2003 April 6

(entry last updated: 2003-04-06 13:53:12)

  • Dave Winer’s got a little more to say about the change in the NYTimes’s URL/story policy. Moreover, he suggests that maybe the BBC is the next possible authoritative online source. May Hodder adds a few more perspectives here.

  • Big numbers in the RIAA lawsuit against the college students:

  • Moreover, Larry Lessig and John Palfrey are thinking pretty hard about this move: Larry points out that it’s time for Congress to act; John points out that things are getting out of hand and both point to Alan Greenspan’s recent comments:

    Technological advance is continually altering the shape and nature of our economic processes and, in particular, is promoting the trend toward increasing conceptualization of U.S. GDP. The size of our radios, for example, has been dramatically reduced by the substitution of transistors for vacuum tubes. Thin fiber optic cable has replaced huge tonnages of copper wire. New architectural, engineering, and materials technologies have enabled the construction of buildings enclosing the same space with far less physical material than was required, say, 50 or 100 years ago. More recently, mobile phones have markedly downsized as they have improved. The movement over the decades toward production of services requiring little physical input has also been a major contributor to the dramatic rise in the ratio of constant dollars of GDP per ton of input.

    … More generally, in the physical world, the usual situation is that each additional unit of output is more costly to produce than the previous one; that is, production, at least eventually, is characterized by increasing marginal cost. By contrast, in the conceptual world, much of production is characterized by constant, and perhaps even zero, marginal cost.

    … Only in recent decades, as the economic product of the United States has become so predominantly conceptual, have issues related to the protection of intellectual property rights come to be seen as significant sources of legal and business uncertainty. Intellectual property is clearly more difficult to define and, hence, to protect. The physical property of one owner cannot occupy the same space as that of another. Ownership of physical property is capable of being defended by police, the militia, or private mercenaries. Ownership of ideas is far less easily protected.

    Indeed, the nature of intellectual property is importantly different from physical property. In particular, one individual’s use of an idea does not make that idea unavailable to others for their own, simultaneous use. Furthermore, new ideas almost invariably build on old ideas in ways that are difficult or impossible to delineate. From an economic perspective, this provides a rationale for making the calculus, developed initially by Leibnitz and Newton, freely available, despite the fact that those insights have immeasurably increased wealth over the generations. Should we have protected their claim in the same way that we do for owners of land? Or should the law make their insights more freely available to those who would build on them, with the aim of maximizing the wealth of the society as a whole? Are all property rights inalienable, or must they conform to a reality that conditions them?

    These questions bedevil economists and jurists, for they touch on some fundamental principles governing the organization of a modern economy and, hence, its society. Whether we protect intellectual property as an inalienable right or as a privilege vouchsafed by the sovereign, such protection inevitably entails making some choices that have crucial implications for the balance we strike between the interests of those who innovate and those who would benefit from innovation. [emphasis added]

    … If the form of protection afforded to intellectual property rights affects economic growth, it must do so by increasing the underlying pace of productivity growth. The bulk of this increase should show up as multifactor productivity, that is, the segment of labor productivity that reflects the impact of conceptualization–ideas generally–on economic growth and standards of living. Finding a way to isolate the effect of, say, the length of patents on overall economic growth poses a formidable challenge.

    The more general challenge is to develop a framework that fosters the growth of an economy increasingly dominated by conceptual products. The focus of this conference therefore is timely and apt.

    Note that, as I read these comments, while Greenspan is careful not to come down on one side or another of the natural rights/utilitarian constructions of intellectual property, he clearly indicates that the state has a role in balancing these notions against the broader needs of society for a healthy "economy of ideas."

  • Apparently, copy protected CDs are incompatible with radio practices, at least in Australia: Copy protected CDs: artists can be the losers

    Music companies which use copy protection may be denying the artists under contract to them legitimate play time on radio stations, if the happenings at one outfit are any indication.

    This radio station, which recently received its regular bag of freebies from EMI, finds that it is unable to play any of the CDs it received – the copy protection on the discs gets in the way.

    … The station in question has no standalone CD players, just desktop PCs (all running Windows 2000) and a couple of old Denon CD Cart players.

    “The CD tries to install some files to allow the PC to play the CD but my boss won’t authorise the installation of these files because he has no technical info on the software,” wrote the gentleman who let us know about this.

    “And if we can’t transfer the CD tracks to our digital playout system the CD ain’t going to get any airplay at all!”

    Slashdot discussion: Stations Can’t Play Crippled Music Disks. Note that the obvious answer (distributing non-copy protected/rippable CDs to radio stations) still means that digital copies will get out into the dark net.

  • Speaking of Australia, here’s a look at a current legislative proposal to put a copying levy on digital media.