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August 30, 2009



But creating things doesn’t generate complete ownership rights. When I create articles for the Investors Chronicle, I automatically hand over copyright to my employers.

This is right and I posted on this issue in the context of book publishing. Have to agree with your take here.


If we want to encourage innovation (musical or otherwise) then we need a system that rewards the (successful) innovator. The traditional means of doing this is to give the innovator a monopoly on the use of his idea for a period. This provides the reward, and without rewarding bad ideas- but it also hinders the spread of ideas, and hence delays their usefulness to society at large. I'm out of ideas myself- but if anyone can come up with system that rewards useful innovation, doesn't reward useless innovation, and enables new ideas to be taken up more readily I for one would be listening intently. BTW I think, given the sheer volume of music and entertainment available, that this is the area of entertainment least in need of encouragement.


Surely this isn't an issue of rights or ownership at all? Surely it's an issue of contract?

If you sell me a piece of recorded music, you are within your rights to include a condition of sale that I will not give a copy to anyone else. And indeed, on the back of most CDs there's a line to the effect of "unauthorised copying, hiring, public performance and broadcasting of this recording is prohibited."

Having agreed to the purchase, I am contractually bound by that condition. By giving a copy to a friend, I am in breach of my contract, and liable to damages. And the government in its role as enforcer of contracts is quite right in taking action against me.

On the other hand, my friend was never a party to the contract, so clearly he is not liable in the same way. There may be some lesser claim against him as a beneficiary of my contractual infidelity, but nothing beyond that. Certainly, to cut of his internet connection would be a massively disproportionate response.


Arguments based on the need to stimulate innovation are entirely bogus. Did Palaeolithic Man register copyright for his work at Altamira? It's about ownership, not creation. And once you have accounted for the financing of the CD's production and distribution, it's about rent. That's particularly obvious when you have some corporation wailing about illicit copying of music whose copyright they have simply bought in the market, without ever having anything to do with its production.

Surreptitious Evil

"None of this is to defend large-scale file-sharing. In a free society, many things are morally or aesthetically deplorable but not illegal."

But surely the point is that large-scale file sharing is, currently, illegal - mostly on the civilly actionable side than the criminal side the endless adverts threaten us with (when we are watching our paid for copies) but that it is not considered morally deplorable by many of the population. It is probably aesthetically deplorable - but then modern music is always considered so (and linking anything to computers rarely raises their fundamental beauty.) Even Mozart had too many notes.


I don't think your description of zero-sum versus positive sum is helpful. We're dealing with the collective actions of large groups of people. Low-level theft of music recordings and movies may not hurt the livelihood of the people who make them. But once theft outstrips sales, it obviously does. It's Gresham's Law.

I'm trying to understand your Thomas Jefferson quote. It only makes sense if you think "OK Computer" or "Pulp Fiction" are NOTHING BUT ideas in Thom Yorke's and Quentin Tarantino's minds. But they're so much more than that. Surely you can see that.

Once again we're told that concert income can replace income from recordings. Aesthetically, recordings and concerts are - and should be - very different from each other. It's like saying that Steven Spielberg could make back the money he's losing from movie piracy by doing stage performances of Schindler's List and AI. George Martin, Quincy Jones, Trevor Horn and many others have created studio productions which revel in the very impossibility of being performed live. Studio recordings are mixed to speak to the listener in the intimate context of the living room and the bedroom. The stage is utterly different. Studio recording is a wonderful art, and doesn't deserve to be demoted to the level of a mere free promo.

Jerry in Detroit

I'm just wondering when all these prpoerty owners will pay their fair share in taxes.

Mark Wadsworth

"The force of my cabbie analogy lies in the fact that a cabbie is not allowed to maximize his income by stopping people giving each other lifts."

Yes, but cabbies are hell bent on restricting the number of available taxi licences, which have a significant value on the grey market. In the absence of such barriers to entry, the licence to operate as a taxi driver would be £nil of course, because if you wanted to earn money by driving people round, you'd just go to the Town Hall, show your driving licence, they'd do a quick CRB check charge you a tenner admin fee, give you your certificate and you'd be on your way.

Tim Worstall

"But this fails - for now at least - on empirical grounds."

It's possible that it fails for music, now...but before the digital age did it fail?

Should we get all Marxist and point out that changes in technology can (should?) change systems and methods of ownership?

"Nor do I get the maximum income possible from my creations: "

I think you do you know. If there were no Investor's Chronicle your income from such articles would (at least arguably) be much lower. The worker exploits the capitalist just as much as the other way around.

Devil's Kitchen

So, stealing a laptop from someone is wrong but stealing the ideas that made that laptop possible from someone is entirely OK?




If I understand correctly, Chris thinks that photocopying the plans for a new model computer and building a clone shouldn't be illegal, because it's just "ideas".

If people just wanted free access to the "ideas" of music & films, they would, presumably, just download scores and scripts, not the realisation of these ideas in recordings and movies.

john b

"But once theft outstrips sales, it obviously does."

The word 'obviously' does not mean what you think it means.

"So, stealing a laptop from someone is wrong but stealing the ideas that made that laptop possible from someone is entirely OK?"

