Copyright Alliance Pretending That Gov't Backed Monopolies Are The Free Market Again

from the up-is-down,-black-is-white dept

A few months back, the big entertainment companies formed yet another copyright lobbying group -- as if they didn't already have enough -- to push for more restrictive copyright policies that would limit the rights of consumers. This was the group that just last week was trying to spread the myth that fair use was not a right and copyright holders should be able to lie about what rights copyright grants them. However, the head of the group, Patrick Ross, really seems to get into trouble when he tries to trot out free market concepts to support his positions. You may recall back in January his position that getting rid of the DMCA would go against the free market because it would represent government intervention. He seemed to totally ignore the fact that it was the DMCA that was gov't intervention in the first place. Apparently, Ross hasn't given up on this "up is down, day is night" type of debate style, as copyright expert William Patry has taken Patrick Ross to task for claiming that new laws supporting consumer rights when it comes to copyrighted content were "government intervention" against the free market. As Patry points out all copyright is government intervention -- and supporting stronger copyrights is to be calling for greater gov't intervention. To then claim that giving more power back to the consumers on copyright is gov't intervention, is being intellectually dishonest. You can support copyright by claiming that the market breaks down and there's a market failure that necessitates such gov't intervention (and, in fact, many people do). But to claim that stronger copyrights means a stronger free market is an outright falsehood. Ross seems to be under the false impression that the "natural" position of the market is to have the strongest possible copyrights, and therefore, any weakening of that is gov't intervention. That creates a complete blindspot to the fact that all copyright is government intervention, and giving rights back to consumers is less government intervention.

Ross's response to Patry in the comments continues this rather twisted logic, by claiming that free markets are about property rights, and therefore, supporting stronger copyright is about supporting stronger property rights -- and therefore, it is a free market position. However, Ross's understanding of the free market is confused here. He's right that property rights are important -- but only as a means of more efficiently handling the allocation of scarce resources. That's the entire purpose of property rights in the free market. The logic breaks down, rather completely, when you talk about infinite, rather than scarce, goods. There is no need for more efficient allocation of infinite goods, because they're infinitely available, and therefore allocation is automatically efficient. Again, it's perfectly reasonable (though I would likely disagree with some of the assumptions) to argue that copyright is a necessary gov't intervention due to market failures from a true free market (which appears to be Patry's position). However, to argue that stronger copyright monopolies from the gov't is the opposite of gov't intervention isn't a supportable position.
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Filed Under: copyright alliance, free markets, patrick ross


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  1. identicon
    Joe Bloe, 12 Sep 2007 @ 8:32am

    Let's see...

    To follow your argument, that property rights only apply to scarce goods: For the first 150 years or so that the U.S. was in existence, raw land was essentially unlimited in that there were thousands upon thousands of acres of land per person. Does that mean that, if a person paid good money for land, that, in a free market, anyone should be able to use that land?

    The folks at the RIAA and their ilk are greedy idiots is not in doubt, IMO, especially the Disney extensions to the copyright law timeframe and some of the ludicrous limits on free use that they are trying to enforce. But to say that the government has no place in enforcing intellectual property in a free market is ridiculous. Protecting property rights includes protecting the time, money and effort invested into developing something of value. Just because there is a means of cheaply distributing that valuable product does not lessen the expenditure of resources required to produce the initial product.

    If you prevent people from recovering their investments to develop something, they will be much less likely to spend their time, effort and money to develop it. Instead, they will spend their resources on something that they can either use or to which they can maintain their property rights.

    Artists will always create, but if they cannot make a living creating, they will create less and do other things to make a living. Personally, I think an artist has right to compensation if I choose to get a copy of his or her work for my enjoyment. Whether or not he chooses to exercise that right is up to the artist.

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