Copyright and societal benefits

Posted on 28. May 2014

by Stephan Kool


The Ronda Forum on education and entrepreneurship discussed how to help startups with their companies. Amongst other things, the panel agreed that new (business) ideas should be protected. The word ‘protected’ wasn’t specified to an operational level, but we should be careful with these intentions. What seems logical for business operations might actually have negative consequences for society and entrepreneurship as a whole. I will plea for a reform of copyright with less protection to support innovations.

The classical argumentation is simple enough: if you have an idea, be it a business idea, a creative work of art or literature, you are its owner and you should be able to live off the idea. The better the idea, the more successful the company you found will be and the more jobs are created.

Though I generally agree with this logic, there is also an alternative perspective which I would like to propose: releasing business concepts into the public domain. This different reasoning might even be better for general employment and society at the cost of individual benefit.

However, there might actually be more than just the idealistic side to this. Allow me to illustrate this through an almost trivial example: The (German) döner Kebab, which has not been patented or otherwise protected. According to the association of Turkish döner producers in Germany, there are over 16.000 döner restaurants in Germany, with a 1,6 billion dollars’ worth of revenue. The whole industry is worth an estimated 3,5 billion dollars with many thousands of employees on top of the restaurant owners and workers. Even though the inventor of the German style döner never benefitted personally from his invention, he has been honored for helping the Turkish community integrate into German society, thus giving the dish a social dimension.

This example demonstrates the benefits that open knowledge provides to society: 16.000 döner restaurants and at least 40.000 jobs in Germany alone. That is quite a considerable job-creating impact.

That the inventor did not financially benefit from the invention might be considered as unjust. Some form of protection is desirable, as also concluded by the panel. However, it also demonstrates that a financial incentive is not at all the only factor that pushed innovations. Therefore, one could suggest limiting the protection of ideas, thus limiting copyright, to a maximum of 25 years, preferably less. Reforming copyright would release a lot of creative material to the public, ready to be innovated.

For a more visual explanation on copyright, please make sure to check out the C.G.P. Grey video on copyright: