Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Anti-IP advocates fail again to understand IP


Surprisingy, the European Union is amending its copyright laws to strengthen them – better protecting the intellectual property of creators. This is good news.

According to David Woods, a British lawyer, the EU’s changes aligned its copyright laws with those governing literature and music, providing uniform legal protections for all products of creative labors. Further, as Mr. Woods properly points out, “[t]he intent of the change to the legislation is to stop ‘exact’ copies of existing industrially designed artistic works”—a measure that he predicts will result in the closure of websites producing bargain basement, mass-produced copies of furniture, “as after all, this was their business model.” In sum, the legislation is directly aimed at illegal internet operations whose deliberate “business model” is to steal the fruits of the labours of those working in the design industries.
    This copyright legislation secures to creators their highly-valued furniture design and thwarts piracy. As in the protection of all property rights, this spurs creativity and sustains livelihoods of professional creators. This is an example of how securing property rights of all types is a key requirement in a growing innovation economy and flourishing society….

This strengthening of intellectual property should be celebrated by any defender of property rights. But, say many deluded libertarians and other “ersatz advocates for property rights” like Alex Tabarrok, the point of these revamped EU regulations,  is “not to spur creativity but to protect the rents of a handful of people whose past designs turned out to have lasting value.”

This is beyond ignorance. It is no more rent-seeking to charge what the market will bear in buying your intellectual work than it is to charge on the same principle for anything merely physical – which, since there is design in everything man-made, would be to ask the impossible anyway. The criticism not only fails to fully recognise how property rights function in a market, it bears a key mistake:

The fallacy over which Tabarrok and others stumble is assuming that the sole purpose of copyright is only to spur the creation of new works—no more, no less. According to [them], copyright is merely a carrot dangled in front of creators, who like Pavlov’s dog are supposed to be sparked into creative activity. Certainly, this is a function of IP rights, as it is with all property rights—promising to secure the fruits of productive labours, whether in a farm, books, or inventions, spurs people to create more of these valued assets.
    But, like all property rights, copyright is not merely an incentive to create. All property rights serve the central function of securing to their owners the free use and disposition of the property, which is what leads to contracts and other exchanges in the free market that enhance everyone’s lives. Thus, copyright is vital to sustaining creators’ rights in reaping the rewards of their creative and valuable labors—when the works are disseminated in the market and purchased by consumers for their enjoyment and use…

At some point you have to recognise that these ersatz advocates for property rights do not even understand their subject. This particular critique

     rests on a misconceived view of the function of property rights as solely incentivising creation. Patents and copyrights are property rights, and like all property rights, they do not merely incentivise creation and innovation. They serve the important function of enabling creators to earn a livelihood from their productive labours by securing to them the same rights of all property owners to control the conditions in which their property is sold in the marketplace. This reflects the longstanding economic principle that a growing free market and flourishing society requires securing to property owners the fruits of their laboors – surely a central tenet of libertarianism!

You would ceratinly have thought so.


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