Lately, there's been a growing body of research on industries like fashion and restaurants that thrive without the aid of patent or copyright protections. In these industries, the lack of legal barriers allows innovative ideas to spread rapidly within the industry, while informal social mechanisms like reputation ensure that innovators get proper credit for their creativity. Ed Felten points out a paper by Yale law student Jacob Loshin that explains how the magic industry has thrived without resorting to legal protections for new inventions. Instead, the magic community uses social norms to reward those who discover new magic tricks and punishes those who disclose them to non-magicians. Because magicians rely so much on their professional network of other magicians to learn about new tricks, new equipment, and new performance opportunities, maintaining a good reputation within the magic community is essential to the career of a successful magician. A magician who uses another magician's trick without giving the originator proper credit, or who reveals secrets to non-magicians, is shunned by other magicians. That kind of ostracism can be a much better (not to mention cheaper) way of disciplining wayward members than getting the lawyers involved. While it's absolutely true that the specific circumstances surrounding the magic industry don't necessarily apply to other industries, between this, the fashion industry and the restaurant industry, we're seeing time and time again that innovation can thrive and mechanisms (whether social norms or business models) are quickly presented to reward the innovators -- even if those innovations can (and often are) quickly copied.
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