Saturday, December 09, 2017

Did the Death of Copyright Hurt Anyone?

Intellectual property in digital form is easy to copy and easy to share, which makes enforcing copyright law against it difficult, often in practice impossible. Thus the shift of Intellectual Property—music, books, movies—to digital makes it much more difficult for copyright law to serve its traditional purpose of providing an incentive to create by rewarding the creators. The obvious conclusion is that creators of intellectual property should now be much worse off than before and much less, or lower quality, work should be being created.

The question, to which I do not know the answer, is whether it actually happened. My casual impression is that books are as good as they were ten or twenty years ago. I consume almost no music and almost no video, so cannot judge their quality–do others think it has declined? 

The other half of the question is the effect on producers. Have musicians gotten poorer? Do movie companies make less money than they used to? Are there fewer professional authors supporting themselves by their writing? 

If the answer to all of these questions is "no," that casts serious doubt on the conventional interpretation of the function and importance of copyright law.

For any graduate student in economics who is looking for a thesis topic, I suggest that trying to find an answer to that question and then an explanation for that answer would be a project worth pursuing.

47 Comments:

At 2:11 AM, December 10, 2017, Anonymous Biopolitical said...

The end of copyright has had the incentive effects you mention. The main losers have been producers with unique talents (say, J. K. Rowling, Tom Cruise and Taylor Swift) and consumers with unique tastes (freaks). In addition, the efforts of producers to maintain copyright, and of consumers to overcome it, have led to resource waste.

The shift to digital has lowered the costs of production and transaction (including, among others, the costs of marketing and of bundling goods and advertising). The main winners have been producers with unique talents and consumers with unique tastes.

So, although the end of copyright has been harmful, the net effect of going digital has probably been positive.

 
At 6:50 AM, December 10, 2017, Blogger Thomas Knapp said...

Asserting that copyright's "traditional purpose" is "providing an incentive to create by rewarding the creators" begs the question. That's its traditional _excuse_.

Its traditional _purpose_, based on who pushed for its adoption starting with the Statute of Ann in 1710 and who has defended it since, seems to have been to create a barrier of entry to protect earlier investors in e.g. printing presses, record pressing machines, movie cameras, etc. from competition by newcomers. Why buy all that stuff if the existing owners have monopolies on manufacturing all existing products of the type, and therefore dominating positions from which to bid on new products of the type?

The organizations pursuing draconian copyright enforcement today aren't novelists, recording artists, and independent filmmakers. They're the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, which are composed of the companies that got fat on copyright and are distressed at its death.

 
At 9:11 AM, December 10, 2017, Blogger Ricardo Cruz said...

Hi Thomas,
I don't understand how what you say is contradictory of anything that Professor Friedman has said. Copyright it a limited monopoly whose goal is to allow authors to recover the fixed cost involved in the creation of the work. As stated in the US Constitution Article 8.8: To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

 
At 9:21 AM, December 10, 2017, Blogger Thomas Knapp said...

Ricardo,

I'm saying that what Dr. Friedman cited as the goal, and what you cite as the goal, is not in fact the goal but rather just a pretty, propagandistic excuse used to hid the goal. And I state what the actual goal is.

 
At 9:23 AM, December 10, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The two respondents above reflect a lot of my thinking.

I'd add that the transition to digital has had different effects by good, largely due to the different market structures and types of rents extracted in the old system. Big-Hollywood movies, for instance, still cost a ton to make, leaving a huge barrier to entry. Art-house films, however, are having a mini-resurgence. Musicians who enjoy touring and directly interacting with their fans online do well in the new world, and recorded music is simply advertising for them.

I honestly don't know about what it does to a lot of the book market. I see that technical books feel the piracy pain; I think the problem there is that they are expensive, don't age well, have a limited market, and the consumers are more likely to know where to find unlicensed copies than average book buyers. O'Reilly (big technical publisher), at least, has had success with a digital-library subscription model.

A former girlfriend was a marketing director at an academic publisher around when the volunteer intellectual-property distribution mechanisms started popping up, and I saw that they panicked, adding in all sorts of schemes to make text books useless for seeking a degree after the first sale. I imagine that's worse now - academic publishers thus far have a boot on the neck of undergrads.

As far as academic papers, I suspect our host has more insight there than I do. From the outside, I see lots of grumbling about Elsivier, but not yet a true rebellion. That strikes me as funny - the web was literally made for publishing academic papers, and hyperlinks make reference counting and influence analysis trivial.

