Fixing the Copyright System

The American copyright system is broken. Cory Doctorow offers some useful suggestions for fixing it.

A side discussion in my Feds Seize Domain Names post centers on the degree to which “file sharing” and other violations of intellectual property rights should be considered theft.  A recent Cory Doctorow piece in The Guardian, “What do we want copyright to do?” sheds some light on this longstanding issue.

In my world, copyright’s purpose is to encourage the widest participation in culture that we can manage – that is, it should be a system that encourages the most diverse set of creators, creating the most diverse set of works, to reach the most diverse audiences as is practical.

That is, I don’t want a copyright system that precludes making money on art, since there are some people who make good art who, credibly, would make less of it if there wasn’t any money to be had. But at the same time, I don’t think that you can judge a copyright system by how much money it delivers to creators – imagine a copyright system for films that allowed only one single 15-minute short film to be made every year, which, by dint of its rarity, turned over £1bn. If only one person gets to make one movie, I don’t care how much money the system brings in, it’s not as good as one in which lots of people get to make lots of movies.

Diversity of participation matters because participation in the arts is a form of expression and, here in the west’s liberal democracies, we take it as read that the state should limit expression as little as possible and encourage it as much as possible. It seems silly to have to say this, but it’s worth noting here because when we talk about copyright, we’re not just talking about who pays how much to get access to which art, we’re talking about a regulation that has the power to midwife, or strangle, enormous amounts of expressive speech.

Here’s something else copyright can’t and won’t do and doesn’t do: deliver a market where creators (or investors) set a price for creative works, and audiences buy those works or don’t, letting the best float to the top in a pure and free marketplace. Copyright has never really worked like this, and it certainly doesn’t work like this today.

For example, it’s been more than a century since legal systems around the world took away songwriters’ ability to control who performed their songs. This began with the first records, which were viewed as a form of theft by the composers of the day. You see, composers back then were in the sheet-music business: they used a copying device (the printing press) to generate a product that musicians could buy.

When recording technology came along, musicians began to play the tunes on the sheet music they’d bought into microphones and release commercial recordings of their performances. The composers fumed that this was piracy of their music, but the performers said: “You sold us this sheet music – now you’re telling us we’re not allowed to play it? What did you think we were going to do with it?”

The law’s answer to this was a Solomonic divide-the-baby solution: performers were free to record any composition that had been published, but they had to pay a set rate for every recording they sold. This rate was paid to a collective rights society, and today, these societies thrive, collecting fees for all sorts of “performances” where musicians and composers get little or no say. For example, radio stations, shopping malls, and even hairdressers buy licences that allow them to play whatever music they can find. The music is sampled by more or less accurate means and dispersed to artists by more or less fair means.

[…]

So the best copyright isn’t the one that lets every creator license every use of her work piecemeal. Instead, it’s the system that allows for such licensing, except where other forms of licensing – or no licensing at all – makes sense. For example, in the US, which has the largest, most profitable broadcast and cable industry in the world, the law gives no compensation rights to rightsholders for home recording of TV shows. There’s no levy on blank cassettes or PVRs in exchange for the right to record off the telly. It’s free, and it has conspicuously failed to destroy American TV.

[…]

How would this apply to the internet? Take music downloads. By the music industry’s own account, the pay-per-download systems only capture a minute fraction of the music traded on the net. But a blanket licence that ISPs could opt into that entitled the ISP’s customers to download and share all the music they wanted would deliver evergreen profits to the record industry – without necessitating spying, lawsuits, and threats of disconnection from the internet.

If the price was right, practically every ISP would opt into the system, since the cost of the legal headaches attending the operation of a service without such a licence would be more expensive than getting legit. Then we could focus on making the collection and dispersal of fees and the sampling of music downloading as transparent as possible, bringing 21st century metrics to bear on making sure that artists are fairly compensated (rather than spending vast sums figuring out which music fans to send legal threats to this month).

He proposes something similar for movies as well.   It’s not a perfect system but meets his standard of balancing the rights of content creators with those of consumers and those who make derivative creations.

The current system produces absurdities.  The idea that someone should get paid every time “Happy Birthday” gets sung is ludicrous; even moreso when you consider that the various people who had a hand in writing the song are long since dead.   But we do want people who produce valuable art to get compensated for their work.

Congress went way too far with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which allows the stifling of expression online by mere assertion. It’s simply too cumbersome and expensive to fight against takedown notices, so most site owners are at the mercy of those who maliciously misuse takedown notices.     At the same time, however, wholesale theft of intellectual property is rampant online and there has to be some recourse.

