The Economist Debate On Copyright Needs Your Input
from the go-to-it dept
Fisher does a decent job with the opening statement, though I think he could make the points more clear and much more forcefully by highlighting the value over time of the public domain on creativity. Hughes' opening statement, however, is a mess. Let's start with this:
Those of us who think copyright law is a good idea--that it does more good than harm--believe that free market economic incentives are needed for the production (and often distribution) of all kinds of valuable expression and information, whether we are discussing educational value, civic value, or entertainment value. There is no question that much expression would be produced without copyright: the landed gentry was writing poetry before copyright. But to get both the desired amount and mix of expression, properly calibrated copyright is the best tool. The words "properly calibrated" are important, because once the new expression or information is created, social welfare is usually increased by its widespread distribution.This paragraph makes no sense to me. It claims the free market is best, but then suggests the only way to get a free market is to grant gov't-backed monopolies, which are the exact opposite of a free market. As if to drive home that contradiction, he goes on about "properly calibrating" this gov't system. Again, that's not a free market. If you're talking about properly calibrating, then you're talking about a government system. Now, it's perfectly reasonable to make a defense that one needs a gov't program -- but it's disingenuous to claim that we need a free market, and then discuss the gov't program as if that is a free market. It's not. If you want a gov't program, then explain why we need a gov't program and defend that. Don't claim it's a free market.
He then goes on to claim that content that is paid for is somehow of higher quality than content produced under some other model. But, the problem is he gets the details wrong and confuses correlation with causation. He insists that a creative class can only exist with copyright, but that's simply not true. We've seen business model after business model after business model that supports a "creative class" without relying on copyright to make money. Yes, having a creative class is important. And making sure they can earn money is important. But that doesn't require copyright. The fact that people like professionally produced content doesn't prove his point. It just shows that people like professionally produced content. It doesn't mean that you need copyright to produce it.
Next, he claims that copyright is not hindering free expression, because we've seen this "absolute explosion of expressive production and dissemination with little or no hindrance from copyright law" and then brushes off the "horror stories" of limitations, by claiming that these horror stories need to "be weighed against the enormous flourishing of non-commercial expression that has coexisted with the copyright system." That's totally missing the point. The fact that lots of content does get produced doesn't mean that copyright doesn't create massive limitations on more creativity. Again, he's confusing correlation with causation.
He then concludes with another mistake:
In truth, what we have now is a mixed economy for expression in which some expression is produced under a patronage model (foundation grants, universities), some expression is produced under the open source model (Linux, blogs), and some expression is produced under a profit/incentive model of copyright.See what he did there? He claims that open source models are different than "profit/incentive" models. That's simply untrue. Plenty of people producing content under non-copyright models are doing it for profit. And that's the key point that many of us have been raising. There are plenty of other models to compensate creative professionals that don't rely on copyright. Hughes' entire argument seems to be based on the idea that the only model of compensation is copyright, and everything else is "open source" or "non-profit" or "amateur." He's wrong.
The debate site is allowing comments from the public (and votes on the motion, which have been trending in the wrong direction), so it would be good for more people to join in and express how copyright has done more harm than good, and how Professor Hughes seems to be basing his arguments on a faulty premise.