Sad: 75 Year Old Explanation For Why Copyrights Are Bad… Locked Up Behind Paywall

from the too-bad dept

A few weeks ago, we wrote about famed economist Gary Becker (along with his colleague Judge Richard Posner) discussing problems with the patent and copyright system, and pondering if the laws on both needed to change. Becker’s thoughts were particularly interesting, because he actually brought up some writings on the topic that I was unfamiliar with:

The various harmful effects of the patent and copyright systems encouraged Arnold Plant, an English economist, to publish over 75 years ago two influential articles on why England and other countries would be better off without patents and copyrights.

While I’ve seen a number of historical arguments along those lines (Fritz Machlup’s economic review of the patent system comes to mind), I had not heard of Plant’s two articles. So I went in search of them… and discovered that they’re locked up behind a paywall. Plant’s key paper, entitled “The Economic Theory Concerning Patents for Inventions” can be found on JSTOR, where they want… $43 for the 21 page article. Yes, it’s more than $2 per page. For a 78 (almost 79) year old document. Then there’s his other key article, “The Economic Aspects of Copyright in Books.” It, too, can be found on JSTOR for $43, though this one is 28 pages, so you get a per-page price of slightly under $2 this time… which still seems crazy.

It’s not just ridiculous that these two publications, both published in 1934, are not in the public domain — considering they argue that such locking up of information and ideas is bad for society, it’s particularly ironic that they are so hard to get and and that JSTOR charges such ridiculous fees for them. Though, I guess if you want to keep such prices high so you can act as a gatekeeper, what better way than to effectively hide these works by pricing them out of the market?

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Comments on “Sad: 75 Year Old Explanation For Why Copyrights Are Bad… Locked Up Behind Paywall”

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Anonymous Coward says:

So this is an interview with Chris Ruen about his book, Freeloading:

I think it?s a form of cultural ? even Human ? self-destruction for us to use the digital revolution as an opportunity to dispense with the rights of creators (copyright).

Interesting. But then the sentence right after that one is this:

Copyright terms need to be radically reduced . . .

Radically reduced? I completely agree. I think most of the people reading this would also agree. Radically reduced. I mean, it will never happen, because money, but still.

There was also this, with Robert Levine, covered here at Techdirt earlier:

I think copyright lasts too long and covers too much, but I do think artists have a natural right to their work.

Copyright lasts too long, huh. So two people, who are pro-copyright, both think that copyright length is excessive.

No shit. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I would be for copyright if it lasted a reasonable amount of time but it doesn’t.

If a law doesn’t respect reality then why would I respect that law?

Violated (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Laws cannot be upheld if the majority of the public reject the law.

One example would be the Poll Tax in the UK when they wanted to directly tax everyone but too many people caused too many problems. So instead of trying to prison loads of the population they cancelled the whole scheme and did their taxation plans another way.

So laws cannot be enforced if the population do not want them enforced. Even the police do not take action against lawbreakers if enforcement is not in the public interest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

While I do not agree with them at all, the arguments for having such a long period of copyright are:

– When you are just having xx years of copyright, you might end up with no pension plan. No pension = public social security and that is not a good idea when politicians want/have to reduce social security costs (it is a demographic issue mainly and thus specific to some countries at some times).

– If it is just lifetime, it can be seen as a reason for the non-beneficiaries to wack the artist, while the beneficiaries will keep him/her alive as long as possible. If the artist dies in a young age, the argument is think of the children and use copyright to pay for them instead of the public! Classic, children fallacy!

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“…I would be for copyright if it lasted a reasonable amount of time but it doesn’t.”

I disagree with this, there is no “reasonable” amount of time for copyright. Nobody needs copyright, it just makes one particular business model feasible, the read-only model. However, it’s not the only model and the unlimited propagation of content is much more beneficial to promoting the progress than it is to give artists property-like control over the cultural resources that are naturally the common heritage of humanity.

To put it in an analogy, copyright is like giving someone permission to use our highways for their business and, by using them, become the owners of those highways. The same thing happens in copyright. Public resources are utilized (our common culture) to create something that becomes, in effect, property of the artist. Then, those resources are held in exclusive possession, barring people from making further use of that modified cultural context to promote more modification.

The entire mechanism of the progress of art and knowledge is the continual adaptation and modification of prior works, but we can’t continue that mechanism if they are held back by pseudo-property rights over content. The well is going to dry up eventually when all ideas are “owned”.

The thing the copyright industry glosses over day-in and day-out is that the real value in content is the ability of artists to make it. The action of creation is the valuable thing. That’s what we should be investing in, not this silly marketing of imaginary property. Creativity is a process of exploring possibilities, selecting the best one, and executing/expressing the raw idea in a refined and polished form. We should be investing in that action rather than buying a “product” that doesn’t actually exist.

The publishers love the system they persist in because they get to pay a fixed amount on production/marketing and then have a potentially infinite supply of “product” that they can sell as if it was scarce. That kind of power, that level of control, is addictive. It’s like a drug to them and they don’t want to give up their favorite drug. They will do anything it takes to hold on to that drug, or even to get more of it. The “pirates” are viewed in the sense that they are holding out on more of the drug they crave so badly, something they feel entitled to. So, they see it as a threat to their continued feeding of their addiction and a violation of their “property”.

The eejit (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I suszpectt hat that’s in part due to the “Everything is copyrighted” nature of certain IP laws: there is no simple, truly effective way to simply give up your rights.

And before anyone criesw abouyt the Creative Commons licenses, those are still licenses – the works are not in the public domain at all; that is, they still require the copyright framework to actually do their stuff.

Anonymous Coward says:

Price point

“Though, I guess if you want to keep such prices high so you can act as a gatekeeper, what better way than to effectively hide these works by pricing them out of the market?”

