But Warner Music Group, who holds the rights to “Happy Birthday to You” earned $2 million in royalties in the year 2008 for a song that was written almost a hundred years ago by people who have been dead for several decades.

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By Pangambam S

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