Finally, as someone who is substantially more democratic-socialist than the regulars here, I'd just add that I'd be perfectly amenable to a discussion of industrial transition for legacy industries. The RIAA, MPAA and related combines could have asked for some protection while they figured out how to survive, but went nasty-legalistic instead. Live like a rabid dog, die like one.

 
At 9:53 AM, December 10, 2017, Blogger Karl Gallagher said...

I can only speak to the book industry. What I've seen is creators doing well but those who own copyright without creating anything are suffering. The big publishing houses are merging and laying off staff. The BigPubs have reacted by trying seize even more ownership of copyright in their contracts, which has encouraged writers to go indie. Writers are getting income from fans in the form of book sales and crowdfunding (Kickstarter, Patreon).

Piracy of ebooks is plentiful but many of the sites offering books are more likely to provide malware than a good read. I just do enough take-downs to keep the pirates from totally taking over the google results for my books. I've never noticed any change in income after sending a wave of DMCA notices.

My hypothesis is that even when readers can pirate books they retain enough desire to reward those who've benefited them that they'll pay for later books, crowdfund, or buy swag.

A hypothetical grad student researching this should read Kris Rusch's sites for examples of how agents and publishing houses have been getting squeezed out.

 
At 11:37 AM, December 10, 2017, Blogger Bill Friedman said...

I remember reading this blog post, by an author, on a test she did to see whether piracy actually hurt her sales: http://maggie-stiefvater.tumblr.com/post/166952028861/ive-decided-to-tell-you-guys-a-story-about

Her answer was "yes, decisively."

 
At 12:02 PM, December 10, 2017, Blogger Jonathan said...

From the point of view of an ordinary member of the public, I don't perceive that copyright has died, although it's not in the best of health. As far as I know, the laws are still there. I still buy books, music, video, and software in a fairly conventional way (often from Amazon), and I suppose my payments are still dealt with in the traditional way.

I'd say copyright will be officially dead when the laws relating to it are repealed, or when they become irrelevant, because payments made as a result of them become insignificant.

The failing health and possible future death of copyright strikes me as a probably positive development, on the whole, although it may have some negative consequences. Whatever happens, people will certainly go on creating books, music, video, software, etc. -- either on an amateur basis or because they find alternative ways of getting paid (some of which already exist).

 
At 12:11 PM, December 10, 2017, Blogger Thomas Knapp said...

I interpret the phrase "death of copyright" to refer to the condition of it having become unenforceable.

Fifty years ago if you wanted to reproduce and distribute a book without permission from the author/publisher, you needed a printing press to print it and access to a distribution network to get it into bookstores -- both expensive things to buy or create.

Today if you want to reproduce and distribute a book without permission, you need a computer, a scanner for a physical copy or a software means of cracking a file protected by DRM, and an account on a torrent site. Most people have computers on their desks already, and the other things are cheap or free.

Ditto music and movies. There will be a prosecution of either the "set an example" or "industrial grade, so worth going after" variety every now and then, but as a practical matter anyone who wants to reproduce "intellectual property" does so with impunity. Which means that at a certain point, the business models which rely on copyright "working" are going to disappear.

 
At 1:30 PM, December 10, 2017, OpenID dahillauthor said...

An someone trying to build a career writing fiction (four novels self-published so far, each better than the last in my humble but potentially self-serving opinion, but with limited commercial success to date), piracy is the least of my worries, so much so that I've chosen the DRM-free option when publishing on Amazon (breaking DRM is trivial for anyone with more than basic IT skills, which I'd expect from my audience since I write mostly sci-fi, so why bother with the charade).

Right now my issue is discovery i.e. making my books sufficiently visible that people want to read them. Once I solve that problem, I'm interested in what proportion of readers actually pay me for the privilege.

We don't call it piracy, but there were always plenty of people who read books (libraries, second-hand sales, personal lending) without much if any revenue of any flowing to authors. So in terms of incentive to create, I'm not sure the fact ebooks are easier to pirate has any real effect (it's ultimately an empirical question, but is someone who is willing to invest 10-15 hours in reading a book really going to baulk at spending a couple of bucks to buy it?)

When coupled with much easier distribution what we've actually seen with ebooks is an explosion in creation. Much of it is of dubious quality, but hidden among the dross are gems that most likely would never have been published under the old model.

