Sunday, June 07, 2009

Copyright wars

The folks over at some of the libertarian blogs have been making war on the notion of copyright.
Mark Helprin offers this rebuttal at the Wall Street Journal:

The opponents of copyright are no more disinterested than its defenders, although they do a good job of pretending, and their theories have become the window dressing for the piracy of software, music, movies -- and soon the written word. They may claim that they are not against copyright per se. But if, as they repeatedly assert, copyright is an unjustifiable tax, a monopoly, and a bar to creativity, why wouldn't they or anyone else be against it, as in fact they are?

Copyright is no more a tax than the price a merchant charges for an item in his shop or what a laborer receives for his labor. Nor is it a monopoly any more than you have a monopoly on the sale of a watermelon you might grow in your garden, or the monopoly a seamstress exercises over her work. The opponents of copyright disingenuously maintain that it locks up ideas, comment and debate. Title 17 of the United States Code resoundingly says otherwise, that "in no case does copyright protection . . . extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described." And as for debate, have you noticed a lack of it?

In previous eras, advances in the ease of replication were met by the consistent strengthening of copyright -- in lengthening the term, international standardization, increased enforcement. This did not discourage the production of works, which advanced by orders of magnitude. In Thomas Macaulay's England of 1825, 600 books were published. Economic growth, universal education, more efficient printing, and a strong system of copyright together saw 206,000 books published in England in 2005. One might attempt to argue the counterfactual, that even more books would have been published without copyright, but one would first have to establish that the incentive of being paid for one's work is a disincentive to producing it.

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