As a blogger, I’m at the nexus of this debate.

On the one hand, I’m a content creator seeking to profit from my work online — originally in terms only of pageviews and psychic reward, now also in financial terms from advertising.   There are a bevy of unscrupulous operators out there stealing my content and repurposing it for their own gain.  Not only am I not compensated for it, but their actions actually harm OTB’s search engine rankings and traffic.

On the other, I’m a content consumer, piggybacking on the creative work of others. Many news organizations, with the Associated Press the most vociferous, complain bitterly that bloggers use their content to drive traffic to our sites without paying for it.    Bloggers argue that we’re making Fair Use of material that’s out there and actually provide benefit to AP and others by linking and driving traffic to the originating source.   Both sides have a point here and there are no bright lines.

There are many ways of doing this, and I think OTB’s is both more transparent and better for the original sources than most.  Some sites — the Gawker chain, HuffPo, and the Daily Caller most notoriously — rewrite stories from other sites with mere mention of who did the original reporting.   Indeed, many big name news enterprises do the same thing, with their readers seldom aware that the newspaper they’re reading didn’t do the legwork.  At least at OTB, we clearly delineate the work we’re commenting on with links and blockquotes.    Regardless, though, neither Cory Doctorow nor The Guardian directly benefit from this blog post unless readers click through the above link — and most readers don’t.

Nor do I know how to apply Doctorow’s proposed fix to this problem.  People use the Internet for a whole variety of purposes.   Should everyone really have to pay a huge surcharge on their monthly bill that gets distributed to various content providers based on some ratings system?   Should The Guardian get some money because people are benefiting from their reporting and columns without actually visiting the site and increasing their pageviews?  Should OTB get some money, too?  Some teenager’s MySpace page?

I don’t think so.  The fact of the matter is that there’s no evidence that this problem matters to anyone not seeking to profit from the production of news and commentary.  That is, there’s no shortage of news and commentary out there.   If The Guardian, OTB, and Cory Doctorow all went out of business tomorrow, there would still be more than enough news, commentary, and philosophizing available to the public to meet the available demand.    So, the problem of figuring out how to profit from our little contribution to the vast flow is one for us to figure out.

But that doesn’t mean that there’s not a theoretical government role in protecting our intellectual property.  While I can’t imagine Doctorow has any problem with me quoting him — even rather generously — as the basis for my own commentary on the same subject, he’d have a legitimate gripe if I were repacking large amounts of his content as my own.  While he’s not directly profiting from this post, he does at least get some tiny benefit from my citing him as an authority.  And both The Guardian and OTB deserve some protection from wholescale theft and redistribution of our original material.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Science & Technology, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    I’ve always thought that the simplest fix was to return to a reasonable term.  I believe that academic studies have modeled that the optimum length of copyright for total economic return to society (first to authors, then to re-users) is something like 30 years.  I’d be fine with anything in that range, say 30 to 50 years.
     
    Perhaps part of the reason I say that is that my life’s work in software has been protected by copyright, and has “aged off” far more rapidly than that.  The systems I wrote for in the 1980’s are pretty much off-line by now.  So I wrote more programs, learned new systems, for the next 30 years.
     
    I think most creators expect to keep creating.  The long protection is really geared toward corporate ownership.  Those entities expect to hoover up content and own it forever.  Sadly, they all the lobbyists, and Doctorow represents a small resistance band.
     
    (I think, writing for the British, he’s given a British solution.  They tax blank tapes don’t they, to pay artists for copying?)

  2. Andyman says:

    “The fact of the matter is that there’s no evidence that this problem matters to anyone not seeking to profit from the production of news and commentary. ”
     
    FWIW, that’s not really true.  You only hear from the content producers because, almost by definition, they’re the only ones with effective platforms for articulating an argument.
     
    Doctorow himself (while an author and creator in other ways) argues almost exclusively on behalf of the consumer for more liberalized copyright law.  He’s been a longtime advocate for more expansive defintions of “fair use” and an end to the abusive RIAA/MPAA illegal downloading lawsuits.  I think you could consider his writing on BoingBoing and other blogs to be a fair representative of the non-producer point of view on fair copyright reform.

  3. john personna says:

    These guys are a good source on the benefits of the public domain:
     
    http://www.law.duke.edu/cspd/
     
    Certainly a world where everything is owned means that much is lost.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @andyman

    You only hear from the content producers because, almost by definition, they’re the only ones with effective platforms for articulating an argument.

