Monday, 20 May 2013

Attribution is Easy

Imagine two neighbours - let's call them Alice and Chuck - who aren't friends, but who regularly do business with each other.  Alice is an architect who designs wonderful houses, and Chuck is a carpenter who builds them.

One day Chuck tells Alice that he can't pay as much for her designs as he used to, as he's found another architect who can do them cheaper.  She's a bit dubious as it is a small town, but she lowers her rates a bit, and they keep working together.

Over the next few weeks, Alice is sure that there is someone looking over her back fence during the evenings, but she can't tell exactly who it is.  She doesn't do anything about it or tell anyone.

A few months go by, and Chuck says that he's been studying at night to become an architect, and that he doesn't need Alice any more.  She's shocked, it took her years to get her degree, and she knows that Chuck spends his nights at the pub.  Is it even possible?  How could this be?  Perhaps it's just his way of driving an even lower price.

Her worst fears are realised.  Not only is he building wonderful houses, they look exactly like her designs.

She confronts Chuck and tells her that she knows that he is stealing her designs, and that he's been looking over her back fence to copy them using a camera with a telephoto lens.  Of course he denies it!  But if she lowers her rates just a little more, then they can start doing business again.

This is an economic market working perfectly - if it is cheaper to steal the design than license it, economic theory drives theft, until the cost of theft is greater than the cost of licensing.

Alice can get all upset at Chuck, but she needs to realise that she has the control.  If she increases the protection of her designs by installing night vision cameras, building a higher fence, and situating her office somewhere with no windows, then she will be able to increase her prices again to cover the investment, and the relationship will continue as before.

Attribution is easy.  Doing something to protect your business is hard.

Phil Kernick Chief Technology Officer