Online piracy and intellectual property

by Neil Rickert

Today, Wikipedia is having a blackout to protest SOPA, the proposed anti-piracy legislation.  Fortunately, it is looking as if SOPA will not pass in its current form.  I support the Wikipedia protest.

Personally, I do not approve piracy, nor do I practice it.  In fact, I rarely listen to on-line music or watch movies or other entertainment online, unless it is part of an informational video, typically at youtube and linked from a blog or news source.

I support the idea of intellectual property (IP).  But I am troubled by the current laws on IP.

Here’s an important principle. When a significant proportion of the public is breaking the law, you do not have a criminal population – you have a bad law.

Patenting computer algorithms should never have been allowed.  These patents are being used in support of monopolization.  They were always a bad idea.

The reason for having intellectual property is to encourage and reward creativity.  But some of the recent legislation looks far more like a welfare program for failing business.

Traditionally, publishers have been primarily in the business of packaging and distributing content.  Often the creators of that content received only a small portion of the price charged for books, music or video.  Traditionally, copyright worked well most of the time, because the publishers understood that they should set the price not too far above the cost of distribution and packaging of that content.

Today, with the modern digital revolution, the cost of packaging and distribution is far lower than it was.  Prices should have come down far more than has happened.  One of the reasons that there is a piracy problem, is that prices are too high.  The publishers don’t want to cut the size of their business in proportion to the reduction in the costs of packaging and distribution.

Yes, we do have a piracy problem.  But it is mainly a problem for the publishing industry.  It is up to the publishers to solve this problem.  Conservatives keep telling us of the magic of the market place.  There’s a piracy problem because the marketplace is not working its magic.  We do not need welfare, in the form of government enforcement of unwise IP law.  The world of publishing has changed, and it is past time for the publishing industry to adapt to these changes.

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