Thursday, September 12, 2013

Comments on Degendering Value by Anne Elizabeth Moore in Jacobin Magazine

The most recent issue of Jacobin Magazine devoted three articles to intellectual property (IP).  The first, Property and Theft by Peter Frase, introduces the other two, Locked Out by Sean Andrews and Degendering Value by Anne Elizabeth Moore.  I want to focus on Moore’s article here.

The majority of Moore’s text examines the gendered dimensions of patents and copyrights.  She reveals, for instance, that traditionally female activities such as cooking and sewing are not eligible for copyright or patent protection; 6% more women than men are denied patents; etc.  She also states at the outset:

[O]ur primary order of business in updating IP rights should be eradicating barriers — all gender barriers, as well as those of race, nationality, and physical ability — in access to opportunity. Even for those who would resist globalization. Even for those who plot its demise.

Which is a statement with which I heartily agree.  In fact, just sticking to copyrights for a second, I would advocate for complete abolition (as do others), which is one way (in fact, the only way I can see) of bringing a non-gendered IP system about.  But Moore instead advocates for a shuffling around of the laws based on more attentiveness to gender, etc.  In her last paragraph she concludes:

There may, I concede, be more radical solutions to IP reform that will implement gender parity but restrict corporate influence, and I am eager to hear them. But until they also correct for generations of cultural misogyny ... they should be dismissed as tainted by a values system fostered under biased IP laws.

I find this to be a very strange conclusion, especially for an article in a socialist journal.  Not only do I disagree with it, but Moore seems to be arguing against it in the rest of the article as well.  In this last paragraph she seems to argue that any IP reform that doesn’t abolish the gendered legal system should be dismissed out of hand.  But earlier she argues in favor of such reforms: “[W]e cannot wait for capitalism to self-destruct before we implement strategies to improve people’s lives right now.”  It seems to me that any part of the oppressive system ought to be dismantled if possible, and that includes most IP laws.

An analogy: suppose one was to argue that we shouldn’t repeal New York City’s infamously racist Stop and Frisk program until we can correct for generations of racism in America.  Clearly, repealing Stop and Frisk would be part of that program of social justice, not something we should wait to do until the much harder task of redressing generational wrongs transpires.

In any event, the idea that anyone should be advocating for copyright / patent extension to encroach more into the lives of women just seems wrong.  As a hypothetical, what if someone managed to copyright or patent the houndstooth pattern, or ratatouille?  Would that lead to similar “life-destroying” consequences as the Frase article documents for musical IP infringement?  I would rather not find out.

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