Law in the Internet Society

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ScottYakaitisFirstPaper 3 - 20 Nov 2014 - Main.ScottYakaitis
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First Paper Round Two

Copyright, while only a component of a country's intellectual property law, can have consequences far beyond its intended legal niche. Copyright effectively functions as a monopoly given to a copyright holder of a particular piece of intellectual property. Monopoly leads to the price of a particular good inflating, based on the monopolist's control. This partially explains why new books are more expensive than older works that are no longer in copyright. If copyright just ratchets up the price of goods we all want, why do we even bother with copyright? The standard logic is that the protection granted by copyright increases the number of people who want to create works that are copyrightable. The monopolist's price gouging serves as a reward to the copyright holder for creating something valuable to society. Society puts up with copyright because we assume without it there would be fewer works of art.

There is another proposition in economics that the marginal cost of producing a good, at equilibrium, is equal to the price. This maxim has profound implications for copyright. Since, computers can create infinite copies of many types of copyrightable material for nearly zero marginal cost, the only thing keeping the price above zero of copyrightable works is the monopolist effect of copyright.

However, having the price above zero means a huge percentage of the world's population doesn't have access to that information. By destroying copyright, billions more people would have access to a treasure trove of human knowledge. That would certainly create more value to society.

But would this freeing up of knowledge have unintended side-effects and damage certain categories of art whole sale? I will examine film, music, literature, and visual art to see how this change in policy would affect them.

Let's first look to film. One might assume the destruction of copyright would harm the ability of major Hollywood type films. At first glance, Hollywood seems like it would have an exceptionally difficult time making hundreds of millions (or billions) without the protection of copyright. However, timeliness and format will save Hollywood. People will still pay to see movies on the big screen. Seeing movies on the big screen gives value beyond the product itself, this assertion is supported that despite the existence of technology such as bit-torrent movie theaters still persist. Perhaps profits won't be quite as large. But Hollywood wouldn't go anywhere. However, smaller budget films might have more problems. They will not have the muscle to force theaters into favorable distribution deals, because the theater won't pay to display something it can display for free. The smaller films will instead have to distribute via the internet, which as quickly discussed would have a nearly zero marginal cost and thus zero price. This doesn't mean small budget films will completely die, many (including myself) have made films on nearly zero prospect of ever getting paid. I could make a movie with complete disregard for money due to the massive privilege of my background. Not everyone is so lucky, which could lead to an even greater homogeneity in the film world. This is of course all speculative

In the case of music industry, the market has already been disrupted by the popularity of p2p file sharing and the ease of ripping music. In this case, we can observe what happens in a nearly copyright-less world (though Apple has re-inserted copyright in many instances * throws garlic about * ). Musicians make less money from selling records, and more money from touring. Mega-stars and indie bands alike can still make a living. And with greater distribution of the music (since price isn't a barrier to those who want to listen) there are more fans at shows. Recording musicians, who perform, will do fine.

High end visual art will also easily survive the destruction of copyright. Monet paintings are still worth exorbitant amounts of money despite every first year college student having a print on his/her wall. However mid/lower range artists will face a greater challenge, as many lower level artists make money by selling exclusive prints of their work. There is less inherent special value in the work if the artist isn't famous. But there is a value still in a physical object. But people may want exclusive signed works from up and coming artists and those in their social milieu (because we like art that has been licked by the artist).

Writers, however, could suffer greatly. Digital distribution of written work is becoming more popular. While people still do buy books, Kindles and Nooks are very much increasing in popularity. While some people might still pay for a physical copy of a book, an increasingly large population of people might not. Unlike music (seeing the performance live) or film (in theater), literary work doesn't have an inherent spectacular or performative aspect. Certain works will likely make money based on timing. If the work is very popular and there is only a paid version initially, many people might want to grab it. However, this would only be true of the mega blockbusters, like Harry Potter. In effect, all written work would function as the news currently does. However, as we have seen in the “blog” age, more than a few people are happy to write giant tomes without any prospect of getting paid. In addition, there are extremely writers who actually make a living writing. So, the end effect may harm super-star writers, the rest will likely end up in roughly the same spot.

In the end, the destruction of copyright may change the way art works in our society. But any of this destabilization will most likely be more than made up for by the drastic increase in access to information. A government subsidy of art could be put into place to offset the possible decrease in incentives to create art that the destruction of copyright would cause.

Revision 3r3 - 20 Nov 2014 - 02:24:53 - ScottYakaitis
Revision 2r2 - 11 Oct 2014 - 15:54:46 - EbenMoglen
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