Copyright and Innovation? No. Copyright IS innovation.
Timothy H. Lee's article got me thinking about his comments that opponents to copyright make that claim that innovation has been stifled. His historical perspective certainly makes that a tough claim for those who would erode or erase all copyright protections. He goes on to provide an excellent argument about the similarities of intellectual and real property. As I have noted before, there are differences but there are also many similarities. Those who oppose copyright protection only want to focus on one side of the balance sheet, Mr. Lee provides the necessary and intellectually honest other side.
But regarding his first argument, I think though that Mr. Lee does not go far enough when it comes to defending against the assertion (or as Mr. Lee puts it "The claim doesn’t withstand prima faciescrutiny") that somehow copyright has hampered innovation. Copyright does not stand opposed to innovation, and doesn't even stand alongside innovation. Rather, appropriate copyright protections are part of a dynamic innovation landscape.
Those opposed to copyright, or more generally to all intellectual property protections, would most certainly come out of their seats to oppose this argument. Their immediate rebuttal—you cannot prove that any innovation happened because of copyright protections. That is a nice argument but also a red herring, meaning that it doesn't matter if one can prove that some critical mass innovation did spring forth only because of copyright. Those who make the argument lack an appreciation that innovation as often as not springs from chaos, from a soup of the right elements.
Copyright is part of the innovation soup. To the extent that copyright encourages someone to sing or write or code then it has worked—even if it only contributes some small percentage of the motivation. That there is a means for an author to protect their works if they so chose is the point. Authors such as James Patterson or Tom Clancy have been leveraging the characters and "worlds" they created to become an industry unto themselves, inviting other authors to write books under their brand and involving characters they created which are protected by copyright.
Those who would do away with current and historical economic incentives bear the burden of proving empirically that no harm would come to our innovation engine from the removal of such benefits. If the correct recipe for innovation were easy then every country would sport a Silicon Valley, a Hollywood, a New York City, and a Nashville or Austin. Obviously they do not even though they continue to try. Several ingredients are necessary but the right mix is tougher. To tamper with observed success is reckless. There are those who would blindly bully forward declaring that they know the right mix, the real reason, that every innovator innovates. The claim is balderdash.
Additionally, having intellectual property protections, including copyright demonstrates a basic respect in this country for the thoughts and creations of others, that they cannot just be taken by someone else and used to their advantage. Imagine the outcry if a struggling writer, a teenage coder, created a work only to have it packaged, marketed and sold by someone with deeper pockets or more connections. Sure, they might not make as much margin in a world where such innovations were not protected but they would make something, especially as they would not be paying for the content in the first place. The big and rich using the labor of the small and poor to make money—this is world of those who oppose copyright protections.
Now to be fair, it could be that individuals are only marginally incented by IP protections, but what about those who would refine and market the created product. Yes, it is fashionable to bash "Hollywood" or the "Recording Industry," to demonize the companies. There is little defense for those who overreach, treat others poorly, take advantage of those who are weaker, but my instinct is that while certainly some of that happens because sadly people are being people, but that still this is not the general experience. Rather, refining and promoting content results in consumers becoming aware of and understanding new offerings as well as receiving the sorts of products to which they are willing to listen. Take one example, say producing a song. Sure, the singer is a key ingredient, but so is the writer, producer, marketer, creative director, art director, photographer, and on and on. How does that team get pulled together by a 20 year old with a great voice but with little else? And who pays the salary of those people who enjoy making a living so they can feed their kids? Yes, they are paid with money fronted by, the venture capital provided by the "Recording Industry."
Does that mean all is perfect with copyright protection? For more on that read here.
What it does a mean is that intellectual property protections, including copyright, are an integral part of innovation, not something that stands opposed to innovation. Different people respond differently to differently incentives. Let's try celebrating that diversity instead of once again attempting the failed experiment of one size fits all.
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