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Imagine no copyright?

Dean Baker:

The NYT editorial page can always be counted on to harshly condemn protection for agriculture or manufactured goods, but when it comes to much larger economic distortions that are generated by copyright and patent protection, the NYT tells its reporters to look the other way.

Today's article on the development of new software that can detect the presence of copyrighted material on the web provides yet another example of the NYT's selective protectionism. The article includes no discussion whatsoever of the economic losses that result from imposing copyright protection. Think of the enormous gains to the economy and society if all books and articles, music and video were available to everyone in the world at zero cost over the web. These gains would dwarf any potential gains from eliminating trade barriers in manufactured goods or agricultural products.

In addition, think of how much we would gain by eliminating all the rent-seeking behavior associated with copyright protection. For example, we could have software developers doing productive work, instead of trying to develop software that tracks copyrighted work. We also wouldn't need legions of copyright lawyers (okay, maybe these lawyers couldn't do anything productive anyhow).

Also, imagine that creative workers didn't have to feel boxed in by copyright restrictions. Suppose we gave creative workers the right to write their own version of Harry Potter or Star Wars or any other work they choose. (Actually, I thought the constitution did give them this right [freedom of speech], but the copyright protectionists argue otherwise.)

Creative workers need to be compensated for their work, but copyright is an inefficient and antiquated system. Unfortunately, the NYT and most media outlets (which depend on copyright protection) do not even let the inefficiencies of copyright protection be discussed. This makes the process of promoting alternatives more difficult.

I dunno. I mean, i think i only want Marvel writing Marvel comics characters. I am definitely interested in looking at alternatives to copyright, but Baker's proposals (see links to pdfs) seem... a little too pat, a little too simple. Still, his larger point stands, that until we acknowledge that the current system is a form of protectionism that isn't in society's best interest, we won't even begin to really discuss and debate alternatives.

By fnord12 | February 21, 2007, 9:53 AM | Liberal Outrage


I'm just a simple country boy, but I fail to see how eliminating copyright and allowing all info to be disseminated for free on the internet could yield greater gains to the economy. I'm not trying to be snarky or anything, I just don't understand how it's possible. or is this just copyright where the original creator is dead? I assume not since Rowling and Lucas are mentioned later on.

I also always love when everyone claims that these genius programmers are wasting their precious gifts on copy protection software and laying people off. It's somewhat a false argument. Most people aren't geniuses in any profession and would likely just make more porn or video games and not really improving the world if left to their own devices. ok, this is a bit snarky.

And, I may be wrong here, but isn't fan-fiction allowed? As long as you're not making money off the deal and it's clear you're not operating under the owner of the copyright, you can write these damn stories, right? and all these teribly creative people not allowed to write harry potter stories? that's right, harry potter porn is all you'd see.

I'm not saying copyright isn't protectionism or that it's perfect, but there are some things to consider. and in the long run, if we're just talking entertainment, then who really cares? Medication issues, where life and death are involved, are a different issue.

He's not just talking entertainment, he's talking software and blueprints and drugs as well.

The amount of research spent creating copycat drugs, for example, is a waste of effort/money for the economy as a whole. The amount of money my company spends on software licensing is money that could go towards more developers producing something new, which is arguably more beneficial to society than Microsoft receiving money for products they have already created.

And Baker isn't saying our options are either let programmers develop copyright-sniffing software or be "left to their own devices". There are tons of productive, beneficial programs that developers could be creating.

Fan fiction seems to be illegal (based on a random webpage i found: http://www.whoosh.org/issue58/ecks1.html ) but Baker is arguing that creative people should be allowed to make money off the deriviative works that they create.

although i don't see how eliminating copyright would create this utopian scenario, i do agree with his point that people shouldn't be allowed to condemn protectionism 100% while supporting it in some forms. it's the black and white, right and wrong arguments i have a problem with.

it's not 'either you're with us or against us'.

P.S. I'm not necessarily agreeing with Baker at this point (although his ideas are interesting). I'm just trying to explain his position better, having read other stuff by him on the topic.

I specifically avoided the medicine discussion as I think that's a whole different issue and see no reason not to have different rules regarding entertainment vs. drugs. So I'm not gonna comment on those comments. However, how else would removing copyright benefit the economy (besides the medical issues)?

But, let's say microsoft creates a new program. What is an acceptable business model to get paid for it? (and I realize that current policies go way beyond just paying for it's developement and a reasonable profit)

And I knew I was presenting an extreme. I just get a little irked when people seem to talk of all these put-upon geniuses being forced to protect the man. It seems a little simple, so I went simple the other way.

Well, whether or not fan-fiction is legal, I think that it should be as long as it's without profit or representing oneself as the copyright holder. The truth is the vast majority is crap. and like you said, I want Marvel comics controlling Spider-Man. There's lots more I could say regarding Baker's desire for this to be profitable, and logos, and open source recipes, but I gotta go.

I didn't read anything about put-upon geniuses. Baker's talking about the best utilization of our country's resources. I think someone's got a personal gripe... ;-)

P.S. I understoodd you don't necessarily agree with everything he's says and were just representing his opinion.

Yes, you're right about the put-upon geniuses. I misread some stuff and have a personal gripe.

Though, knowing nothing about the man, I'm sure that's what he meant!

i feel there's a dearth of good porn. if eliminating the copyright will get me better porn, i'm all for it. get these geniuses to work on something of real value.