Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine of Washington University have just published a book, Against Intellectual Monopoly, which suggests that far from driving a knowledge-based economy, copyright (and patent law) actually drags the economy down:
"From a public policy view, we'd ideally like to eliminate patent and copyright laws altogether," says Levine, John H. Biggs Distinguished Professor of Economics. "There's plenty of protection for inventors and plenty of protection and opportunities to make money for creators. It's not that we see this as some sort of charitable act that people are going to invent and create things without earning money. Evidence shows very strongly there are lots of ways to make money without patents and copyright."
Levine and Boldrin point to students being sued for 'pirating' music on the internet and AIDS patients in Africa dying because they cannot afford expensive drugs produced by patent holders as examples of the failure of the current system. Boldrin, the Joseph Gibson Hoyt Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences and Chair of the economics department says, "Intellectual property is in fact an intellectual monopoly that hinders rather than helps the competitive free market regime that has delivered wealth and innovation to our doorsteps."
The pair are realistic - they're not expecting to argue the rules out of existence - but hope that they can shift a debate to a point where intellectual property law starts, slowly, to reflect its original purpose, of stimulating inventiveness, rather than smothering it with monopoly. Good luck with that, guys.