Markets Can’t Solve Everything?!?

Eyes on your copyrighted prize

The two news items offer a nice pair of brackets in which to frame the current state of copyright affairs. On the one hand, the public is denied the opportunity to view one of the most compelling histories of modern American life produced in the last 30 years because copyright restrictions make it financially unfeasible to broadcast it. On the other hand, actual copyright violation continues unabated, giving rise to an entire market niche devoted to the task of stamping it out. Is there any way to look at this situation in which it is not a complete mess?

[…] It is one of the defining paradoxes of the Internet age that even as, legally speaking, the power of copyright has grown in recent decades, pragmatically speaking it has only declined. Entertainment business representatives tend to point to this fact as the very reason why new laws are necessary, while ignoring the fact that much of what they are asking for includes rights that historically have never been granted and that will restrict consumer freedom more than ever.

[…] In a perfectly working capitalist economy, every social problem would be solved by treating it as a market opportunity. In theory, we should be able to see this most effectively in the technology sector. Got spam? Buy a spam filter. Plagued by viruses? Buy a virus-protection system. Pirates ripping off your software? Hire a digital tracking and security firm to hunt them down in the wilds of the Internet.

But what about when the problem is lack of access to a documentary like “Eyes on the Prize”? In whose economic interest is it to make important works of art and history more available?

The answer should be obvious. It may not be in our economic interest to do so. But aren’t there benefits other than economic to be gained?