Sure, most authors aren't making a living, but they never have (true in fact of all 'creators' - there's a reason for the starving artist stereotype). The shift to digital lets me do something I love with at least a chance of success, and without having to seek approval or cede creative control to anyone. Seems like a sweet deal to me.

 
At 2:28 PM, December 10, 2017, Blogger Jonathan said...

Thomas: I think the practical difficulty of duplicating books and films is still enough to deter most people from doing it themselves -- although music CDs are easy to copy because most of them are completely unprotected. Nevertheless, music CDs are still on sale, and many of them are still bought.

I have a scanner, and I have a number of paper books that I'd like to scan, but I'm not sufficiently motivated to do the significant chore of scanning them page by page, converting the result into nicely-formatted text, and correcting the scan errors. I've done it with several short stories, so I have a rough idea of the amount of work involved. The people who scan books for the Gutenberg Project must be unusually obsessed with the task to do it for nothing. :)

Similarly, breaking the copy protection of digital content is feasible, and some people can be bothered to do it, but it requires locating software to do it, learning how to use the software, periodically updating the software, etc. It's not trivial work for someone who stands to make no financial gain from it, and most people won't make the effort.

 
At 2:45 PM, December 10, 2017, Blogger Thomas Knapp said...

Jonathan,

Yes, it's a certain amount of work. But there seem to be communities dedicated to doing it for free on the book and music side, as well as people willing to take the risk for monetary gain with movies. I've seen flea market booths with bootleg movie DVDs in cities large and small.

The musicians I've talked with -- admittedly not the wildly popular acts who might actually command a real piece of albums sales grosses -- love file-sharing because they make their money playing live shows and having their music copied and shared gets them gigs and sells tickets. To the extent that they DO make money on song sales, they can take it directly to e.g. iTunes without a record label demanding the biggest cut.

 
At 4:54 PM, December 10, 2017, Blogger David Friedman said...

Karl:

Thanks for your comments.

And since you are here and I greatly enjoyed your Torchship series, when are you publishing another book?

 
At 8:15 PM, December 10, 2017, Blogger Karl Gallagher said...

Thank you for your kind words on the Torchship Trilogy.

I'm working on a portal fantasy novel now. I expect to finish middle of next year but with edits, cover art, etc. publication might slip into early 2019.

 
At 8:40 PM, December 10, 2017, Blogger Dave Taht said...

how does sci-hub factor into it?

 
At 10:52 PM, December 10, 2017, Blogger Jonathan said...

Thomas: Thanks for your comments. Yes, I've seen people selling DVDs on blankets in the street here in Spain. The purpose of the blankets is that they can bundle them up quickly and walk away if they see the police approaching. Copyright law doesn't prevent unauthorized copying and distribution, but does inhibit it significantly. Removing the law would make a big difference to the situation.

I think the producers of creative content (musicians, authors, etc.) vary greatly amongst themselves in their attitude to copyright.

 
At 11:27 AM, December 11, 2017, Blogger Rohan said...

I don't think copyright is dead. It still binds corporations, and that makes a huge difference.

Also, piracy is still difficult. Sites get shut down all the time. It's nothing like the heyday of Napster.

But some changes are interesting. For example, almost all computer games now require an internet connection and authorization from external servers, even single-player games.

 
At 12:02 PM, December 11, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Answering the question of whether creators are poorer than they were prior to digital is tricky. Digital has not only made copying and distributing copyrighted work easier (which puts downward pressure on creator wealth), but it has also removed barriers to entry for unknown creators, increasing their wealth. While it is by no means a fixed pie -- money does circulate, after all, and creators are also consumers -- consumers have more options across which to spread their money. In effect, a kind of middle class has emerged. In the past, you had those who made it big and those who failed, with only a small class which scraped by. Now, plenty who would've doubtless failed before digital are able to get by just fine even though they will likely never hit it big.

I've noticed this most profoundly in music, which has seen costs to produce go way down and ease of access go way up. Authors have probably experienced the same(cost to produce down, access up) but even more so. I suspect it's similar but less pronounced for film, though, since production costs are still high because of paying for actors and whatnot.

 
At 5:53 PM, December 11, 2017, Blogger Bill Friedman said...

I don't think "almost all computer games" require that, Rohan, because there's a split. EA Games and Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard and all the other top-scale publishers are requiring them, certainly. But on the other hand, mid-tier and indie publishers are actively disassociating themselves with that strategy, instead releasing games DRM-free (or "on Steam") as part of an attempt to win the favor of their customers.

