Litman’s Latest

Ernie points to Jessica Litman’s latest, Sharing and Stealing. I haven’t had a chance to read the paper yet (don’t ask what I came back to here at MIT — suffice it to say that an important NSF grant is now no longer being held up by an embarrassing oversight on my part!)

However, it’s interesting to read Ernie’s comment, wherein he takes on one of the weakest points of the common P2P apologist’s argument — the claim that, if 60 million people are doing it, it must be right. He correctly points out that the issue with copyright is about something far more fundamental, and discussions that center on claiming that moral authority lies with the majority is just undermining the principled stand.

Ernie contends that "Copyright is about issues of culture and free speech." I’d suggest that there’s a third point — the connection between freedom and competitive markets. Jefferson’s famous copyright quote ("It would be curious then, if an idea, the fugitive fermentation of an individual brain, could, of natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable property"), recall, emerges out of a larger debate about the merits of offering monopoly economic powers to creators (see this kuro5hin article to get some insight: Thomas Jefferson, The DMCA, Copyright, Fair Use, et al.).

As those who attended my recent lectures in the UK have been hearing, I have been working on showing how a large part of the problem of copyright emerges out of the fact that it is built upon two key compromises: trade-offs of that sacrifice (1) freedom of speech and (2) competitive markets in favor of (3) remunerating creativity. It’s still too complicated a story to tell in a blog entry, but I’m working on it.

For 200 years, that compromise has worked out to the public’s benefit, and for 200 years the incentives deriving from copyright have served to maintain a workable balance. However, today’s copyright interests are so focused upon remunerating creativity that they are making choices/developing technologies/promoting legislation that are shifting the balance of those early compromises increasingly against the core freedoms upon which we rely.

Although some would argue otherwise, I do not believe that Jack Valenti and those of his ilk are actively pursuing a strategy to suppress our liberties. Rather, they are acting in accordance with the incentives we have set up for them — we have given them the monopoly that they are acting to protect and defend. But, those who are continuing to give them what they want are failing to recognize that each award in their favor is a blow to free speech and free market competition; and there is only so much resilience in the system before something will have to give.