The answer to the subject’s question: hopefully nothing!
Over on the social site jaiku a simple request for information on movie downloads led to the usual heated discussion over intellectual property, piracy and law. A common thread throughout the exchanges of armchair lawyers (self included) was that there is a big, big misunderstanding over what is really protected by IP laws. So I thought I would encapsulate the essential argument here and explode some myths. They are presented in no particular order of importance and my explanations pertain to US law:
Myth number 1: IP protects ideas
No. No. No. There is no protection for ideas. There is no way to even do so. This myth is propagated by sleazy infomercials enticing garage inventors to hand over their brilliant innovations. Even worse, some authoritative sources encourage the misunderstanding.
What is protected is the expression/rendition of ideas. The end result of an idea’s realization.
The belief that there is nothing tangible involved is misguided. Yes, the original idea is intangible, but the protected rendition is not! The US Patent and Trademark Office (I can’t speak for others) won’t even consider a patent application that is solely an idea– you had better have some material demonstrating how it is rendered, as well!
Myth number 2: IP stifles the sharing of ideas
This myth stems from Myth number 1. You have to get past that one to dissolve this one.
Since IP protects the tangible expression of an idea, then the original idea itself is free– if you can get at it of course. But here’s the beautiful part: if you’re inspired to your own idea by someone else’s protected rendition, then you are completely free to seek protection for what you develop from it– providing, of course, you meet the necessary criteria. You can’t simply copy the exact rendition and expect to personally benefit… your own version should be novel in many ways that I won’t go into here. But suffice to say you are free to build your own better mousetrap and protect it! After all, mousetrap in this context is an idea; the product is the rendition.
Myth number 3: there is nothing tangible involved
See explosion of the two previous myths. Oh, and try telling that to all the content creators out there.
Myth number 4: I need to register my idea expression to be protected
Nope! It’s protected the moment you complete it. However, your legal recourse is limited without registration, which supports your right to financial redress. If you don’t register the work, then you can only sue to prevent further distribution of infringing items.
Myth number 5: IP inflicts economic pain
On whom? Criminals? Sure! But there is an overall economic benefit to society. Protection of intellectual property has enabled the advances we enjoy today. Without it, we might still be in the Dark Ages. Some will point out here the benefits of less-advanced society (and as a committed conservationist I won’t argue against such points) but that’s another debate.
I could go on and on (as I pedantically did in the jaiku thread) but hopefully at least a few people may be disabused of some very misguided notions. For further enlightening on the subject, I recommend this article: http://home.att.net/~jmtyndall/usip/proptheo.htm. Very informative!