Consequences of IP

As Patri posted below about one set of recent speakers at work, I'll finally give voice to a thought I had about another. Some time ago Michael Lesk came to talk at work about the Million Book Project, which aims to scan in books and OCR them to create a vast, free searchable database of printed material. His talk made me think about the effect of new technology on the consequentialist argument for copyright law: that the overall benefit provided by giving authors and artists a greater incentive to create things outweighs the cost of artificially excluding consumers from a nonrivalrous and naturally-difficult-to-exclude good.

It seems to me that the more technologies like the MBP come along, the higher the aggregate exclusion costs become: both because the difficulty of enforcing exclusionary IP laws increases, and because the aggregate benefit forgone by the "victims" of exclusion increases. 100 years ago it was not the case that, in the absence of copyright enforcement on a creative work, almost everyone in the world would have essentially costless access to it; now it is. So if IP law tracked economic efficiency, we'd expect copyright terms to shorten over time and copyright restrictions to become laxer, as the efficient balance between authorial incentive and public accessibility shifts toward the latter. Instead, terms have lengthened and restrictions have gotten more draconian, due to rent-seeking behavior on the part of copyright holders.

Now, I'm an anarchist, and I accept that under anarchy most forms of IP would be completely unenforceable. Trade secrets and some special-purpose copyrights would still survive, negotiated by private contracts and enforced by court judgments against those knowingly abetting breaches of such contracts; but that'd be all. I've long been uncomfortable with that, thinking it would probably be a net efficiency loss, maybe a considerable one, but nonetheless balanced out by the other advantages of not having a State. The MBP makes me a hair less uncomfortable.

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As high-quality music

As high-quality music recording and desktop publishing technology become cheaper and cheaper, and movies like that retro '30s thing (Captain something-or-other, I think) become more feasible for small producers, the costs to recoup will be a lot smaller. And successful marketing strategies will involve recovering costs quickly, up-front, when you will still have the advantage of being the first to market it. That, and constant upgrades and product development, coupled with the name-recognition value that comes from having produced the original. Marketing of creative work, directly to the consumer, will still be eminently feasible for individuals and small firms (just look at the success of Phish, who have adopted a marketing model that treats these things as an ally rather than an enemy). It's the record companies and big publishers who are doomed.

People were making music--lots and lots of them, most for a bare living--long before Edison ever invented the phonograph. And the same drawing room and juke joint model is coming back, but with infinitely more sophisticated technology to manipulate sound quality.

And good riddance!

Kevin, you're thinking of

Kevin, you're thinking of "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow". No sets at all, just bluescreened actors against a computer-simulated environment.

"Alert the amphibious squadron!"

So Kevin, I'm curious, are

So Kevin, I'm curious, are you suggesting that artists will live in relative poverty in IP, but that this would be counter-balanced by other factors, or that artists as such deserve to live in poverty?

Bad consequences for whom?

Bad consequences for whom? It certainly gives good consequences to those who hold these state-granted monopolies on ideas, writings, etc.

Nick, Now, I’m an

Nick,

Now, I’m an anarchist, and I accept that under anarchy most forms of IP would be completely unenforceable. Trade secrets and some special-purpose copyrights would still survive, negotiated by private contracts and enforced by court judgments against those knowingly abetting breaches of such contracts; but that’d be all. I’ve long been uncomfortable with that, thinking it would probably be a net efficiency loss, maybe a considerable one, but nonetheless balanced out by the other advantages of not having a State.

Is this really a state vs no state issue? Isn't the deterioration of IP enforcement due to the nature of the non-rivalrous nature of information rather than monopolistic vs private provision of that enforcement?

Yep, I agree with you about

Yep, I agree with you about the relevant economics. But that's not what we see, because our govt doesn't generate efficient law...instead, IP regulation is captured by the RIAA/MPAA/etc.

This ain’t gonna look

This ain’t gonna look pretty to a lot of people, but it may make some projects viable that otherwise wouldn’t be in the new technological environment.

There might be something to that idea. On the other hand, many people look down on animes like Yu-gi-oh precisely because the advertising is built into the show, and so to me the idea of having your characters be talking billboards is mildly unsettling if not completely repulsive.

Well even I wear T-shirts

Well even I wear T-shirts with advertisements on them sometimes; I read Kennedy as suggesting commericialized story-telling might be much worse than the sort of thing we have now, which admittedly is already pretty bad.

Soccer teams do this with

Soccer teams do this with sponsors on the shirts, ads on the sidelines, etc. Not so repulsive and works quite well.

I think you're pretty much

I think you're pretty much right about this. There will be some negative consequences and there's not much to be done about it. Imagine the effect a similar Million Movie Project will have. How can you invest millions to make a film if you have no control over the distribution of the product?

One possibility is to bundle advertising with your product. This worked very well for television up to a point, but commercial-bundled television programming now faces improved unbundling technology - it's getting easier for people to see the shows without the commercials. Which means you may have to increasingly embed advertising in the product itself - have the characters themselves promote real products implicitly or explicitly. You could weave such advertising into any creative work.

This ain't gonna look pretty to a lot of people, but it may make some projects viable that otherwise wouldn't be in the new technological environment.

Stefan, Hey, the vast

Stefan,

Hey, the vast majority of professional artists live in relative poverty NOW (unless they have unusually well-paid day jobs or indulgent relatives). This has always been the case and probably always will be. Making a reasonable, let alone lavish, living with any kind of art or entertainment is like winning the damn lottery in terms of how often it happens. The difference is, more widespread access to high-quality production facilities and techniques and more decentralized distribution will mean that who wins that lottery will be determined more by what people actually want to see/hear than by what MPAA/RIAA executives are willing to throw a lot of marketing money behind.