Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
copyright, evidence, uk

UK Academics Warn Copyright Extension Supporters Not To Fall Back Into The Evidence-Free Zone

from the please-present-some-(any)-evidence dept

In James Boyle's excellent book, The Public Domain the ninth chapter expresses his hope that politicians passing copyright law would actually demand evidence before passing laws:
Imagine a process of reviewing prescription drugs that goes like this: representatives from the drug company come to the regulators and argue that their drug works well and should be approved. They have no evidence of this beyond a few anecdotes about people who want to take it and perhaps some very simple models of how the drug might affect the human body. The drug is approved. No trials, no empirical evidence of any kind, no follow-up. Or imagine a process of making environmental regulations in which there were no data, and no attempts to gather data, about the effects of the particular pollutants being studied. Even the harshest critics of regulation would admit we generally do better than this. But this is often the way we make intellectual property policy.
The one exception he highlights? Copyright extension in the UK, where the famous Gowers' Report recommended against copyright extension, based on evidence that it would do a lot more harm than good. After the report came out, Gowers actually admitted that the evidence showed that the best economic results would be to make copyright much shorter, but he didn't push that at the time, since the interest was in the other direction. Yet, despite this evidence that copyright extension would basically harm nearly everyone -- including musicians and the public -- some politicians in the UK have been saying it must be done anyway. Yes, the one case where actual economic evidence is being used... and it's being totally ignored.

The good news is that this is pissing off a lot of very smart people, who are demanding to understand why the government wants to ignore all of the evidence:
There has been some talk of 'moral arguments' for extension but it is hard to discern a compelling 'moral' case for a proposal whose prime effect is to benefit major label shareholders and a few, already highly successful, artists while imposing significantly greater costs on new creators, the general listening public and the custodians of our cultural heritage.

As Gowers concluded, and the Government has until now consistently reaffirmed, policy-making in this area should be evidence-based and designed to promote the broader welfare of society as a whole. Policies that appear to reflect nothing more than lobbying will only perpetuate the "marked lack of public legitimacy" which the Gowers report lamented — and discourage those who wish to contribute constructively to future Government policy-making in these areas. We therefore call on the Government to present any evidence that has led to this change of policy.
Indeed. The moral argument for longer copyright makes no sense when the economic evidence suggests that nearly everyone is made worse off (including musicians themselves) by longer copyright. How can it possibly be moral to have everyone worse off?

Reader Comments

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  • identicon
    UK Politician, 10 Mar 2009 @ 6:00am

    Moral Argument

    Certainly it is a proper moral decision to support and enrich those who lead you. Therefore, lining my pockets with bribe money from the entertainment industry is undeniably a moral decision, and I can't do that without throwing them a bone or two.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    inc, 10 Mar 2009 @ 9:24am

    It's easier to make a moral argument since it needs nothing to back it up other then a few talking points. You can then flip to moral argument to whomever has their own talking points. This circular argument must be broken with facts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 10 Mar 2009 @ 12:33pm

    The politicians do demand "evidence". It comes in the form of rectangular pieces of paper with numbers on them...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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