    In the particular case I write about, I just don’t think consumers care.  The complaints of content producers about theft from other content producers or pure parasites don’t matter to them because they don’t see the content as meaningfully original or creative, even when it is.
    By contrast, while people can rationalize “file sharing,” they understand that the bands and actors they love are legitimately artists.  They just figure they’re rich enough and shouldn’t bitch about some theft here and there.

  5. john personna says:

    I find the question of current content much less interesting than that of the pre-Internet legacy.  As you say, a lot is being generated now, so much so that some has to survive.
     
    That isn’t true for orphan works.  Less was published in 1960, but that legacy might both be “protected” and slowly being lost to decay and attrition.  Some newspapers will never be seen again.  Someone “might” have scanned them, but chances are rights holders aren’t interested, or can’t agree.

  6. michael reynolds says:

     

    The “reasonable term” notion has a major flaw.  As a copyright owner my concern is not YouTubes, mash-ups or samples.  My concern is Disney, Bertelsmann, Viacom, NewsCorp etc…
     
    Some of my/our books are creeping up on the 30 year mark.  Can anyone explain why it should be legal for a major multinational to decide to take one of my books, make a movie, make  a TV series or a line of toys, and pay me nothing?  And then copyright their own rip-off of my work?
     
    Let’s see how sanguine Cory Doctorow is when in 20 years or so Disney decides to make a musical comedy cartoon version of LITTLE BROTHER, changing the entire thrust of the book in the process, perhaps using it as an argument in favor of benign government control.  Cory is too hung up on music downloads to see the forest clearly.

     

  7. john personna says:

    Disney arguably drove the term extension to protect Mickey.  In my opinion that protection should have been related to trademark.  If Mickey is a trademark character, let them register that, with some price barrier to prevent trademark flooding.
     
    The problem is that we protected all those orphan newspaper morgues at the same time we protected Mickey.  A million pages are protected, but not making anyone any current income.  It isn’t who makes the high mark-up from them, it’s that the lack of business model sentences them to loss.
     
    Now, with respect to 30 years and our work, let’s remember that even that 30 years gives us a very special protection.  My dad was a teacher, and then administrator.  I’m sure he worked as hard and as creatively as I did.  But he wasn’t entitled to any share of his student’s future earnings.
     
    If we extend the “I did the work, so I should get the future earnings” model, everyone should have a revenue stream for every positive creation they’ve made.  It would be madness.
     
    So backing up, we have to think about exactly what margin we “creators” should have over over other laborers.  I’m fine with there being one, even for 30-50 years, neigh on a generation … but that’s where it should end.  There is no need for Eurotrash (or rising Ameritrash) to live for generations on someone’s past labor.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    John:
     
    I don’t disagree in principle.  Maybe a stepped process that offers relatively generous access to small players and more restrictive ones to larger players?  Like I said, I like the YouTubes and fan-fics and mash-ups:  they’re doing my marketing for me.  The straight up thieves — people who just give my books away — I don’t like so much.  And I really don’t want a major media company ripping me off just so they can save themselves the 2 or 3% it would take to get my stuff in a negotiation.

  9. Michael says:

    But a blanket licence that ISPs could opt into that entitled the ISP’s customers to download and share all the music they wanted would deliver evergreen profits to the record industry

    He actually played with this idea in his novel Little  Brother.

    While I can’t imagine Doctorow has any problem with me quoting him — even rather generously — as the basis for my own commentary on the same subject, he’d have a legitimate gripe if I were repacking large amounts of his content as my own.

    At that point it’s plagiarism, which he would indeed have a problem with.  As he said, his biggest concern as a content producer isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity.
     

    Some of my/our books are creeping up on the 30 year mark.  Can anyone explain why it should be legal for a major multinational to decide to take one of my books, make a movie, make  a TV series or a line of toys, and pay me nothing?

    So the rest of society should continue to be deprived (because it’s that awesome) of seeing your book turned into a movie because in the 30 years you’ve had a monopoly on it you haven’t made enough money to cover the time and effort it took to write it?

  10. Michael says:

    Let’s see how sanguine Cory Doctorow is when in 20 years or so Disney decides to make a musical comedy cartoon version of LITTLE BROTHER, changing the entire thrust of the book in the process, perhaps using it as an argument in favor of benign government control.

