Law in the Internet Society
-- ScottYakaitis - 02 Oct 2014

Terrence Maxwell builds an interesting model trying to decipher the possible impact of various policy decisions in relation to literature and copyright. Maxwell analyzes past decisions as a way to help analyze how decisions would effect the world going into 2100. He looks at 5 possible policy scenarios: strong copyright control, balancing public domain with author's rights, limit of public education due to lack of pop. Growth and upper limits of literacy, improve access by improving education, and retail price controls.

I made the link a link for you. If you're writing on the Web, use the Web. The editor has those little link icons up there on the toolbar if you really need them, but writing the markdown of the link is faster. Push the Raw button to see the page source and learn....

This is loose blowzy writing at the beginning, where you need to be especially clear and crisp to interest the reader. He builds an interesting model by analyzing the past as a way of helping to speculate about the future? He looks at five possible policy scenarios?

Good legal writing, as opposed to what lawyers write, is clear, forceful, and economical. At their very best, tomes affect the world slowly. A lawyer's job is to get results now. In my 1L classroom, lawyering is defined as "making things happen in society using words." The people who comprise the social processes you are trying to affect are busy. If their minds aren't alert when you get to them, you need to wake them up in a fashion they find pleasant rather than offputting. You need to be energetic, interesting, and clear. You want them to feel that they are smarter when they read you. This paragraph is not showing how.

In the essay, Maxwell argues that to create both the most number of authors and the greatest profits for authors, investments should be made not into copyright but into education.

Try improving this preceding sentence. Instead of 30 words, say it in 20. Then make it the second sentence in the paragraph, where the first is a topic sentence whose idea is yours. Link that back to the topic of the first paragraph, the lead of the essay, where your big idea is put forward and Maxwell is adopted as the interlocutor for you, not the subject of your book review. It will help to have an outline. Nothing short should ever be written without one.

The greater the world literacy, he argues, the more people will spend on reading. Not surprising. However, he found that most of the other policy considerations didn't create much in the way of different results. The only major difference, it seems, is that the number of authors in a strong copyright regime (~500k) was much higher than that of any other (~250k), with the exception of the improved education policy decision(~1000k) and controlling retail price (~400k). This suggests that the argument that copyright actually is an effective incentive for authors to create does a least have some backbone to it.

Why do made up numbers based on a model of the human future that includes no variables other than the ones the author is pretending to investigate "suggest" anything? That's just the fallacy of mensuration in rhetorical blossom: if you can give a number, that "suggests" correctness. I believe some comedian somewhere has referred to this as "truthiness." I am in total sympathy with Mr Maxwell's aims, I agree with the argument he is presenting, and even I cannot find a single reason to believe what he is saying based on this bullshit. Why do you?

While, it is perhaps not an ideal world (the improved education for all seems to be) if we take the prospect of having more creators than not as a good, copyright seems to be effective.

However, Maxwell concedes that he only focuses on a very limited set of variables and a variety of hidden costs may exist that he didn't take into account. When extrapolating into the future a whole variety of unforeseen or foreseen (but to complex to include in a model) scenarios can crop up. The article Four Futures by Peter Frase ( attempts to hypothesize what the economies in the futures will look like. Frase argues that as time moves forward the need for human labor will decrease. Technologies such as three dimensional printing, general automation, and the internet will decrease the marginal cost of nearly everything to zero. For example, say you didn't own an umbrella and it was raining outside. Today, you could step outside and see a swarm of ad hoc merchants selling umbrellas at higher prices. In this future, you could load generic material into a three dimensional printer, find a schematic and then print the umbrella. Entire sectors of the economy would be wiped out. Manufacturing and sales would be nearly things of the past. At this point, the only major limiting cost would be the scarcity and cost of the raw materials itself. Whether or not that cost would be high or low determines which one of Frase's four futures you'll end up in. Let's focus on the future where the cost is low.

In that future, there would be very few jobs. The only major industries would be the one that produces the generic raw material for 3-d printing and the industry that is set up to design the schematics for those who will use the 3-d printers. In a strong copyright regime, those who write the code for those schematics could effectively have copyrights over extremely fundamental goods. Hypothetically speaking the program design for producing something as basic as a metal pot might be controlled (and thus monopolized). This future, Frase refers to as that of Rentism. Because of the very few still viable industries, this future could lead to a very small and very powerful elite. Since all commerce would be focused on selling particular schematics for the printers those that controlled a substantial amount of those copyrights would be wildly wealthy. This society would then suffer from a variety of the problems that a society of extreme disparity suffer.

As things are today, companies can and do copyright schematics for 3-d printers. But we have two competing interests for society. On one hand, copyright protections do seem to induce more people to enter a particular creative field. And having more people produce these sorts of schematics would be very useful for society. On the other hand, allowing strong copyright protection could potential create one of Frase's dystopian futures.

Could a significantly reduced copyright be an effective middle ground? If a society gave copyright protection for only one year with significant fair use exemptions to the copyright, this could perhaps deal with both problems. The small period of monopoly would still give creators an extra incentive to create. They would still be societies elite (but all societies will have an elite). However, would this might not create the same entrenched power structure. Especially if, the protection was extremely limited. One couldn't directly copy a schematic. But any small change would grant a new copyright. In addition, if the original creator of a schematic couldn't keep the underlying code secret, any enterprising creator could update and modify the original schematic. This would give just enough copy protection that if a very particular good is popular the creator is rewarded, while also keeping the copyright loose enough to allow creation and innovation.

Are we seriously to believe that the future of the global political economy can be used as the pivot of an argument about copyright policy? That's surely an example of using the megatherium to wag the tail of a neighboring dog. What will happen to the welfare of the human race over the next several generations, including the global level of aggregate employment, has surely to do also with a few uncorrelated additional elements. This is the sort of drawing completely out of perspective that afflicts "policy" discussion in lobbyland. Everyone has some plausible soundbite. Smart is knowing why all of it is nonsense.

One can say with all the authority of microeconomics that if you lower the price of knowledge more people will acquire it. One can say with the authority of reportage that most of the world's children are too poor to acquire learning, and also that when offered it, immensely bright and talented people are liberated from hopelessness and oppression. One can therefore say without all this pseudo-modeling that if the rules against sharing were destroyed, tens of millions of highly gifted individuals would begin affecting the destiny of humankind, and hundreds of millions more would be afforded basic human social justice by being liberated from hopelessness and oppression. If that takes 108 words, what have you to say in another 892, with or without Maxwell, that amplifies, reduces, contradicts or transforms that proposition?

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.


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r3 - 20 Nov 2014 - 02:24:53 - ScottYakaitis
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