Can’t price them *totally* out of the market or no one will pay and the gatekeepers won’t make any money. They still need to keep the prices low enough that at least a few people will pay for it.

Travicane says:

To someone in a country where this copyright has expired

Appalling – 73 year old books/tracts should not have a copyright gateway in any sane social context. A $43 charge is insane, and may be evidence of a sociopath level of greed for the people managing the company.

I am sure there are jurisdictions/countries where the bullshit rules constraining free public release of these ’73 Year old’ documents is not legal.

I hope those of you with such freedom would find and download/upload copies, to make sure that this critical information is not deleted from the internet.

Possibly you could find a legal source, and upload the documents to a cloud server that is legal for your country, and then make the files public.

Circumvent local stupidity – the net will take care of the rest.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Oh my FSM...

So what we have here are some wonderful examples.

To read about why copyright was bad, you have to pay for access to the material so that a rightsholder can be paid, not the author who died 34 or so years ago.

The price being charged, by a non-profit, seems based on what it would cost to reproduce the material in a physical form, totally ignoring it is available digitally.

They could make the argument they have to charge this much to keep growing the collection, ignoring that the price keeps more people who are interested away.

The price also seems to reflect having to pay other rightsholders who publish research to make the world a better place but have decided that improving the world means they should be paid for a very long time. Not the people who wrote the articles mind you, but the publishers.

Pwdrskir (profile) says:

JSTOR hypocracy

JSTOR founded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with a broad mission to help the academic community take advantage of advances in new technologies.

JSTOR launches a pioneering shared online library of high quality digitized journal back issues to help academic institutions save costs associated with the preservation and storage of library materials and to improve access to scholarship.

anon says:


The solution, ignore the bad laws(those that are bad for society before some brite spark says he can come an rob me then, i am sure if you search you will most definitely be able to find this on a torrent site, or if not now then i am sure if someone finds the time and has the inclination they will scan and upload it. When laws are bad for society eventually society will ignore those laws.

Anonymous Coward says:


Yes, but for the work to be here and sold at a price, they had to obtain the rights for the copyright holder. If the copyright holder actually felt about copyright as the book suggests, then they would have just put it in a torrent file and let it out, or otherwise worked to make it available for free.

That they are charging for it is delicious irony, a solid poke at those who might agree with it’s content.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yes, but for the work to be here and sold at a price, they had to obtain the rights for the copyright holder. If the copyright holder actually felt about copyright as the book suggests, then they would have just put it in a torrent file and let it out, or otherwise worked to make it available for free.

Again. Not a book. It was a paper. The journal holds the copyright on it. So, not the author going against what he believed.

Anonymous Coward says:

whats really stupid, is trying to classify or determine somethings legal status by it’s content.. ‘oh, that document is about copyright there should no be allowed to be copyrighted”.

how fucking stupid !!!

so it would be allright to steal a painting that dipicts an art theft !!

fortunately we dont like in a crazy F’ed up world and the content of a document does not determine how it should be copyrighted.

by that “logic” all ‘pro-copyright’ documents should be held as copyright docs forever!!

I guess it’s a quiet ‘dirt’ week, you have to QQ about something after all.

Tim says:

I went to my nonprofit member-owned “credit union” the other day. The building was immaculate with polished granite countertops, beautiful hedges, and expensive cars parked in the staff lots. The staff was very smug about how they bothered to actually give us an ATM machine just outside the buidling. It made me sick. Nonprofit means next to nothing, if people have no scruples and there is rampant price-fixing, which is all too easy in the information age, directly or indirectly, it means nothing. For profit companies that are just making margins are probably more honest actually. There are so many loopholes, lobbied special interest, and graft I think it is all nonsense to distinguish. But when it comes to ruining and stifling our culture and scientific knowledge and progress, someone has to step up and draw a line in the sand. That time is now folks. As for all the crony arguments about incentive, I think we’ve really lost our compass if we are so deluded that money a real incentive for progress for people with real intellectual gifts…it isn’t and never was. The greatest discoveries in math and science have been made by people who published freely or dont care about money (look at Malacena papers (published on or read Grigory Perelman’s life). Also, if you are fortunate to work with the best of the best in your field, which I have been fortunate to, you find those people care very little about cash outside of the ability to buy some nice equipment. Money produced fancy gadjets like ipods and cell phones and optical cables, but it did little if anything to make the fundamental discoveries like transistors or laser, for which those things would be impossible. Our culture and scientific progress will definitely go down the tubes if we don’t realize this. Paywall publishers of scientific knowledge should be tarred and feathered! It is downright shameful.

Tim says:

Re: Re:

There are a few exceptions. For example, the inventors or MRI and CT scan tried to patent everything. Look where we are now 30 years later. Same old technology pretty much, not much progress really, and very unecessarily expensive medical testing for the true costs, and difficulties in researchers improving these because of overwrought costly ventures and vulture patent lawyers. Now this cash cow cannot be touched as many people livelihoods depend upon the corporate welfare… just like other redundant professions like toll booth operators, ‘music executives’ and tax collectors. If it was freesourced or bought by the government back then, just imagine all of the power of mathematicians, physicist, and doctors improving the technology to where we might today be diagnosting and even treating tumors or other diseases with high resolution scanners. Patents definitely ruin innovation. And (usually) the best inventors (or perhaps the best ‘inventor culture’) doesn’t care as long as they can put some bread on the table, their discoveries are more important, and the discoveries of those types are also more important to society. If our cultures honored those people, rather than laughed at them or exploited them, we’d all be much better off. Believe me, there are plenty of these types of people, they and their attitudes are crushed by a money-crazed culture. Those are the people we should be rewarding, not venture capitalist winner-take-all exploiters and lawyers who ruin everything.

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