 
At 3:38 AM, December 12, 2017, Blogger Ricardo Cruz said...

@Bill, I agree with you. I'd say almost all (if not all) big budget games do have some form of protection. However, there are certainly some semi-famous publishing houses like 2D Boy (of World of Goo) which publishes their games DRM-free (at least the PC versions).

However, to be fair, it should be said many of the more famous mid-tier publishing houses like Logic Arts and Telltale Games use protection schemes. There are even some small Indie publishing houses like Winter Wolves, which have published expensive content, that have their own internal protection system.

 
At 3:52 AM, December 12, 2017, Blogger Thomas Knapp said...

Here's one way that I get the impression that the death of copyright and the inability to make unhackable regular DRM has improved games. I say "impression" because I'm not much of a gamer myself but hear stuff from my kids:

These days it seems like a lot of games do require a connection to a company server to play -- at least multi-player, anyway. And of course you have to have a registered copy of the game to play, and presumably the copies are serialized such that I can't buy one copy then make copies for all my friends and all of us can get on that server.

I've heard about hacks/patches that let people set up their own servers for games without company authorization, and probably allow bootlegged copies of the game to play on those servers, but ...

... there's a creator/first publisher/company advantage in that follow-up downloadable content, in-game promotions, and such will only be easily available to people who really bought the games. If it's a popular game with a community aspect, the creator/first publisher/company server is where the vast majority of people are going to want to play, and they're going to buy the game (and possibly a service subscription) instead of bootlegging it to do so.

My guess is that the downloadable content, promotions, and community aspects make the games better ... and the need to have to compete with bootleg copies and unauthorized servers almost certainly pushes both quantity and quality where those things are concerned.

 
At 4:28 AM, December 12, 2017, Blogger gurugeorge said...

It's tricky because you'd have to factor population increase into "more of x." Anecdotally, as a musician, I'd say that while there's probably more good stuff around in absolute terms, quality has declined percentage-wise.

In my opinion, music has been stagnant for decades; more or less the same computer-driven methods are used to make pop music now as were used 20 years ago when they first came about, and a club record now sounds little different from a club record 20 years ago. Whereas you used to get mini-revolutions every few years from the 50s through to the 90s, that's long stopped, and everything is regurgitation of the past now.

I say this with sadness as I was an early adopter of computer-driven methods of making music, but now at 58 I think it was all a mistake, a poisoned chalice. Or more accurately, while computers can certainly be used to good effect, and machine music can be good, its mass adoption has led to stagnation and a decline in quality.

 
At 7:52 PM, December 12, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Piracy has been relatively easy for music and games for quite a while. Even pre-digital with tape recorders. Books have now become pretty vulnerable. But a digital book is not quite interchangeable with a physical printing, and furthermore we've always had public libraries, used/borrowed books, etc.

For music, piracy of mp3s broke open the industry preferred way of selling things (e.g. as complete albums or pricey "singles" for music). The industry was forced to sell music in a way that competed with the convenience of pirated music, so we got relatively inexpensive sales of digital files. Now we have Spotify and other streaming music services which offer music "for free". By providing a tiered service with songs in the cloud these services make it relatively worthless for people to go through the trouble of pirating.

Video is similar with things like netflix. Video is relatively costly to pirate since you need to pay for bandwidth, there's a time/effort cost to dealing with the shady sources, then the media requires a lot of storage space which costs money.

Piracy is something producers must compete against, but this is quite possible since piracy itself is not really free. Anti-piracy laws increase the cost/inconvenience of piracy.

The equation varies by country. My understanding is that e.g. in China piracy is blatant and commercial, i.e. people pay money (but not much, perhaps built into the price of a device) to subscribe to "illegitimate" streaming services. So legitimate services like Spotify/Netflix can't really compete with that.

 
At 7:59 PM, December 12, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Furthermore I think a lot of (or all?) the locally produced popular television shows in China are actually produced by the government. For example, Hunan Broadcasting System owned by the provincial government of Hunan, and it pays for content production).

 
At 8:06 PM, December 12, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This reminds me that I don't think most Americans really understand the scale of China's government's economic involvement. One recent example is I have a friend who works for a "startup" which has been funded with tens of billions of US dollars in an effort to break into a certain semiconductor sector.

