Things are valuable because they are scarce. The more abundant they become, the
cheaper they become. But a series of technological changes is underway that
promises to end scarcity as we know it for a wide variety of goods. The Internet is
the most obvious example, because the change there is furthest along. The Internet
has reduced the cost of production and distribution of informational content effectively
to zero. More recently, new technologies promise to do for a variety of physical
goods and even services what the Internet has already done for information.
The role of intellectual property (IP) in such a world is both controverted and
critically important. Efforts to use IP to lock down the Internet have so far failed to
stem the unauthorized distribution of content. But contrary to the predictions of IP
theory, the result of that failure has not been a decline in creativity. To the contrary,
creativity is flourishing on the Internet as never before despite the absence of effective
IP enforcement. That is a problem for IP theory, which may not be the main
driver of creativity in a world where creation, reproduction, and distribution are
cheap. That is increasingly the world in which we will live.