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.

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. 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. 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.


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r1 - 02 Oct 2014 - 16:40:10 - ScottYakaitis
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