I'm a layman but I'd like to see more analysis of the costs and benefits of this kind of meddling. Presumably it's either not economically sound, or else it is sound but is too large in scale to generate the requisite private investment.

 
At 12:02 AM, December 13, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As much as anyone would like to use the recent past as evidence, in what sense could it actually serve to adjudicate between the truth or falsity of this theory? Any good scientist recognizes the need to control for confounding variables in an experiment. The fact that the movie industry, for instance, has expanded tremendously in recent years owing to the shift towards giant franchises with long overarching stories makes any examination of that industry entirely useless for this matter. On the one hand, we could say that the weakening of copyright has reduced movie production from what it otherwise would be. On the other hand, we could claim that the extent which movie production has increased shows this to be false. Examining the data cannot in any way reconcile between the two entirely incompatible claims because there are multiple factors which contribute to the data we observe. Using empirical evidence requires that you control for all confounding variables as best as possible. This is a condition that cannot be obtained in any economic context. Now that you understand that the basic conditions for empiricism cannot hold, you're free to become an Austrian. One would think your training as a physicist would have allowed you to realize this. Oh well.

 
At 3:56 PM, December 13, 2017, Blogger Rohan said...

@gurugeorge, I've observed that about modern music too, but I don't think piracy is at fault. I think that music used to be a lot more regional, and genres would "incubate" inside a region before breaking through to the national and international scene. For example, grunge coming from Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.

With the internet, I think the regional aspect has gone away a lot, and there's a lot less shelter for a new genre to develop.

 
At 1:30 PM, December 14, 2017, Blogger Quinten Lewandowski said...

One thing I notice: albums seem to have far fewer songs than they used to.

To clarify: it isn't that the albums are *shorter*- the individual songs are longer, and so make up the slack in terms of time.

I don't know if this is related at all. I know musicians now make more of their money from touring and live shows, and the studio album is more something to lend support for that than a moneymaker in itself, so it seems like it could be related, somehow. I don't have a story that satisfies me, though.

 
At 4:55 AM, December 20, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The simple fact is that copyright is not (yet?) dead. Just look at the sales data, and you will see that it is not at all lower than before the availability of copyrighted material in the internet.

 
At 4:58 AM, December 20, 2017, Blogger Thomas Knapp said...

Copyright is dead in that it is at this point almost entirely unenforceable.

That sales of intellectual goods are just as high now as when copyright was alive is not evidence that copyright is alive. It's evidence that copyright doesn't matter, i.e. that it is dead.

 
At 10:42 AM, December 20, 2017, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thomas, I do not agree with this, because I think it is unquestionable that in case the copyright laws would be outrightly abolished completely, sales for "original" (i.e. made by the producer) stuff would decline massively.

So, even though copyright might be unenforceable, the mere fact that it is still the current law changes behavioral norms. For the same reason that most people would not steal physical stuff even if they knew certainly that nobody will realize it.

 
At 10:59 AM, December 20, 2017, Blogger Jonathan said...

If you make your own copies of some fairly popular work and start selling them openly to all comers, I think you'll probably find that copyright is still enforced; though I'm no expert on the subject.

 
At 11:12 AM, December 20, 2017, Blogger Thomas Knapp said...

Jonathan,

If you do it on a large scale, you might be one of the few "public dog and pony show to scare them" prosecutions, but it's not that likely.

When I lived in St. Louis, there was a weekly flea market that was probably 70% vendors selling 1) obviously home-copied DVDs of movies, ranging from recent hits to porn to stuff that was still in the theaters; 2) obviously non-originator-produced copies of other copyrighted stuff (e.g. Pokemon and Yugi-Oh cards); and/or 3) cheap knock-offs of trademarked brand-name products (e.g. Coach Bags and Nike shoes).

Every year or so, police would swoop in and confiscate the merch from a booth or two, but it kept right on going. Then after maybe a decade (of me knowing about the place -- not sure how long it had been operating before that), I went by one day and it was closed and there was a giant black semi-trailer marked US DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY parked in its lot. The US Attorney had charged the flea market owner with conspiracy or something of the sort on the claim that he knew the nature of the offending booths' products. I think they put him out of business for oh, maybe six months. In that location. He was up a week after the bust in another building.

 
At 2:39 PM, December 20, 2017, Blogger Jonathan said...

Thomas: Yes, well, flea markets. What I mean is that you don't have a large company selling products openly, with a Web site and everything. Because it's illegal.