    As a matter of fact, Disney can do that now.  So could you, really.  You just wouldn’t be allowed to sell it.  It’s licensed under the Creative Commons, Non-Commercial, Share Alike copyright license.

  11. michael reynolds says:

    . . .you haven’t made enough money to cover the time and effort it took to write it?

     
    Seriously?  That’s your notion of capitalism?  That I’m only entitled to recoup my expenses?

  12. Michael says:

    Seriously?  That’s your notion of capitalism?  That I’m only entitled to recoup my expenses?

    That’s the whole point of giving you a legal monopoly over making copies of your work, to make it financially worth your while to create it.  That’s the only reason for granting you that monopoly, not to make you rich, or to give you perpetual income.
     
    If three decades of revenue on your book hasn’t been enough to have made it worth while for you to have created it, then one of three things is going on:
    1) You have an unreasonable idea of what reimbursement would make it worth while
    2) You put an unreasonable amount of work into the book for the quantity or quality of the result
    3) 30 years isn’t a reasonable amount of time to give creators a monopoly over their work.
     
    I generally believe that 30 years is more than enough time to encourage the creation of good art, so I personally believe either #1 or #2 is the case here.

  13. michael reynolds says:

    Michael:
     
    Why not apply the same standard to other types of property?  For example, Real Estate.  After all, we don’t have private property laws to enrich people, right?  How about stock portfolios?  I mean, if we don’t want people to be rich.
     
    Like most capitalists I’m motivated by a desire to make a bit more than minimum wage.  Most of us who are any good at the job have the same desire.  It’s like imagining you’ll find a competent CEO to run GE for 50k a year.  People who are at the top of their game are expensive.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    By the way:
     

    I generally believe that 30 years is more than enough time to encourage the creation of good art, so I personally believe either #1 or #2 is the case here.

     
    Just how much art have you created, Michael?  On what do you base this fascinating assertion?

  15. Michael says:

    Why not apply the same standard to other types of property?  For example, Real Estate.

    I can’t quite understand what type of logic you are using to connect temporary monopoly on copying with private property ownership.  Can you please explain to me how you got here?
     

    Like most capitalists I’m motivated by a desire to make a bit more than minimum wage.

    Which many of your contemporaries have proven is quite doable in 30 years time.
     

    People who are at the top of their game are expensive.

    That’s true in any profession, including mine.  However, most of us stop getting paid when we stop working.  I don’t get royalties on my work for 30 years afterwards.
    Creating art is a bit different, as you don’t typically churn out the same thing day after day, so we (society) give you temporary legal privileges that allow you to continue profiting from past work long enough to create new works.  We (society again) do this for our own benefit, because we value the production of art, not for yours.  The instant it stops being to our benefit to grant you these privileges, they should no longer be granted.
     

    Just how much art have you created, Michael?

    Quite a bit, actually, especially if you consider the software I’ve written (not usually considered ‘art’, but covered under copyright none the less).  Most of my graphic art I’ve never even attempted to sell, I make it because I enjoy making it.  Some of my software is work-for-hire, but an equal amount is licensed under permissive licenses that don’t net me a dime.

  16. Michael says:

    By the way, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be paid for your work, or that there is anything wrong with you getting rich off the things you write.  I’m merely saying that 30 years of absolute control over the sale and distribution of a piece of art should be more than enough time for you to make a reasonable amount of profit on it, assuming the free market finds it a desirable product.

  17. matt says:

    Software programming can be an art. I know at least a couple artists who are also programmers and my fiancee strongly agrees hehe…

  18. michael reynolds says:

    Michael:
     
    Software is not the same as a book.  Books are the start of many movies.  Movies are made by billion dollar corporations.  No one in the book end of the business is trying to keep Viacom or NewsCorp from making a movie, we just want to get paid for it.  That is not an undue burden on Viacom.  It is in fact a minor profit margin thing for Viacom.  So in no way, shape or form is the public disadvantaged by book authors.  The public is not the issue:  Disney and Viacom are the issue.
     
    Software tends to age out pretty quickly.  So 30 years is a dozen lifetimes in software.  It is not even one lifetime in books.  Tolkien finished LOTR in 1955.  The first Peter Jackson LOTR movie came out 46 years later.  It earned billions of dollars for New Line/Time Warner.  Had Tolkien still been alive, is there some reason why Time Warner should make billions and Tolkien nothing?
     
    Without Tolkien they had nothing.  With him — and the many incredible talents involved in the film — they had billions.

