Starfish Insight
Disruptive Technology Strategy

Blog

Disruptive Technology Blog

Should You Copyright Yourself?

Your private parts, your personal thoughts, and your personality traits are being digitized and copied. What does that mean with regard to your rights to your own self?

Google has patented digital personalities for robots. Does their patent include YOUR personality if uploaded to a robot, or should you have inherent rights to copies of your own personality? 

Scientists have successfully printed human skin cells and even working human organs via additive manufacturing. Do you have an inherent or legal right to working copies of your own body parts?

Can Intellectual Property (IP) law adapt to this incomprehensible interconnected age of information, or is it already obsolete?

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

     Can the field of Intellectual Property (IP) law adapt to a world where all information is freely available and every idea and physical thing is digitally reproducible? The music business unfortunately experienced the first wholesale disruption of their industry due to this type of rapid and chaotic distribution of IP on the Internet. It is important to consider this learning experience, then to apply it so several recent technological innovations.

     The lifeblood of the music business is IP, and the sale of physical products (records) which were typically difficult to reproduce. Once those physical product and that IP were digitized and distributed on the Internet, the entire business model collapsed. Their primary physical product became a digital one. This point can be restated a thousand ways and it's significance remain: an entire industry of physical product sales disappeared as the product became entirely digital. There is one small distinction which facilitated this for the Music Business more than other industries, the fact that a song or recording is not necessarily a physical thing which can be reproduced, but more entirely in the realm of intangible intellectual property. This has saved other industries, such as manufacturing. However, bridges between the digital world and the physical world are quickly emerging.

     Additive Manufacturing, colloquially referred to most commonly with the blanket term "3D Printing," has shown us that it is not only music or movies which can be digitized and shared online, but physical things; ALL physical things. This has not yet manifested entirely, but the technology exists and it is advancing. It must, therefore, be understood and addressed before other industries begin to share in the pain of the music and film industries. Physical products, even vinyl records, can now be digitized and re-"printed" anywhere. This is not exactly the same problem the music industry faced, but this issue can manifest in a similar manner. Imagine if the instructions for LEGO sets, the true intellectual property piece of the LEGO company, were distributed freely on the internet, along with 3D image files of each building block piece. In the same way that recorded albums of music (the IP) became available and re-"printed" onto writable CDs, so could instructions for toy play sets and pieces be entirely reproduced with the use of a 3D Printer. The entire industry of manufacturing plastic toys could digitize depending upon the availability and efficiency of the interface between digital and physics (3D Printers). In the case of the music business, the wholesale theft of intellectual property began with the availability of CD burners in stores and subsequently in homes. We are now seeing office and copy companies purchasing 3D printers where you can bring in your files to coopy physical objects. Why purchase a LEGO set at a big box retail store when you can download the instructions and the pieces and have them printed at your local office store for a more affordable price? As the cost of 3D printer materials decreases, the number of instances of IP theft of physical products will increase.  

     Molecular "printing" and synthetic biology beg even more astonishing questions such as: Can an entire human being be reduced to digital information just as any other physical thing? The medical community has eagerly latched onto the processes of additive manufacturing, because complex organic shapes and structures can be printed which manufacturers have been unable to  reproduce otherwise. Additionally; prosthetics, false teeth, hearing aids, pace makers, and other personalized or integrated medical devices can be uniquely printed to conform to each individual patient. Many great advances have, therefore, come out of the ingenuity of the medical community within this realm of additive manufacturing. However, many great ethical and legal questions also arise. The medical community has been able to 3D print human cells and structures, very personalized to the individual, often using their own cells to  re-grow or re-print missing or needed body parts. This means we are now dealing with the realm of digitized, personal human body parts. If a laboratory was able to save your life by re-printing your own organs for transplant, this would be an incredible breakthrough for the medical community. This is happening now, as several working organs have been digitized and re-printed. So if you had your liver digitized and re-printed to save your life, your liver would now be digital IP stored somewhere on a computer or the Internet, and therefore vulnerable in the same manner as any other digital personal information. People have private and personal pictures of themselves stolen and distributed on the Internet, what would it mean if an entire digital copy of your body were available online or if your liver was illicitly distributed for use for patients in another country? More personal and disturbing, what if an exact copy of the genetic makeup or reproductive organs of a celebrity or world leader were stolen by a stalker or someone with malicious intent? Piecing together the tragedies of the music industry with those of a cyber-based 3D bio-printing industry can be both incredibly promising and frightening on many levels.  

     Moving beyond even the frightening implications of copying your body parts, researchers are developing technologies to  digitize and store your thoughts and memories. Brain-technology interfaces are being developed for a range of applications such as direct brain control of prosthetic limbs or even the direct though-controlled piloting of an aircraft. Google's senior engineer is intent on digitizing and uploading entire human personalities and memories, and Google recently patented downloadable personalities for robots. Thinking about this in context, if your personality and memories are available as information on the Internet, does this patent offer Google the opportunity to use your own personality and memories within a robot? Can that robot then act AS YOU and tell everything about your past and everything about what you might do in the future? Could a robot with with all of your memories testify against you for a past crime in a court of law? Could that robot, or digital personality, prove your intentions or accurately predict your future behavior?  Is that robot, with your personality and memories, actually YOU in a different form? Can a human soul be copied as information or transferred to a robotic body to become immortal? Is there adequate thought and protection in any law which might provide you with rights to protect your personality, your memories, or your soul?

     These questions are fantastic, radical, unbelievable, and downright frightening; yet, there are companies and teams of researchers all around the world working diligently, and making great progress, to make these very things happen in the very near future. If IP law and general intellectual protections do not take a proactive role along with these developments, then entire industries will fall like the music business and nearly all privacy or personal protections can be circumvented or made entirely obsolete. Can Blockchain or other cryptological technologies offer some methods of restoring personal property or sense of ownership of ideas to the world of cyberspace?

Should you copyright yourself?

Jason Pappafotis