A large chunk of the market doesn't buy products in flea markets. Hell, I don't buy in flea markets. If I want to buy something specific, I usually order it from Amazon, because it's quicker and easier than going to a flea market, and Amazon is much more likely to have that thing. Flea markets sell to people who like hanging out at flea markets and buying things they hadn't planned to buy, because the things are cheap.

So, yes, a significant volume of pirated products is getting shifted, but enough legitimate products are also getting shifted that companies selling them aren't going bust. Copyright isn't dead, it just has a bit of an annoying illness. If copyright laws were repealed, then copyright would be dead; that would be a major change in the situation, and it would have effects.

 
At 2:47 PM, December 20, 2017, Blogger Ricardo Cruz said...

@Thomas, your argument reminds me a little how people say that "law X" is useless because people will still break "X". Fact is, copyright is enforced well enough that it raises the costs and inconvenience for a lot of people to buy the legit product.

 
At 3:01 PM, December 20, 2017, Blogger Thomas Knapp said...

"What I mean is that you don't have a large company selling products openly, with a Web site and everything. Because it's illegal."

You might want to Google the phrase "counterfeit goods" in conjunction with the terms "Amazon," "Alibaba," "Wish.com," "eBay," etc. These companies are the most vulnerable to IP enforcement because they have the deepest pockets. Granted, most of their issues are trademark rather than copyright, but IP in general is dying ... and copyright is dead. There's likely no book, song or movie I can't find for free on the Internet given a few minutes time and a BitTorrent client.

Like you, when I want a book or movie, I usually go to Amazon. It's easy, it's convenient, it's usually fairly cheap, and I do prefer to support content creators. But I've been known to download a "pirated" book to preview before buying, or because it's out of print and there aren't currently any reasonably priced used copies at Amazon. The next time I go looking and can't find a free copyright-violating version will be the first.

 
At 3:04 PM, December 20, 2017, Blogger Thomas Knapp said...

Ricardo,

I'm not saying that copyright is useless because people will break it.

I'm saying that copyright is dead because it is, and will continue to be, broken with impunity in the vast majority of cases, to such a degree that any increase in cost or inconvenience is vanishingly rare and almost always aimed at a high-profile target or unlucky exemplar to "teach a lesson" that won't get learned. For every Jammie Thomas who gets sued or Pirate Bay that has to play extensive catch-me fuck-me games to remain open there are millions in the former case and thousands in the latter case who will never have their doors darkened by the police or by process servers.

 
At 12:31 AM, December 21, 2017, Blogger Jonathan said...

Thomas, maybe both of us are generalizing too much from our own personal experience. You say "There's likely no book, song, or movie I can't find for free on the Internet given a few minutes time and a BitTorrent client" -- though even you admit that you "usually go to to Amazon", so even for you copyright isn't dead, because you usually comply with it.

Myself, there are e-books that I want and that I've searched for in vain on the Internet. If you can find them, good for you, but I can't.

If copyright were really dead, if the laws didn't exist, then the normal process of acquiring a copyable computer file wouldn't involve payment. If you wanted to pay, you'd make a voluntary donation.

Currently, the normal process involves payment. Yes, it's possible to avoid payment, but many people don't avoid it, and even you don't avoid it most of the time.

 
At 12:38 AM, December 21, 2017, Blogger Thomas Knapp said...

"If copyright were really dead, if the laws didn't exist, then the normal process of acquiring a copyable computer file wouldn't involve payment. If you wanted to pay, you'd make a voluntary donation."

Non sequitur. While the efficient cost of any given digital file transfer is extremely low, production of the file, hosting of the file, and transfer of the file do in fact entail costs. While some people will shoulder those costs in order to offer the stuff for "free," and while some people will take the time to look around for the "free" stuff and either donate or not donate instead of paying someone a set price, there will likely always be people who offer, and avail themselves of, digital products for prices, for any number of reasons (e.g. they consider the time they would spend looking for "free" to be worth more than the dollar they would pay, or they want to ensure that their money is going to the actual creator of a piece of content).

The fact that I buy material from the people authorized under copyright to sell it is not a matter of "complying with" copyright. It's a matter of personal preference. Just as when I drive 50 mph in a 55 mph zone where I happen to know there are no police looking for speeders, it's because I have my own reasons for driving 50mph, not because of the speed limit law.

 
At 1:26 AM, December 21, 2017, Blogger Jonathan said...

