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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hubris, Cowardice, File-sharing, and TechDirt
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Over at Digital Society, Jim DeLong's Filesharing in Underdeveloped Nations: Let's Take from the Poor and Give to the Rich does a fine job of ripping apart the latest round of nonsense from the economically challenged blog TechDirt. I won't spoil the fun, but suffice it to say that Jim shreds TechDirt "arguments" with casual ease.

Jim's piece also highlights a fundamental problem with TechDirt's childish, copyright-hating worldview: TechDirt brews its venom from an ugly blend of hubris and cowardice.

In a rational world, TechDirt would deem copyrights unobjectionable. Granted, TechDirt's royal "we"—Mike Masnick—has conclusively concluded that he has divined the socially optimal means of producing expressive works: Artists and their investors should give away unprotected copies of their works, and then try to recoup the financial and opportunity costs of the risky long-term investments required to create those works by using them as loss-leaders to sell other things. Put aside—for now—any complaints about the unwarranted arrogance and the many obvious errors that infect this thesis. Let's just pretend, instead, that Masnick really might have discerned the set of socially optimal means to produce and disseminate expressive works.

Fine—but Masnick's preferred "business models" are ones that existing copyright law permits. As a result, if these "Masnick models" are superior means of production, then consumer-driven market competition between artists employing these superior models and artists employing other, inferior models, (like selling copyright-protected copies), should naturally have driven all those inferior models out of the market without resort to either piracy or government retraction of copyrights.

But that has never happened, and that suggests why TechDirt hates copyrights so venomously: Those wretched copyrights just keep on letting artists, (and those who make the risky long-term investments that let artists create), exploit creative works in ways that both artists and consumers insist upon prefering to those means of production decreed to be superior by TechDirt.

That is intellectual cowardice: There is no real problem if the "problem" with copyrights is that they let debates about the relative merits of subsets of the vast array of business models that copyrights permit to be settled by real consumers reacting to real works in real markets—rather than by the fertile imaginings of self-anointed Internet geniuses.

Perhaps that is why copyrights still tend to be strongly supported by both federal policymakers and most policy analysts—or at least those who retain the hint of personal humility required to admit that those who incur the risks inherent in creativity might be better situated than most pundits to decide how to exploit the rewards earned in the rare cases when those risks pay off.

posted by Thomas Sydnor @ 5:11 AM | Antitrust & Competition Policy , Copyright , IP , Internet , Trademark

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