RE: Information & Power /Copyrights

Billy Brown (
Wed, 5 May 1999 11:16:10 -0500

Lee Daniel Crocker wrote:
> That's partly true, in practice. But a finding of fraud would not
> require harm to the author--it would require harm to the consumer,
> also hard to prove but not impossible. In a world without copyrights,
> the author's physical availability, timeliness, and other intangibles
> will have significant monetary value beyond the mere product. One
> who represents that ey can provide those values when ey cannot has
> done measurable, prosecutable harm to customers and to the reputation
> of the original author. In a world without copyrights, these things
> would have to be taken more seriously by the courts; today, authors
> rely on copyrights instead.

Under current law, the customer can't do a thing about it unless he can prove monetary damages. In most cases there is no such harm, or it is purely hypothetical (and thus almost impossible to prove). If the purloined item is a peice of software you might conceivably have a case, but for something like a book or a song you're going to be laughed out of court. What you are realy looking for here is a new, much more expansive fraud statute that makes lying about the origin of a work illegal per se.

> > If I post someone's work as my own, we have the case mentioned above.
> > If I publish it with no attribution at all, the only law I have
> > violated is the copyright.
> And your point is?

You claimed that copyright law is purely a matter of forcing payment. I'm pointing out that this is not the case. Copyright is the only law that prevents wholesale alteration and misattribution of intellectual property by anyone who cares to do so. If you want to abolish copyright, you will need to set up some other system to handle these issues - unless you favor making all of these activities legal.

> That's two different contentions that you intermix: (1) destroying the
> value of the work itself, and (2) destroying the artists' means of
> making money.

There is no such thing as intrinsic economic value. The amount of money you can sell a work for depends entirely on the context (social, legal and economic) in which you are making the sale. Changing copyright law changes this context, and can easily have very large effects on the outcome. Abolishing copyright makes it almost impossible to establish any meaningful property right to a work, and therefore makes it very difficult to make money by selling it.

> Today, because of copyright, it is assumed that they
> are the same thing--artists make money by selling their works. In a
> world without copyrights, things change, but artists still
> make money--probably more--just in different ways. Value is created by
> demand, and the creative talents of artists will always be in demand.

Really? How? If you abolish copyright, their products are no longer even recognized as property.

In a medium that is difficult and expensive to duplicate, you might be correct. However, we are rapidly moving towards a world where just about anything can be duplicated quickly and easily. This creates a world in which some sort of copyright enforcement far more important than in the past.

For an example, lets look at the music industry. Here we have a product that can be duplicated for just about zero cost, sold over the Internet, and stored and duplicated ad infinitum by the customer. If mass duplication were legal, who exactly would have enough bargaining power left to actually get paid?

Well, music distribution companies could earn a small return by offering a convenient place to find high-quality recordings. Music production outfits could earn a meager living making recordings for the distributors. No one can get a competitive advantage by originating new content, because it can be copied by all the major distributors within a matter of hours. So, the distributors still want a stream of new products to sell, but they can't afford to spend much money on them.

The most likely result is a world where composers and musicians are paid tiny sums of money (propably on an hourly or salaried basis), profit margins are razor-thin for the entire industry, music is very cheap - and really talented individuals find something more profitable to do with their lives.

So, do you disagree with my analysis, or is this the kind of world you want?

> Today, authors do free tours to support book sales. Without
> copyright, they'd probably sell books to advertise profit-making personal
> appearances or other services. Books and movies would have more
> advertisements.

Personal appearances have profit potential only for a tiny group of especially famous authors. For everyone else, they are an advertising expense that the publishers fund in order to boost sales.

Without copyright, the publishing industry would still be controlled by the publishers (since actually manufacturing the books would be the major expense). Popular authors would make a little more than musicians, since it takes longer to copy a new book than it does to duplicate a new album. However, the basic dynamic is the same - the content creators loose all of their bargaining power, and end up being owned by distribution and/or manufacturing companies.

> There would be a lot of cheap knock-off works, so official
> endorsements and recommendations would carry more weight (and therefore
> more value).

So I, the consumer, will pay extra for a book that's endorsed by a famous author, and he'll get a kickback? I don't think so. I'll walk over to the next rack, and buy an identical book from a different company for $1 less. After all, it would be perfectly legal for a different company to duplicate the endorsement without paying for it.

> Without copyrights, the artist's research is cheap and easy.

Most research is already cheap and easy. Where it is not, the costs have more to do with technological limitations than copyright issues. Software development is the only field I can think of where getting rid of copyrights would have a meaningful benificial result in this respect - and I've already said I think that is a completely different case.

> Ey gets hired for a lot more one-off work doing things like news and
> commercials.

How exactly would the absence of copyright make content creators bigger celebrities? Or are you saying celebrity appearances would be more in demand for some reason? Unless one of these things is true, you are simply saying "they'll go find work in some other idustry". Presumably true, but it is not a benificial result.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I