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January 7, 2013

An IP lesson during breakfast

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I headed out for the Consumer Electronics Show ( on Sunday morning full of anticipation, hopeful of seeing all the latest electronic gadgets and must have's for 2013. Having been involved in many capacities in technology, communications, and intellectual property policy for nearly 20 years, my head always start swimming in early January spurred by CES, which may explain why even as I was headed to the show I came across a policy lesson about intellectual property.

As I will be away for several days I went to breakfast with my family for a meal together. We went to a local place ( and received an unexpectedly gleeful greeting. The host thanked me for coming and mentioned that he was extremely happy to have customers this morning. I asked why. He said that on Saturday morning the neighboring stadium, a completely separate piece of property, owned and managed by a different company, took over the parking lot outside the restaurant and would not let people enter unless they paid $10. The merchants who pay rent in the strip of stores the lot faces provide this lot free of charge for those who are their customers. But without any claim to ownership, or even a right to use the lot, the neighboring venue decided to begin charging people to park there. The restaurant had no business for the first hour and half after opening, quite unusual for a place that boasts of its breakfast menu and particularly strange on a Saturday morning. Of course the landlord, who actually built the buildings and parking lot, is losing as well as those paying for the right to have their customers parked have been denied their due, and the landlord lost the opportunity to set aside some portion of the lot to collect their own rents for usage.

This immediately brought to mind any number of intellectual property debates but certainly the often overly lawyered debates about copyright. Yes, yes, I know there are differences between real and intellectual property, but I am also well aware of many similarities. Most would find the restaurant situation reprehensible -- a neighboring venue large enough to have the manpower to overtake the property next door to use to their advantage while disadvantaging those paying rent on that same property. Similarly it seems that there should not be much debate about any business interest using the copyright material of someone else to make money (and especially so if it disadvantages the IP owner in any way). Sure, any number of economic arguments can be made about the negative impact, and sure the extent of that economic can be debated. We could try to hair split the law this way and that to justify such an action.

But in the end it all feels wrong, a little hinky. When someone invests the time, capital and effort in building something, in this case a restaurant, but in other cases software apps or music or books or movies, can we really feel good about arguing that others should be able to commandeer another's property to line their own pockets?

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