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Dickens, IPR, and China’s rise

Popular 19th-century English novelists were infuriated about IPR infringement – by the United States. I am grateful to James Fallows for reminding me about this parallel, which I knew from reading autobiographical accounts by Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope (yes, in my English major days). Here’s what Fallows writes in Postcards from Tomorrow Square, a collection of his reports for The Atlantic:

Americans are in the position of nineteenth-century Europeans who acted as if America’s industrial rise could be explained simply by its vast natural resources and its exploitation of immigrant and slave labor, plus its very casual attitude toward copyright and patent laws protecting foreign, mainly British, books and inventions. (Today, Americans walk the streets of China and see their movies, music, software, and books sold everywhere in cheap pirate versions. A century and a half ago, Charles Dickens walked the streets of young America and fumed to see his novesl in cheap pirate versions.) All those factors played their part but they were not the full story of America’s rise – nor do the corresponding aspects of modern China’s behavior fully explain what China has achieved.

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