Leveraging Piracy: A Business Strategy?

Glenn Otis Brown, January 9th, 2005

In a long article on piracy and the Chinese economy, the New York Times Magazine’s Ted C. Fishman describes Toyota’s judo-like approach to piracy: don’t fight overwhelming forces head-on; use their momentum to your advantage . . .

Another approach to the Chinese intellectual-property regime is to leverage its vitality. The Japanese may be showing the way here too. In September, Toyota surprised the world’s automobile makers by announcing that it would join with China’s government-owned First Auto Works Corporation to start building its Prius hybrid cars in Jilin, a northeast Chinese province. The innovative Prius is one of the world’s most sought-after cars — why would Toyota bring its hottest technology to China where it is almost certain to be carefully studied and boldly copied? The company says that it just wants to make more cars to meet demand. But an American management consultant who asked not to be identified told me that Toyota could have a deeper strategy that actually counts on Chinese manufacturers to usurp and adapt some of the car’s technology. The car’s central and perhaps most expensive component is its battery. China has already taken a sizable piece of the small-battery business away from leading Japanese manufacturers in recent years, thereby pushing battery prices down by 40 percent or more. The country is also a leading producer of electric motors. China is just the place, in other words, to drive down the price of the Prius’s battery and motor, and if that happens it will give Toyota an even bigger jump on the rest of the world’s car makers struggling to design and produce their own hybrids. Toyota’s move into China could even transform the automotive industry by luring car buyers into hybrids faster. In effect, Toyota may be hoping to ride China’s copycat tendencies past American competitors and into the top spot among world car makers — provided, of course, that Chinese manufacturers do not do to Toyota what they did to Japan’s motorcycle makers.

It’s a good article, generally, though it would have been much stronger had the author bothered to discuss the big differences between various forms of intellectual property, rather than just lumping in drug manufacturing with CD copyring and knock-off trademarks.

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Response to Bill Gates

Glenn Otis Brown, January 9th, 2005

Katie Dean of Wired News has a story about the general response to Bill Gates’s casual lobbing of the word “communist” in the general direction of anyone who thinks critically about how the law regulates information.

The story quotes part of my response to Gates; I thought I’d print the rest of it here. (Dean interviewed me via email.)

WIRED News: Do you regard [Gates’s comment] as a direct bash on Creative Commons?

Me: I can’t imagine that’s what he intended. Bill Gates is too smart to confuse a voluntary, market-based approach to copyright like Creative Commons with a statist, centrally planned economy. That would be like calling Bill Gates a communist because he gives billions of dollars to philanthropic causes, or on a more everyday level, describing a restauranteur who sometimes comps her best patrons as a socialist.

What is your reaction to his comments?

Well, since I know he can’t be talking about Creative Commons, I’d be interested to know whom Gates is talking about, exactly. Is he calling The Economist magazine communist for arguing that copyright terms should last only a few decades, which they did just last year? Does he think that IBM, which makes more than a few bucks from selling Linux-based servers, should be re-nicknamed “Big Red”? Is he saying that economists like Milton Friedman and Ronald Coase, who support limited copyright terms, are the new Marx and Engels?

Anything else you’d like to add?

I get sad when people cheapen words like “communist” or “fascist” by throwing them around recklessly, especially given what those words meant in the not-so-distant past. My father was a CIA Cold Warrior for 35 years of his life; he wasn’t fighting against GPL’d software. Stalinist purges; the Berlin Wall; tanks in Budapest — that’s communism. And let’s not forget just how many creative people’s lives were ruined by irresponsible name-calling not too long ago. Remember the Hollywood blacklists?

(One last little note: The Wired News article describes Creative Commons as one of the “best-known groups working for copyright reform.” We’re flattered, but we’re not in the copyright reform game. All our tools work within the current laws, and it’s part of neither our charter nor our nonprofit status to try to change those laws.)

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New tutorials for Creative Commons Tools, plus P2P

Matt Haughey, January 4th, 2005

While we’ve been testing out CC Publisher betas over the past few weeks, we’ve recently gone 1.0 on the application and figured it was a good time to create an easy to follow tutorial for using CC Publisher. We’ve also created one for CC Lookup, our audio file verification app. In addition to both new tutorials, we’ve also added one that highlights new Creative Commons aware features that were added to the Windows P2P application Morpheus. If you’d like to share your Creative Commons licensed music on their P2P network in a way that others can find it, follow our instructions.

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Walking Manhattan

Glenn Otis Brown, January 2nd, 2005

In the last New Yorker issue of 2004 (I’m doing some catch-up reading), Ben McGrath has a fun Talk of the Town piece on Caleb Smith, a guy who walked every street on the island of Manhattan over the last year and a half.

The end of the piece mentions Mike Epstein, of the excellent Creative Commons-licensed photography blog Satan’s Laundromat. Mike has taken up Smith’s peripatetic legacy; he has “so far logged just two dozen miles, but he has plans for one-upmanship. He intends to do Roosevelt Island.”

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