But if you 'steal' my laptop-making ideas, that has no bearing on my ability to make laptops.


It has a massive effect on my ability to sell laptops - therefore to get bank loans to fund my laptop factory. Isn't that obvious?

Kevin Carson

Georges' argument in another thread, that physical property is just as much an artificial legal construct as "intellectual property" [sic], is especially nonsensical.

Tangible property rights reflect the natural scarcity that exists in the real world. "Intellectual property" rights manufacture artificial scarcity where it doesn't exist.

Tangible property rights reflect the of two people occupying the same physical space, or possessing the same physical object, at the same time. Tangible property rights are a natural extrapolation from possession, and follow automatically from my attempt to maintain possession against forcible dispossession. "Intellectual property" rights, to the contrary, require the invasion of someone else's tangible property rights to prevent them doing what they want with their own stuff.

The distinction between natural and artificial property rights--i.e., between genuine property and privilege--is found in a wide range of political theories: natural vs. artificial property rights (Hodgskin), natural vs. legal occupancy (Oppehneimer), labor-made vs. man-made property (Nock).

Your "anything the law calls 'property' is property" argument is the crudest form of positivism. Unless your worship of the moral authority of "the law" extends to saying "we must obey the Fugitive Slave Law/Nuremberg Law until we get them changed," it simply won't hold water.

Neil: Your contractually-based IP might work in a limited set of cases, but I think it would be untenable in most. It certainly wouldn't work in many cases if it depended entirely on the ordinary common law mechanisms of contractual enforcement that other forms of contract rely on. Specifically, any viable copyright regime will rely on the regulatory state criminalizing technical means of circumventing DRM, and a high-powered surveillance state to detect downloading. And I doubt a EULA agreement would meet a very stringent common law "meeting of the minds" standard.

Even with the above kinds of police statism, copyright is becoming unenforceable. The simple fact of the matter is, as Cory Doctorow said, a computer is a machine for copying bits, and once a cultural artifact is transformed into bits it will be copied. Anyone whose business model depends on stopping bits from being copied is fucked. In an age of bittorrent, strong encryption and proxy servers, the "law" isn't worth the paper it's written on.


Kevin Carson

Physical property & intellectual property utterly interpenetrate each other. You may regard the plans for a new design of washing machine as pure data, pure abstraction. In other words, as having nothing whatsoever to do with physical washing machines, their attributes & methods of manufacture. But I think you're missing something.

Movies & songs involve the physical at every stage. You know - microphones & movie cameras & instruments & sets. That's how they're made. It's because of the physical effect of sounds & sights on the ear & the eye that people want to steal them. If I put up on bittorrent a pdf file reading "00111101000001(etc)" it might be a perfect abstract description of the new Arctic Monkeys album in binary code. I doubt that any Arctic Monkeys fan would find reading it an acceptable substitute for the "real" album. Why do you think this is?


"Once a cultural artifact is transformed into bits it will be copied" - only so long as it can be transformed back into artefact at the other end.


"Did Palaeolithic Man register copyright for his work at Altamira?"

Erm, Palaeolithic Man didn't have the INTERNET.

Nor did he have any money in which his work could have been bought. If someone wanted to copy it, they could. He obviously painted for fun/ritual etc, not to earn money. But most people don't work for free.

"The worker exploits the capitalist just as much as the other way around."

Yes, I'm fairly sure that the Polish cleaners are exploiting the millionaires they work for "just as much" as the millionaires are exploiting them. Tim, you're a real douchebag and a moron to boot.

Tim Worstall

"Tim, you're a real douchebag and a moron to boot."

Thanks for being so polite. The cleaners/millionaires is more of a feudal relationship than a capitalist one.

The productivity of labour rises as capital is added to it (well, not always, but that's generally the way it goes). Higher productivity labour gets paid more than low . So the labour gains income from the higher productivity made possible by the addition of said capital.

If we say, as various shades of Marxists do, that capital is exploiting the workers by taking some of the rise in productivity of labour made possible by the addition of capital then we should also say that labour is exploiting capital by expropriating some of the higher productivity made possible by the addition of capital to labour.

john b

"He obviously painted for fun/ritual etc, not to earn money. But most people don't work for free."

Depends on the work. For cleaning the floor, no. For great art and literature, pretty much yes: they're created by people who need to do them because that's who they are, not by people who're hoping to be the next Damien Hurst or Dan Brown.

Robin Smith

Many of you might not be aware of the term Pre-foreclosure especially if you are a first time buyer. It’s a legal term used while buying property. When a person purchases a house they usually have a small down payment and obtain a mortgage or loan for rest of the balance of purchase price.


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Its all the same. it depends what your point of view about movie downloaders. we are all alike. 2010 is waiting around the corner, what did you think could happen?

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Stealing someone's idea i definitely not right too.


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With payments to their managers, PR people, record company, etc. Musicians are actually not making much money at all. That is why so many big singers go bankrupt

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And a lot of it reflects a switch from bank deposits to securities; foreigners “other investments” in the UK, http://www.watchgy.com/ mostly bank deposits, fell by £143.2bn in Q1. And of course there’s no guarantee such buying will continue.

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