Re: royalties without copyright--the historical case

Hal Finney (
Wed, 26 Mar 1997 22:05:32 -0800

Lee Daniel Crocker, <>, writes:
> That's a good way to recast the argument: let's assume that the (C) is
> just a shortcut for the whole shrink-wrap license version of IP (for the
> moment ignoring broadcasts and billboards). The question then becomes,
> Is it in the best interest of authors in general to put the mark on their
> books? This is a much harder question, and if the answer is "yes", then
> much of my argument against IP weakens, because I will then have to draw
> in enforcement costs and moral arguments and such. I still believe that
> the answer is "no", but it forces me to clarify the benefit more. A work
> to which the (C) is attached will probably increase the /relative, short-
> term/ wealth of the author. That is, he will likely be wealthier as
> compared to his neighbor in the year of his book's publication than he
> might have been without the (C). But the /absolute, long-term/ wealth
> of the author I believe would still benefit more from leaving the (C) off.
> This is because the ability of everyone else in the economy to exploit
> the work without restraint in ways he might not even have thought of, or
> ways he might not understand or approve of and so would fail to license,
> would improve the whole economy the well beyond what relative gain he might
> have enjoyed from protection, by lowering the price and raising the
> quality of everything he buys, and speeding the discovery of new things.

Although I haven't participated, I have enjoyed the IP discussion.

Lee's argument for leaving the (C) off could work in some cases, but
probably not in many others. It has to be the case that the extra
distribution which the works would receive by being unrestricted would
have considerable benefit. This benefit has to be great enough that,
even though it is probably spread out through the whole society, that
portion which applies to the original author of the works will be greater
than what he would have received had he controlled the distribution.

An example of this might be some of the Gnu software. Perhaps the
authors of the Gnu C compiler receive more direct benefit from the existence
of programs built using that compiler than they would have received had
they charged for it.

(Even in this case, I am doubtful. Professional programmers make $50K
and up, and there are many, many man-years of work in that software.
The software available only because gcc is free would have to be worth
perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars to each of the main creators
of gcc.)

But this is an extreme case, a very widely used utility. Most IP is
simply not that useful. Works of fiction and art are not going to feed
back much tangible benefit to their creators. Even most patents aren't
going to change the world to the extent that the creator will have a
noticeably easier life once everyone can use his patent for free. For
them, it would seem that the best course is to restrict distribution
so that they can charge more for their works.