For some time now the web/technology lobby has been arguing that copyright and other forms of intellectual property rights are stifling innovation. And if you don’t actually think about it you might agree. I mean it sound sort of like the argument against government over regulation. Having to get permission from all those IP owners. And then having to pay them? Bad for innovation!
But is this really true?
No. And the evidence is right in front of us. Sites that exploit artists by ignoring copyright obligations are not any more innovative or “better” than sites that honor copyright and don’t exploit artists. You can easily measure this. I’ll show you how in part two. . The only reason consumers prefer these sites is because they get the stuff they want without paying for it. And the only way they can do that is by ripping off the artists. This is not innovation.
Second the Apple App store provides a stunning example of the innovation that occurs when you protect intellectual property. When you allow content creators to be rewarded for their efforts innovation blooms. And remember it’s not just those that create the content that profit from their works. Consumers are richly rewarded with very useful and stable products. Everyone wins. It’s a net plus for the economy.
With a little more work you can compare the levels of innovation in countries with weak intellectual property protection and copyright protection with countries with robust IP protection. There’s a reason China did not invent the iPhone, the web browser or search engine.
In fact you could argue that the very triumph is of western capitalism is due to our decision to reward innovators by protecting IP. The collectivist soviet union was brought down not so much by our missiles and aircraft but by our robust economy and snowballing innovation. They couldn’t compete.
That’s why I find it curious that there are a number of strange academic and “scientific” studies on the horizon attempting to show the opposite. Call me jaded but I’m pretty sure the next few months the digital maoists will be up on capitol hill waving their little red “internet freedom” books citing these studies.
This is one from the National Academy of Sciences that is studying whether copyright inhibits innovation. Much like Tony Blair telling his ministers “the fix is in” on the Bush administration’s Iraq pre-war intelligence, I was told by several people that this study has been “hijacked” those that want to set us back 400 years by collectivizing intellectual property. These studies often use private money to help fund and determine who’s on these “ad hoc” committees, hence they can be hijacked by commercial interests. And looking at the list of contributors to the study? I’d say the fix is in.*
Here is a study from the amusing Pop Economist Joel Waldfogel. Normally I like this guy. He is arguing the same point but in reverse. This is a little harder to explain. But basically he is arguing that he can measure the “quality” of music. And since advent of file-sharing the “quality” has not decreased therefore file-sharing has no effect on musical “innovation”. Which also implies that copyright does not encourage innovation.
Don’t worry about it if you didn’t follow all that. Just remember you laughed or scoffed when you read “he can measure the quality of music”. And you should. No one can measure the quality of music.
To Prof Waldfogel’s credit he has devised an ingenious and very complex way of seemingly measuring current music “quality” and comparing it to past music. The only problem is it does no such thing. Frankly it doesn’t measure anything. Further I’m reminded of a phrase normally applied in the financial industry: Complexity is Fraud. In this case a needlessly complex formulation leads to false conclusions.
I say needlessly complex, because there are much simpler and concrete ways to measure whether file-sharing is harming musical innovation: sales, length of albums, time between albums, number of “hits” on each album, ratio of old to new music in films and TV, etc etc.
But regardless even if you could measure “quality” and hence make an argument that not enforcing copyright isn’t harming music “quality”. This study is totally useless to the broader argument about IP in general. Musicians can (unfortunately) sometimes subsidize production of recorded music with live revenues. Movies studios, actors, directors, authors, comic book illustrators can not do anything like that. Beyond the entertainment business what would Apple do if Foxcon could just make it’s own version iPhone? Sell t-shirts to recoup their R&D costs? I believe the copyleft knows that because musicians will make at least some music regardless of whether they are paid, that some musicians can fall back on live revenues, they have a golden opportunity to argue copyright stifles innovation. If this sounds totally cynical it because it is totally cynical. How many digeridiots are out there arguing authors and film directors need to sell t-shirts? well actually there are a few, but not many. Everyone knows that won’t work. The entire copyleft is focused on musicians cause this is the only place they can sort-of-just -barely make the half assed argument.
Tomorrow I’ll start debunking a bunch of the specific ”copyright is inhibiting innovation” arguments. This should be fun.