Thursday, August 27, 2009

How Intellectual Property Harms the Consumer

Daniel Krawisz, makes an interesting case against intellectual property, talking about the fallacy of intellectual property being considered as part of essential property rights. he talks about the practical side (that a government is necessary to enforce it) and the moral side, (the moral value of rights and whether intellectual property rights fit among them). He makes some worthwhile points to which I want to add. I think if we imagine what it would be like without intellectual property, I think we will see that it will leads to consequences that are probably more desirable (accounting for inevitable trade-offs) to consumers. The consequences of the absence of patents, trademarks and copyrights would all be different, and I'll focus on copyrights (and to be honest, I'm not sure whether a strong case can be make against trademarks on practical grounds).

The consequence to the arts and entertainment industries being unable to copyright musical recordings and books will be that the record companies and publishers who capitalize on their artists' talent and celebrity will be hurt, but the artists themselves will be unaffected. As Adam Gurri writes, the pirating of music may harm recording companies:
But at the end of the day there will be very little difference for the musicians themselves. Before digital technology and the internet, most musicians made next to nothing and a few made an enormous amount. After the transition...most will make next to nothing, and a few will make an enormous amount.
Gurri quotes Chris Anderson who notes that
music creates celebrity. There are worse problems than the challenge of turning fame into fortune.

Successful production of art and entertainment would still produce fame, which the artists could always capitalize on, making it still very economically profitable to produce art and entertainment even in the absence of copyrights. For musicians, they would simply focus more on performance than studio recording, and still make lucrative incomes from their talent. Authors could focus on making money from lecture tours, teaching classes on writing, selling exclusive signed copies of their books, and other things.

The result for consumers thus would be more access to their favorite artists, via live appearances and classroom instruction. It can hardly be to the detriment of the wider populace that popular performers would tour more or that they could take classes with popular authors.

Movie studios would definitely be hurt in dvd/blu-ray sales, but since they already control distribution of their movies through theaters, profits via the sale of movie tickets would be unaffected. The results would be similar with tv shows.

Absence of copyright might be said to reduce production of new material, though: musicians writing less new music, authors writing fewer new books, studios producing fewer movies and so on. But we might actually expect the opposite trend, especially among prominent and successful artists. Successful artists can now sit upon the fruits of long past success and continue making a living off of past successes because of almost endless copyrights. This unproductivity of successful and popular authors can hardly be the best for consumers, who are especially interested in new work from precisely these artists who are the most talented.

The most extreme example of this habit is be J. D. Salinger, who still lives off the continued success of his 1951 Catcher in the Rye, despite having been only mildly productive in its wake, and not producing any new fiction after 1965. In the absence of copyrights, J. D. Salinger would be forced to produce or to teach or lecture, or any of a number of other things which would have considerably more direct benefit on his fans than doing nothing.

In fact, J. D. Salinger has been actively trying to prevent books inspired by his work from being published. Last June he filed a lawsuit to block the publication of a semi-sequel 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye of Catcher in the Rye by pseudonymous author J. D. California.

Here we have another way in which copyright can actually reduce artistic productivity. Fan-fiction, production of remix films and music (using clips from copyrighted films tv shows and songs to produce new songs or movies), translations into other languages, and various adaptations and reinterpretations of copyrighted material are restricted by copyright. Does it really benefit consumers that there's only one translation of each of the books of popular foreign authors like Umberto Eco and Jean-Paul Sartre, or that there is only one film adaptation of popular books like the Harry Potter or Twilight series or that people can't create works based on the characters and places of popular fictional universes such as Star Trek and Star Wars?

For consumers of arts and entertainment, the absence of copyrights would benefit them. There would be both more artistic productivity and greater access to their favorite celebrities. I imagine consumers would be more pleased with this arrangement, and that more people would thereby be in favor of the absence of copyrights if they knew the full consequences.

1 comment:

Daniel Krawisz said...

Hey there! Thanks for commenting on my article and filling in some points I left out.

The important thing to keep in mind is that, economically, IP is no different than the granting of monopoly rights and should be expected to have exactly the same effects. Less innovation (not more), higher prices, and overall less consumer satisfaction.