  19. matt says:

    I would contest that they had plenty without Tolkien.

  20. john personna says:

    The place where software has been like book-movie deals is that it was granted for “look and feel.”  That’s more than a work.  It can be a genre.  I believe that PacMan at one point was granted copyright for characters running in mazes, eating things.  That would be like a book-writer receiving a copyright for “westerns.”
     
    On intellectual versus real property, I’m just surprised that such a recent innovation is so widely accepted.  I guess “hey, that was my idea” is as old as the hills, but it wasn’t made “property” until 1888.  Before then it was just “copyright” and of generally short term.
     
    On Tolkein, he’s dead Jim, as are his four children.  We are now in the term where if any rights go to family, it would be grandkids.  That’s not reasonable, for an invented and artificial concept, meant to protect authors.  I keep saying “Eurotrash” because that’s where this leads.  It leads to a birth lottery and indolent non-producers.
     
    I can see how a self-interested creator would want to create rights in perpetuity for his heirs, especially in the early land-grab years, before everything is locked up.  But that doesn’t really benefit society, nor the creators who come later.
     

  21. Frank says:

    Ah, much better discussion and post today regarding the internet. i have faith in you yet OTB.

  22. Steve Verdon says:

    Some of my/our books are creeping up on the 30 year mark.  Can anyone explain why it should be legal for a major multinational to decide to take one of my books, make a movie, make  a TV series or a line of toys, and pay me nothing?  And then copyright their own rip-off of my work?
     

    They shouldn’t but that also doesn’t mean you should have control forever.  The idea is to grant a temporary monopoly.
     
    But monopoly is bad.  Always was, always will be.  If we can get away without using monopoly we should.  The current state of granting monopolies pretty much forever is not a good system but a very bad one.
     

    Software is not the same as a book.  Books are the start of many movies.  Movies are made by billion dollar corporations.  No one in the book end of the business is trying to keep Viacom or NewsCorp from making a movie, we just want to get paid for it.  That is not an undue burden on Viacom.  It is in fact a minor profit margin thing for Viacom.  So in no way, shape or form is the public disadvantaged by book authors.  The public is not the issue:  Disney and Viacom are the issue.

     
    I disagree.  When Disney’s copyrights were coming up they spent a great deal to get the copyrights extended.  Sure a Mickey Mouse Ears hat only costs a few bucks, but going back to the point about monopoly it costs the consumer.  I’d bet that Disney, as you rightfully point out, makes billions off of its copy righted material…billions off of consumers…the public.  Copyright in that case is really nothing more than a wealth transfer from the public to Disney…it is corporate welfare.

     
    Tolkien finished LOTR in 1955.  The first Peter Jackson LOTR movie came out 46 years later.  It earned billions of dollars for New Line/Time Warner.  Had Tolkien still been alive, is there some reason why Time Warner should make billions and Tolkien nothing?
     

    Sure, if the copyright expires, then yeah.  And those were actually the second movies to be made, an animated version was made earlier.  The intent behind copyright was not to grant authors/creators of content control/monopoly profits in perpetuity.

     
    Without Tolkien they had nothing.  With him — and the many incredible talents involved in the film — they had billions.

     
    So?  Tolkein and his estate has earned quite a lot of money.  To indicate that they have not reaped any of the rewards is silly.  And, his books are not in the public domain. AFAIK, so I’m pretty sure they got their share.  Maybe they sold the film rights early on and didn’t get as much as they could have or wanted to, but oh well.

  23. michael reynolds says:

    Steve:
     
    Two points. I was using Tolkien as a general example, I don’t know the state of his copyrights, what he and his heirs did or did not make.
     
    Second, we’re getting hung up on perpetuity and I have already agreed there should be some limit.  In fact, I speculated above about the possibility of a sort of stepped process that loosened copyright at the level of individuals — file sharing, mash-ups, fan-fic — and kept a tighter rein on major media.  I’m trying to punch above my weight, not beneath it, and as I’ve often indicated my complaint is not generally about the “little” guy.
     
    But if monopoly is always bad in the area of Mouse Ears because the public should presumably be able to buy Mouse Ears at a reasonable price, why is privately-held real estate not a problem?  After all, the fact that a family can buy and control a piece of property for generations deprives the public of the right to bid for that same property.
     
