Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Economist copyright debate

The Economist has been hosting a debate on the rights and wrongs of copyright this past week and the closing statements are posted today.

William Fisher at Harvard opened for and Justin Hughes at Cardozo opened against the motion that this house believes that existing copyright laws do more harm than good.

There are lots of interesting and informed comments from readers and a guest contributions from other copyright scholars such as Jessica Litman at the University of Michigan Jennifer Urban of USC and industry representatives such as John Kennedy, the CEO of the IFPI.

Professor Litman is particularly scathing about the energy and resources copyright intermediaries pour into protectionism:
"Anglo-American copyright law is designed to encourage authors to create new works and to encourage readers, listeners and viewers to enjoy them. Traditionally, the law has approached those goals by offering profits to intermediaries... For most of copyright law's history, wide public dissemination has required large capital investments... Authors saw few of the proceeds of their works unless they were unusually successful. Readers... had to put up with annoying limitations... that publishers employed to assure that their investments secured the largest returns...

The behaviour of the legacy distributors of books, recordings and films suggests that current copyright law offers them incentives that are too generous, large enough to inspire them to engage in unproductive and uncompetitive behaviour in their attempt to preserve them. Perhaps the most effective way to reform current copyright laws is to significantly reduce the control conferred upon copyright-owner intermediaries, and redistribute that control to creators and to readers, listeners and viewers. If copyright incentives actually work the way that they are said to, that change would encourage authors to create more works, and encourage readers, listeners and viewers to enjoy more works (or enjoy works more), while encouraging copyright owners to lobby and litigate less. That seems like a win-win solution."
John Kennedy, on the other hand, laments "terrible losses from internet piracy" the music industry has suffered ("a market down from US$40 billion in 1999 to US$28 billion today") and "the impossible task of competing with free."

Professor Urban eloquently makes the case that copyright terms are excessive.

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