Ramblings & ephemera

Copyright stupidity: arguments & numbers

From Financial Times” “James Boyle: Deconstructing stupidity“:

Thomas Macaulay told us copyright law is a tax on readers for the benefit of writers, a tax that shouldn’t last a day longer than necessary. …

Since only about 4 per cent of copyrighted works more than 20 years old are commercially available, this locks up 96 per cent of 20th century culture to benefit 4 per cent. The harm to the public is huge, the benefit to authors, tiny. …

We need to deconstruct the culture of IP stupidity, to understand it so we can change it. But this is a rich and complex stupidity, like a fine Margaux. I can only review a few flavours.

Maximalism: The first thing to realize is that many decisions are driven by honest delusion, not corporate corruption. The delusion is maximalism: the more intellectual property rights we create, the more innovation. This is clearly wrong; rights raise the cost of innovation inputs (lines of code, gene sequences, data.) Do their monopolistic and anti-competitive effects outweigh their incentive effects? That’s the central question, but many of our decision makers seem never to have thought of it.

The point was made by an exchange inside the Committee that shaped Europe’s ill-starred Database Directive. It was observed that the US, with no significant property rights over unoriginal compilations of data, had a much larger database industry than Europe which already had significant “sweat of the brow” protection in some countries. Europe has strong rights, the US weak. The US is winning.

Did this lead the committee to wonder for a moment whether Europe should weaken its rights? No. Their response was that this showed we had to make the European rights much stronger. …

Authorial Romance: Part of the delusion depends on the idea that inventors and artists create from nothing. Who needs a public domain of accessible material if one can create out of thin air? But in most cases this simply isn’t true; artists, scientists and technologists build on the past. …

An Industry Contract: Who are the subjects of IP? They used to be companies. You needed a printing press or a factory to trigger the landmines of IP. The law was set up as a contract between industry groups. This was a cosy arrangement, but it is no longer viable. The citizen-publishers of cyberspace, the makers of free software, the scientists of distributed data-analysis are all now implicated in the IP world. The decision-making structure has yet to adjust. …

Fundamentally, though, the views I have criticised here are not merely stupidity. They constitute an ideology, a worldview, like flat earth-ism. …

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