    Let’s say Richie Rich own all of Malibu, and he’s so rich he doesn’t need to sell it, but can pass it along to his heirs forever.  Clearly this right deprives you and me of any hope of living in Malibu.  It is, in effect, a monopoly on Malibu property — a limited commodity.  Why is it evil for Disney to in effect “own” all Mouse Ears, or me to “own” my books, but it’s not a problem for Richie Rich to own all of Malibu?
     
    Why single out intellectual property while insisting on absolute rights to all other forms of property?  You can’t make the argument that it might not be to the good of society to have other people able to buy into Malibu.  Maybe they’d raze a few houses and make a nice public beach.
     
    So stockholders and landlords should be absolutely secure in their property, but writers, artists and musicians should have very limited rights.  Property rights for everyone except the creative class.
     
     

  24. michael reynolds says:

    While we’re engaging in deep chin-stroking, how is copyright any different — or is it — than a right to own your own unique DNA pattern?
     
    A book is, let’s say, 100,000 words arranged in a unique pattern.  No other pattern of words is identical.  All the individual words can be used by anyone else, but this particular pattern makes a book.
     
    DNA is similarly a unique pattern of however many chromosomes (I want to say 23?) each coded with 200 million odd base pairs.  A code conveying the details of a Steve Verdon or Michael Reynolds.  In effect it is intellectual property, just a string of data.
     
    Do you maintain that you own a monopoly on your DNA?  Or would you hold that anyone should be able to clone you at will?

  25. Steve Verdon says:

    But if monopoly is always bad in the area of Mouse Ears because the public should presumably be able to buy Mouse Ears at a reasonable price, why is privately-held real estate not a problem?  After all, the fact that a family can buy and control a piece of property for generations deprives the public of the right to bid for that same property.
     

    Unless someone or some firm has bought all the land, there is not a monopoly.

     
    Let’s say Richie Rich own all of Malibu, and he’s so rich he doesn’t need to sell it, but can pass it along to his heirs forever.  Clearly this right deprives you and me of any hope of living in Malibu.  It is, in effect, a monopoly on Malibu property — a limited commodity.  Why is it evil for Disney to in effect “own” all Mouse Ears, or me to “own” my books, but it’s not a problem for Richie Rich to own all of Malibu?

     
    Because I can live somewhere other than Malibu, even beach front property (in my dreams).  Granted Malibu is a lovely place, but there are other options.
     
    And it isn’t that someone buys something unique and then never offers it for sale that makes monopoly bad, it is that monopoly distort prices, allows the monopolist to earn profits over an above the competitive level of profits.  These profits are not derived from a superior business plan or a better commodity, but that the monopolist has control over the price that you must buy.  In short, the profits are unearned.
     
    Consider where monopolies tend to come from:  kings granting a loyal subject the sole right to grind grain or some other economic activity.  If you live on that subjects land you have to use his mill and he’ll get rich by taking some of your profits for his own over an above what a competitive environment would bring about.
     
    It is a sub-optimal outcome, our system of copyrights/intellectual property.  It needs to change, but also we need to make sure that authors, musicians, etc. get their fair share for the work they’ve done.  I don’t want to steal, but at the same time I don’t want to make some fat music executive rich simply because he conned the band out of their rights to their music.  In fact, granting longer and longer time periods for earning monopoly profits may have the effect of reducing creative output.  If I can write a really great book or write an amazing song I could live off that one work indefinitely.  Why make more?  The idea is to encourage the creative/innovation process, but if we are overly generous we could end up discouraging creation/innovation.

  26. Steve Verdon says:

    Regarding DNA, yes I’d say I own my DNA just as I own my own labor and my own organs.
     
    A book on the other hand is not part of you once you put it on paper.  So I don’t think the two are analogous.

  27. michael reynolds says:

    Steve:
     
    I think your logic is fraying.
     

    Unless someone or some firm has bought all the land, there is not a monopoly.

     
    All the land?  Was someone in danger of owning all the books?  All the land in Malibu would represent a larger percentage of all the land in California than any single book would relative to the total amount of available books, right?  So how is it a “monopoly” if I control my book, but it’s not if someone owns all the land in a given area?
     

    Because I can live somewhere other than Malibu, even beach front property (in my dreams).  Granted Malibu is a lovely place, but there are other options.

     
    Uh huh, and you can make a movie out of someone else’s book.  You don’t need mine.  Mine might be a lovely book from which to make a movie, but there are lots of other choices.  So go choose one of them.
     

    but also we need to make sure that authors, musicians, etc. get their fair share for the work they’ve done.

