Heads up: I´ve been reading Kevin Kelly´s “What Technology Wants” and I thoroughly recommend it. Some of the ideas I discuss here (such as the importance of language for progress) are discussed in his book.
Language is arguably the single most important human invention. It freed us from being isolated in our own minds and opened the doors for sharing, debating, teaching and learning. It allowed us to pool our experiences together and participate in the making of culture. It was the invention that led to other inventions and their successful spreading.
Yet, today, we see a strong movement to wall up Intellectual Property and to better defend it against piracy. PIPA and SOPA have been dropped for now but I would not be surprised if these media-corporation-backed laws were to emerge again, with slightly different provisions. ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) can be used to frame, from a legal point of view, generic drugs as counterfeit drugs. It could also potentially allow for the search of laptops and media players at border controls (There is some discussion on this one). Right here in Portugal, police traffic patrols are checking vehicles for pirated media and everybody is warned not to have anything suspicious on their car.
I am not questioning the ethical or moral grounds of these things, because that is not my point right now. Regardless of which justification is given for these laws, it is clear to see that today it is getting increasingly harder (and riskier) to possess and use counterfeit or pirated content. But people´s needs will not change.
They will still want to watch movies, listen to music and work with specialized software.
So, if the needs don´t change and the supply of content shrinks (I´m assuming that people will greatly reduce their pirated-content-intake), we need new content and new ways of getting it. The funny part is that the solution is not all that new, really.
I can imagine people turning to Open alternatives of the previously pirated things they were downloading from the Internet. This can mean free music or video streaming websites or Open software.
So, in an interesting turn of events, the closing of access to Intellectual Property could mean a massive shift of people to even more open alternatives. If my prediction is correct, this should result in a swelling of the user base for Open Source Software. Even if by a short margin, this increase in users should mean more people working to develop better Open Source alternatives.
About Language: it was the biggest human invention because it brought Openness and co-creation. We would not be reading this today if it wasn´t for that. Imagine a Patent on language, effective from the moment it was created.