Intellectual Property In The Anti-Trek Economy

In Star Trek and especially Star Trek: The Next Generation, we have our culture’s most fully realized vision of a socialist utopia. The combination of replicator technology with abundant clean energy mean that labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want, so the narrow horzon of bourgeois right can be crossed in its entirety. Society inscribes on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs (see here and here).

But Peter Frase asks what does this technology look like without the socialist utopia. The answer is it’s all about the intellectual property:

In order to get access to a replicator, you have to buy one from a company that licenses you the right to use a replicator. (Someone can’t give you a replicator or make one with their replicator, because that would violate their license). What’s more, every time you make something with the replicator, you also need to pay a licensing fee to whoever owns the rights to that particular thing. So if the Captain Jean-Luc Picard of anti-Star Trek wanted “tea, Earl Grey, hot”, he would have to pay the company that has copyrighted the replicator patter for hot Earl Grey tea. (Presumably some other company owns the rights to cold tea.)

This creates a stream of rents to copyright holders, as well as employment writing replicator patterns, plenty of jobs for lawyers engaged in endless IP law disputes, etc. And, thus, the market economy is saved!