Joe Biden: There's No Reason To Treat Intellectual Property Any Different Than Tangible Property

from the really-now? dept

Ah, Joe Biden. Is there nothing about intellectual property that he can't get wrong? Variety has an interview with the Vice President on intellectual property issues, and while there's nothing new, it's like a compendium of wrong or misleading statements. It's no wonder the entertainment industry so loves him. There's no lie or misrepresentation he won't repeat. It starts out with a doozy. Nearly every thing he says in the following paragraph is wrong or a misrepresentation:
"Look, piracy is outright theft," Biden said. "People are out there blatantly stealing from Americans -- stealing their ideas and robbing us of America's creative energies. There's no reason why we should treat intellectual property any different than tangible property."
First, "piracy" is not "outright theft." Infringement and theft are two different things. You would think that someone in Biden's position would know the basics. Second, "ideas" are not protectable under US intellectual property law. Expression can be copyrighted and inventions can be patented. Ideas cannot be. That Biden thinks they can be... is immensely troubling. Third, how do you "rob" one of energy? I'm beginning to think that Biden doesn't know what the word "steal" means. Fourth, if this was "robbing us of America's creative energies," wouldn't we be seeing significantly less output and significantly less revenue? Instead, we're seeing both greater output and greater revenue. True, a few legacy companies within the wider industry are struggling to adapt, but that's not the same thing. Fifth, there are tons of reasons why copyrights and patents should and are treated differently than tangible property. Is Biden really suggesting that we should have infinite copyright and patents that do not expire and do not go into the public domain? Because that appears to be what he's saying, and that's blatantly unconstitutional. The Constitution says "for limited times" for a reason. Does Biden not know this?
He is quick to say that he considers it more than a problem of just the entertainment industry. "When our military is sold counterfeit equipment that is faulty, it affects our national security. And when cancer patients are sold fake cancer drugs that contain no medicine, it affects public health. These are serious issues for the American people."
Biden may be even worse than John Morton at this conflation game. Yes, we agree that counterfeit military equipment and fake drugs are dangerous. No one denies that. The problem, which everyone keeps pointing out and which neither Biden nor Morton seem to want to respond to, is that they're using those small and specific problems to then justify massive legal changes that have nothing to do with those legitimate problems.
"Virtually every American company that manufactures something is getting killed by counterfeiters: clothing, software, jewelry, tires," Biden said. "If an American company has been successful at developing an idea, it's likely getting stolen."
Getting killed? Really? Hyperbole much, Joe? First of all, counterfeiting is a separate issue than copyright or patents, and isn't really an "intellectual property" issue, but a fraud issue. Anyway, when you look at the actual statistics (not the made up ones by the industry) you learn that counterfeiting really isn't nearly as big a problem as people make it out to be, and it's certainly not "killing" most American businesses. Yes, it is impacting a few businesses at the margin, but multiple studies have shown that people who buy counterfeits are not taking business away from the original company, but are doing it aspirationally, with the intention of buying the real product when they can.

Besides, if we're really saying that copying ideas and passing them off as your own is "theft" and should be punished the same as "theft" of tangible goods, shouldn't Joe Biden be in jail? After all, he's a notorious plagiarist, who didn't just copy the words of another politician, but copied his life story, claiming things that happened to this other politician happened to him, when they had not. So, if anyone knows "stealing ideas" and "counterfeits," it should be Biden.

Biden then moves on to what he believes is part of the solution:
"I think the entertainment industry would agree that they have done a poor job in making their case and need to do better," Biden said. "I mean, they have some of the brightest and most creative people working for them."

"They should be able to come up with an intelligent, original and effective public education campaign targeting this issue. To be honest, I am not certain they have dedicated the appropriate resources to this, and I hope they will."
Or, perhaps, it's just that multiple studies have shown that this is not an education issue, and the more propaganda that the industry puts out, the less people respect copyright laws. I mean, we're talking about Hollywood. Does anyone really believe that they don't have the ability to create compelling content? The problem is not the content, it's the underlying idea which people just aren't buying. You can create propaganda all you want. You just can't make people believe it if they know, deeply, that it's false.
"Kids are taught that it is not right to steal a lollipop from the corner store," he said. "They also need to understand that it is equally wrong to knowingly steal a movie or a song from the Internet."
Yeah, the industry has been making that a part of the "education campaign" for decades. How's that been going? The problem is that children aren't stupid. And they can recognize that there's a pretty big difference in stealing a lollipop from the corner store (in which case the store no longer has a lollipop to sell) and in sharing a song or a movie with a friend, in which everyone gets greater enjoyment.
Biden doesn't buy the idea that Hollywood's effort to increase enforcement is merely to protect dying businesses.

"The fact is, media companies have already taken significant steps to adapt their business models to keep up with changes in how we watch movies and listen to music," Biden said. "Content is being offered to consumers in a variety of different ways that make it easy and cost-effective for people to access legal material. Anyone who does not understand this should simply talk with one of my grandkids."
Oh come on! The media companies' "significant steps" all came kicking and screaming, often with lawsuits and attempts to use pliant politicians like Biden to pass laws to outlaw the innovations they eventually come to rely on. This is the same industry that tried to outlaw the VCR and the MP3 player. Significant steps? Yeah, only after being pushed by innovators and consumers. In fact, many of those significant steps were taken because of infringement, which showed what consumers really wanted.
Biden said he sees a shift in China, where piracy is rampant and where Hollywood has long struggled to gain cooperation from the government to address the problem. He said South Korea's strengthened intellectual property laws have led to the "Korean Wave" in entertainment across Asia, and "China's leaders understand this."
And here, Biden is simply lying. The Korean Wave of entertainment across Asia started way before the US (at the entertainment industry's behest) pressured Korea into implementing draconian new copyright laws in 2009. Creative labels like JYP had sprung up years earlier, and the company's founder, JY Park, has stated in interviews that it was, in part, the widespread infringement online that drove him to push his artists into alternative business models that took them across Asia, where they make a ton of money. The idea that it was these laws is simply a lie, and is clear from the timing. Korean artists like Rain and Wonder Girls were known across Asia long before those changes were made. In fact, even the term "Korean Wave" which Biden refers to, was given to Korean cultural exports in 1999, a full ten years before Korea put in place new copyright laws. And, during those intervening 10 years, South Korea had the highest rate of broadband penetration, and some of the highest rates of copyright infringement online as well. And yet, the Korean Wave still happened.

Shouldn't the "reporters" at Variety point some of this stuff out in response? Or do they just parrot the Hollywood line and ignore facts? Either way, why is Biden allowed to blatantly lie or misrepresent all of these things?

Reader Comments

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  1. identicon
    JEDIDIAH, 13 Apr 2011 @ 5:53pm

    Not the same at all.

    > There is no difference between creating, selling &
    > marketing a widget and creating a book / record /video.

    There is a considerable difference when it comes to creative works. They are all highly derivative. Any act
    of creation is much more like deciding to set up a factory
    in a federal park and then trying to claim ownership on all
    of the things you produce from raw materials stolen from the

    It doesn't matter if it is a 3500 year old story lifted
    wholesale or just the accumulated cultural wisdom of the

    This is one of the key reasons copyrights and patents
    are supposed to expire.

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