     
    I’m sorry, but is “fair share” a libertarian concept?  Because it sounds socialist.  My “fair share” is whatever I can convince someone to pay me for my property.
     
    And this:
     
    I don’t want to steal, but at the same time I don’t want to make some fat music executive rich simply because he conned the band out of their rights to their music.
    Now you’re in the business of renegotiating contracts? You want to change the law so that bands won’t negotiate bad contracts?
    And I think you’re being a quite evasive on DNA.  DNA is just data.  It can be reproduced.  It’s not an organ, it’s not a body part, it’s a pattern used by nature to create you.  The Book of Verdon so to speak.  And if I can obtain your DNA — all it would take would be a lab sample — I should be able, (in a very few years,) to build a whole new Verdon.
     
    So rather than pretend you don’t get the comparison — I’m quite sure of your intellectual capacity — why not address the question?  My book is a pattern, so is your DNA.  Both can be reduced to digits and reproduced endlessly.  So under what theory if any would you deprive me of my rights while asserting your own?  (Especially since you didn’t even do the work on your DNA.
     
    Finally, if we’re having a history lesson, let’s be honest and admit that the obsession of internet denizens with reducing copyright is almost entirely a result of their desire to steal someone’s music or book or video without paying for it.

  28. michael reynolds says:

    Sorry, I screwed up some of the graf breaks and blockquotes.

  29. Michael says:

    Let’s say Richie Rich own all of Malibu, and he’s so rich he doesn’t need to sell it, but can pass it along to his heirs forever.  Clearly this right deprives you and me of any hope of living in Malibu.

    The difference being that if Disney makes a movie out of your book, you don’t lose ownership of your book, your book doesn’t lose any of it’s previous value, and you can still use, sell or pass on your book to whomever you choose.
     
    I more apt analogy would be if Richie Rich owned the idea of Malibu, and therefore you weren’t allowed to dump sand into the ocean and make your own.

  30. Michael says:

    So how is it a “monopoly” if I control my book, but it’s not if someone owns all the land in a given area?

    You don’t want to just control your book, you want to control your story, and that is the difference.

  31. Michael says:

    let’s be honest and admit that the obsession of internet denizens with reducing copyright is almost entirely a result of their desire to steal someone’s music or book or video without paying for it.

    On the contrary, those that willfully and flagrantly violate copyrights don’t care very much about them one way or another.  It’s not like their lives would change if the copyright terms were halved.  Those who care are the creators of derived works, who want to add their own creativity and talents to those works that inspired them, yet are not legally allowed to produce their desired art due to the existing laws.

  32. john personna says:

    Ideas being made into intellectual property is a lot like businesses being made into corporations.  It is a legal hack, something that gives ideas/businesses standing in a prior body of law.
     
    But, just as corporations aren’t really people, aren’t books not really land?

  33. Michael says:

    But, just as corporations aren’t really people, aren’t books not really land?

    Books are property.  I can take a book from you and therefore deprive you of it.  I can also give you a book, and thus deprive myself of it.  I can sell you the book, or buy it from you.
     
    A story, however, is not naturally property.  I can’t take a story from you and thus deprive you of it.  I can’t give you a story of mine and in doing so deprive myself of it.  I can’t sell you a story, or buy a story from you.  The only transactions you can do with a story involve implementing it or, with IP laws, the right to implement it.

  34. john personna says:

    I could have used “ideas” in that comparison rather than “book.”
     
    But, just as corporations aren’t really people, aren’t ideas not really land?
     
    Cumbersome sentence structure, but I’ll stick with it.

  35. Steve Verdon says:

     
    Michael,
     
    In your Malibu example there would have to be a single seller of lots in Malibu.  A monopolist is the sole provider of a given good.
     
    Disney is, by law, the sole provider of Mickey Mouse Ears.  You are the sole provider of your stories, by law.  Both you and Disney are monopolists.  To make the Malibu example work, if we wanted to buy property there would have to be just one seller of such property.  Further, I’d argue that there would have to be some sort of downstream licensing too to prevent resales.  And even still, there are other locations with nice, very nice, beach front property.  This can offer competition that can keep our Malibu Real Estate mogul from driving up prices.
     

    Uh huh, and you can make a movie out of someone else’s book.  You don’t need mine.  Mine might be a lovely book from which to make a movie, but there are lots of other choices.  So go choose one of them.
     

    True, but you still have price setting power, and that is always a bad thing.  And to be clear a competitive firm does not have price setting power.

