Scott Adams' Pointy Haired Views On Copyright
from the whose-cognitive-dissonance-was-that? dept
I’ve been quite busy lately and haven’t had a chance to get much work done on the latest post about economics in the absence of scarcity, but it seems like Dilbert creator Scott Adams has picked up on a piece of the topic. dcm writes in to let us know: "Sounds like Adams has been reading your blog. He mentions a few reoccurring themes from your many entries, but comes to the opposite conclusions. Being a copyright owner, he sees it from a different perspective. I don’t think I suffer from cognitive dissonance as he says, but that maybe that is the cognitive dissonance speaking. What do you think?”
It’s an interesting read, and his description of the position statement of those who don’t believe copyright infringement is the equivalent of stealing is almost word for word along the lines of what we generally say. However, where Adams gets confused is when he gets down into analogy land. He uses an argument about borrowing someone’s underwear, cleaning it and putting it back — but that’s a bad example and not at all analogous. Also, the use of underwear and the idea of wearing someone else’s is designed to make people react emotionally, not logically. The problem is that the analogy isn’t at all valid, since the underwear is a scarce good — and even if someone else takes it and cleans it, wearing it has a real “cost” to the original owner. The underwear is worn down slightly, the owner cannot wear it at the same time if he wanted to and there is, of course, that emotional cost of knowing someone else is wearing your underwear. However, a much more analogous situation is that someone learns that you wear one kind of underwear and makes a similar pair for themselves. In fact, to make it even more analogous, say that someone has created a special replicating machine that allows you to replicate the style of anyone’s underwear that you like. That’s what’s happening. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem nearly as bad.
The bigger problem with Adams’ essay, however, is that he seems confused about how markets work. He complains that the “loss” created by infringement is the creator’s right to control how a work is marketed. Unfortunately, there is no such right. If I build a chair and someone buys it, then they can then market it however they want. The creator doesn’t retain control. Or, if you want to get even more specific, if I build a chair and someone else likes it and builds their own similar chair, again they can market it however they want. In fact, as we were just discussing, this is pretty much how the fashion industry works — and it’s working out quite well there, creating all sorts of incentives for continual growth, creativity and innovation. Once a product is out in the market, the original creator no longer gets to keep control over it.
Finally, it’s quite weak of Adams to then pick some very poorly thought out defenses of copyright infringement and use that as evidence that everyone who disagrees with copyright policy has cognitive dissonance on the issue. It’s a blanket way of brushing off all criticism without addressing the actual points. All in all, Scott Adams is an intelligent and thoughtful guy — so it’s too bad that his argument on this particular topic wasn’t more compelling.