Moderator: Writer Rob Preece isn’t just owner of BooksForABuck—he’s also a former senior economist for the FCC. – D.R.

robpreece1 With all due respect to Gerry Faulhaber, copyright is not dead.

In fact, copyright is a part of the intellectual property revolution that is perhaps the most important aspect of the new economic model currently emerging (no, I’m not talking about investment bank bailouts).

Specifically, what we buy and consume has ever-increasing value-add in intellectual property and ever-decreasing value-add in raw materials and manufacturing despite the recent run-up in commodity pricing.

The glories of copyright

Copyright is a doctrine that says producers don’t lose their intellectual
property if they make it available in a way that it can be used; in other words, people can’t freely copy your stuff. Whether we’re talking new drugs, clever
turbines, productivity software, movies, or the novel, intellectual property
needs to be respected.

Like David, and many other commenters on this blog, I believe that current DRM
technology imposes too many restrictions on use of our books. I like to read on
multiple devices, not all of which support the same formats and don’t like being
forced to choose. I certainly don’t want to buy a library and then discover that
my vendor has gone out of business and I can no longer read my stuff. Copyright
is the basis for what David calls social DRM.

Needed for a working economy: Copyright

If we can’t have social DRM, that is, if users insist on freely copying without regard to authors’ rights, then we certainly will have DRM, no matter what the inconvenience. Because one way or another, the economy depends on our ability to protect the rights of copyright and patent holders.


  1. This is a bold statement — how about evidence? Where is the detailed comparison between the amount lost to content providers with the end of copyright, and the financial gain it would provide to information users who no longer have to pay for it? Is it not possible that ending copyright would actually improve the economy, by making information of economic value freely available to everyone who can use it, rather than just those who can afford it? We are already heading at high speed towards an economy where the value of information largely depends on how recent it is, rather than where it came from — how much is yesterday’s (copyrighted) newspaper worth?

    If Rob Preece wants to provide some serious figures on the social value vs. the social cost of copyright then I will be happy to hear them — though that doesn’t mean plucking them out of nowhere like the RIAA. But the bald assertion that the economy ‘depends’ on copyright (whose economy? China’s?) doesn’t carry any weight at all, no matter where it comes from.

  2. Actually, my statement is (or was intended to be) that our economy depends on intellectual property. To the extent that China’s economy relies on theft of intellectual property, that doesn’t change the argument.

    The economic case for intellectual property protection depends on the theory that without patents and copyright, firms and individuals will have less incentive to create, publish, and share innovative ideas and expressions in forms from which they can be stolen. While this theory is certainly convincing for some (including the founding fathers who inshrined copyright in the constitution), it’s difficult to give a precise measure for the number of masterpieces or brilliant inventions which would have been made in the presence of better intellectual property protection.

    Rob Preece

  3. Piracy is a consequence of aggressive pricing and marketing. Hannah Montana is a hot property, yet the CDs sell for –I don’t know–$20? Can teenagers really afford that? Smaller publishers and DIY artists price more competitively; by the way, booksforabuck has one of the more innovative pricing structure in the market today.

    For me personally I worry less about piracy than syndication companies that reprint old content and don’t give me credit. Most of the time, however, they are too lazy, and the savvy downloader can figure out the canonical URL.

  4. Yes, initially piracy is a reaction to producers breaking social norms with pricing that is viewed as exorbitant in combination with easy-to-use alternative distribution channels for pirating. But once someone’s pirating HM CDs, why not pirate the Beatles too….you’ve already committed a felony, why not go all in?

    As for Rob’s piece I’m not sure I get what he’s saying. He seems to be conflating two separate questions — a) would we be better off with copyright and b) is copyright actually going to exist meaningfully?

    I agree with him on (a) — we would be better off with a reasonable copyright system. In the absence of copyright protection, some people will not produce works of genius who otherwise would have. But I think he’s wrong on (b) — it doesn’t matter whether or not that is the case, copyright is dead. Yes companies may continue to impose DRM, but who cares in a world where every DRM scheme is broken 10 minutes after it hits the market.

    Occasionally I buy computers games that feature copy protection. The first thing I do after getting them home is go download the copy protection crack. The next step is to simply start Torrenting the games and skipping the retail distribution channel altogether.

    Whatever economic model evolves around games, video, audio, text, etc., copyright is ultimately going to be largely irrelevant to that model.

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