Thomas, I don't think we're going to reach agreement on this. Yes, there will always be some people who would LIKE to charge for a product. However, if offering a free product is completely legal, and some people do offer it, then most people who want that product will accept the free offer.

The Gutenberg Project exists and offers free books that are out of copyright. If copyright laws were repealed, it could simply extend itself to offering all books -- in which case it would become much better known and more popular than it is now.

Wikipedia offers free files to vast numbers of people, and somehow manages to sustain continued existence, including the making of files, the hosting of files, and the transferring of files. This works because Wikipedia is legal.

Regarding speed limits, well, we don't live in the same country; but I see most people on the roads routinely exceeding the speed limits, even though they are enforced in some places by radar and automatic fines. And I'd rarely choose to comply with the limits myself except under duress, because in many cases they're unnecessarily and ridiculously low. There are speed limit signs in some places saying 30 or even 20 kph (that's 19 or 12 mph to you).

If you're interested in the effectiveness of a law, the question is what effect does the existence of the law have on the behaviour of society as a whole. If it has no effect, then the law is dead and may as well be repealed. If repealing it would make some significant difference to society, then the law is having some effect and is not dead.

I think speed limit signs have some effect even when people don't obey them. If people notice that they're going way over the speed limit, most of them probably slow down a bit, because the penalties on detection tend to get worse, the more the excess. And the most conspicuous speeders are sometimes detected by police helicopter in areas with no radar.

 
At 12:02 PM, December 22, 2017, Blogger Benjamin. said...

It looks like everyone so far has been interpreting this in terms of the effect on copyrighted books/music. In these cases, most of the fans like the authors as people, and may be spending money in part just because they want to support the artist. What about cases with less of a personal connection, like inventions?

What if an engineer, maybe even one with views considered by some to be offensive, invented something? And what if multiple companies made it? Where would he get his money? How would he make money if he didn't have his own factory?
Who would pay for the device that gives money to the inventor they don't like or care about when they can, at the same stores, buy the same thing for less money? They probably wouldn't feel the same personal connection to a device that they feel to books or music. How many inventors would labor over the perfect design if they got nothing out of it? I don't think nearly as many. There are some people who work on such things for nothing, but they need to get money from something. What incentive is there for companies to work on research and development? Are Universities going to do all of the research? Will universities even exist in anything like there standard form 30 years from now? Will they even have as many students, and as much money?

 
At 1:46 PM, December 22, 2017, Blogger Jonathan said...

Benjamin: I think inventions are patented, not copyrighted. Somewhat different system. And an invention isn't just a computer file: it gets implemented in hardware, which makes it easier to police. I'm not the best person to talk about this, just giving you a first reaction.

I rather hope that universities won't exist in their current form in 30 years; although they may exist in some form.

 
At 10:28 AM, December 25, 2017, Blogger Daniel Nagy said...

Professor Friedman,

Since in reality, copyrights are typically held by publishers and not authors and the same developments that made copyright unenforcable also made distribution essentially free and publishers obsolete, the real losers of these developments are publishers, no authors.

As for authors themselves, my somewhat informed guess is that they also happen to be among the most avid consumers of media content (be it books, music or videos), for them the collapse of copyright is a boon before they become wildly successful and a curse when they do. My much less informed guess is that the distant perspective of becoming wildly successful is much less of a help in creating and distributing quality content than the present costs of doing so going down. Hence, I think that there is more and better content available in the post-copyright world in which we live.

 
At 4:04 PM, December 25, 2017, Blogger Ricardo Cruz said...

@Daniel, book authors receive both advances and royalties. Both of these money streams are affected in different ways by illegal distributors. If copyright was bad for them, they wouldn't use it.

 
At 12:57 AM, December 27, 2017, Blogger Daniel Nagy said...

Fewer and fewer do.

 
At 5:47 AM, December 30, 2017, Blogger Kim Mosley said...

One of our cousins (my first and your more distant cousin) used to design high-end fabrics. They started to be copied to such an extent (by people outside the USA) that she couldn't make a living anymore.

Even if the markets for books, music, and video are good we can't be sure what they might be like if copyrights were easier to enforce. It is possible that they'd be even better.

 
At 6:38 AM, December 30, 2017, Blogger Jonathan said...

Kim: Yes, it seems clear to me that copyright is in an intermediate state: neither dead nor alive, as it were. We don't have the situation we would have if copyright laws were simply repealed; nor do we have the situation we would have if they were fully enforced.

 

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