     
    Now you’re in the business of renegotiating contracts? You want to change the law so that bands won’t negotiate bad contracts?

     
    That’s funny considering how zealous you are about protecting your rights.  You talk about protecting the rights of “creatives” but…I look at the above and I have to wonder.  Really?  And no, I’m not arguing renegotiating contracts but rethinking our copyright system so the person who actually is creative gets paid for their creativity and hard work.
     

    And I think you’re being a quite evasive on DNA.  DNA is just data.

     
    I own my body, I own my labor, I own my DNA, pretty simple.  Nothing evasive at all, it flows from some pretty well established concepts.
     

    And if I can obtain your DNA — all it would take would be a lab sample — I should be able, (in a very few years,) to build a whole new Verdon.

     
    Tell us again how you don’t like people stealing your ideas.  Maybe I should scan one of your books and toss it on bit torrent?  And I’ll send you a glob of spit, deal?  I have written absolutely nothing that says people who create intellectual property should not be rewarded for that creation or that such things should be taken without proper payment.  You are arguing a strawman position here.  I own my DNA, if you want a clone of me (why in God’s name I don’t know the thought of another me running around should scare anyone!) you should pay me, just as I should pay you for your intellectual property.

     
    Finally, if we’re having a history lesson, let’s be honest and admit that the obsession of internet denizens with reducing copyright is almost entirely a result of their desire to steal someone’s music or book or video without paying for it.

     
    Please, I’ve pointed out on previous occasions the work of Boldrin and Levine on intellectual property and how economic efficiency could be improved if we could find a competitive frame work in which those who create intellectual property are paid for their work.  I’ve already said, I’m not interested in stealing other people’s work/property, I just think the current system is broken and can be fixed.
     

    The difference being that if Disney makes a movie out of your book, you don’t lose ownership of your book, your book doesn’t lose any of it’s previous value, and you can still use, sell or pass on your book to whomever you choose.

     
    One could argue a movie might be complimentary good as well.  A good movie might increase interest in the books, particularly a series.  If I saw a good movie that was based on a series of books I very well might go buy the series, or at least the next book.  I might also buy the first book since movies often leave parts out for various reasons.  In fact, in my son’s case this happened with the movie Watchmen after seeing the movie he wanted the graphic novel.  He bought that and several other works by Alan Moore.
     

    A story, however, is not naturally property.  I can’t take a story from you and thus deprive you of it.  I can’t give you a story of mine and in doing so deprive myself of it.  I can’t sell you a story, or buy a story from you.  The only transactions you can do with a story involve implementing it or, with IP laws, the right to implement it.

     
    This is a point that Boldrin and Levine raise as well.  Information has a very low marginal cost, although it may have a large fixed or even sunk cost.  But once the information is created producing an additional copy is…often pennies.  This is the case with many drugs for example.  Drugs have a huge cost to develop, but producing an additional pill costs very, very little…but the price of the pill can be very high thanks to intellectual property law.  And that high price means fewer people consume said drug…if it is a life saving drug…well we aren’t just talking about Mickey Mouse Ears here.

  36. Michael says:

    To make the Malibu example work, if we wanted to buy property there would have to be just one seller of such property.

    You’d have to take it further than that and say that I wouldn’t be allowed to buy land in Florida, make it look like a Malibu beach lot, and then sell those.

    But once the information is created producing an additional copy is…often pennies.

    It’s almost always less than that.  As I argued a while ago in another thread, technology like bittorrent drives the per-unit price to $0.

  37. michael reynolds says:

    I own my body, I own my labor, I own my DNA, pretty simple.

    Really? Under what law do you own the data set of your DNA?

    DNA is a physical thing, but it is also data. Given a lab I can make an exact duplicate of your DNA.

    Using your standards, I have not deprived you of your DNA. I have not taken it away from you, removed it from your cells. You are still free to use your DNA.

    I have just made an exact duplicate.

    So under what law, or set of laws, or legal precept, is the data set known as “Verdon’s DNA” protected?

    Your DNA is just a particular sequence of cytosine, guanine, adenine and thymine. Like a book using just four words to tell a story.

    You guys are pursuing what you no doubt believe to be a forward-looking revision of copyright law, but is actually an antique notion no longer suited to the future. Insisting that a book is only the physical, paper object and not the series of words, the DNA if you will, is the sort of thing that would have seemed clever 20 years ago and now seems absurd.

    You missed a generation in your thinking.