copyright enforcement file sharing ip law piracy

(Not) Taxing Enterprise but Something Else
technology social cost public value private value land value tax

Is Copyright Enforcement Hopeless?

Yes, recorded artists do need protection. Does that require monopolies? We trim, blend, and append two 2012 articles from (1) Mother Jones, Feb 15, on copyrights by K. Drum and (2) the Athenian, Feb 21, on land taxes.

by Kevin Drum and by the Athenian

Copyright enforcement in the digital realm, though it's obviously had a pretty bumpy history, isn't self-evidently impossible. In fact, it might well be technically feasible.

Tim Lee responds:
We've been "trying" to crack down on illicit file sharing for at least two decades, granting copyright holders stronger and stronger enforcement powers and devoting more and more taxpayer dollars to the effort. The broader point is clear: every item on this list has imposed costs on third parties. Technologies with clear non-infringing uses have been pushed out of the market. Innocent parties have had their websites shut down. A woman was arrested for filming a birthday party that happened to occur in a movie theater. Angel investor Paul Graham has said he avoids funding music-related startups because the record labels are "effectively a rogue state with nuclear weapons." And most of these enforcement efforts costs taxpayer money.

Gabriel Rossman encapsulates a lot of current thinking about IP law:
An industry that sponsored the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act has forfeited its claim to our sympathies. I’m gonna say “sucks to be you” when the industry demands escalating the fight against piracy into the top priority of US trade diplomacy and a total war waged on the terrain of the internet’s low-level infrastructure. Nonetheless I think it’s important to clarify just how complicated estimating the effects of piracy are. It’s a common position to say, “I don’t like bullying tactics, bad faith arguments, and rent-seeking of the IP industry, therefore piracy is not a problem.” I sympathize with this frustration but it’s more intellectually honest to take seriously that there might be a problem that we decide it is better to leave unsolved.

IP enforcement in the digital era has been a farrago of bad faith, corporate rent seeking, and idiotic overreach. At the same time, I pretty strongly believe in reasonable levels of IP protection. So the only question remaining is whether those reasonable levels are possible in the digital era without imposing intolerable costs on the rest of us.

Costs seem intolerable for political reasons (the content industry has so much political power that they'll always be able to jam through idiotic laws) and for technical reasons (there's just no way to prevent digital copying without massive intrusions on personal liberty). But I'm not so sure.

Two decades of technological development isn't really that much. Copyright law went through a lot of turmoil in the 19th and early 20th century too, as technology and globalization upended existing notions of authorial rights, but eventually things settled down. Among other things, the result was stepped up law enforcement and various bad actors being fined or sent to jail.

Likewise, digital IP enforcement is going through the same growing pains today. It's a harder problem than in the past, both technically and politically. Public awareness will grow in the future, producing a solid counterweight to the power of the content industry. And the technology itself rapidly evolving, so maybe there’ll be a way to prevent unauthorized copying at reasonable social cost.

To see the whole article, click here .

JJS: Setting aside that the actual artist -- the songwriter or scriptwriter -- often gets cheated by the big bad corporation, two principles seem in conflict: One, everyone should be allowed to reap all the rewards of one’s efforts without any parasite siphoning some away; presently, copycats siphon some reward away, as do governments, with their taxes. Two, one should be allowed to make an effort anywhere, even if somebody else has already explored it. That is, you can’t claim North America and keep everyone else off. Nor can you claim a vein of gold, leave it without mining it, and expect nobody else to mine it.

Consider a good joke. Somebody created it. Everybody retells it. Nobody pays for it. And the creator seems pleased, happy that their creation got around. Of course, music and movies cost a lot more to create than a joke. Yet, is it up to government to make copying illegal? Or is it up to bands and filmmakers to market their products in ways that don’t invite easy copying? Or both?

The only reason the question arises is because, unlike jokes, money’s involved; recorded entertainment generates huge streams of revenue. This profit from property invites another principle: pay for what you take. You want a monopoly, you want to keep everyone else from doing something you’ve already done, fine, that is your right. But at the same time, it is your duty to compensate those whom you exclude.

This principle means, rather than just pay a filing fee for a copyright, you pay what the protected material is worth to you. Would that turn off artists? No, the creative impulse can’t be stymied. Who it could deter is the corporation, trying to stockpile other people’s creations.

Paying what a claim is worth is a principle that has been used to settle land disputes. Claim some land (as now), but then pay its annual rental value to the community that respects your claim. Plus, your community is what gives your location value. Because the value of land deeds -- not to mention patents and copyrights -- is so immense, it could be used to fund the collection agency -- government -- or to fund a dividend to the citizenry, or both. It’s an idea that’s catching on.

In the beginning of the 20th century, Professor Alfred Marshall, and recently Dr Ronald Burgess, make a distinction between “private value” and “public value”. Private value is the product which is due to a producer’s own capital-outlay and work. Public value appears in the increased market-value of land, as when, say, a railway station or a harbor is constructed somewhere.

The differential market-values of all sites (as if without improvements, mines, plantations, or buildings upon them) increase with the development of infrastructure, with technological advance, with the appearance or betterment of public services, and other cultural manifestations. These public values are, claim Marshall, Burgess and some other economists, should be collected instead of the usual forms of tax on incomes, goods, and services. Any valuer or estate agent knows fairly well the market-value of any site as distinct from that of the building upon it.

The current system of taxation gradually taxes most of us into a subtle form of economic slavery. The proposed system does not tax income derived from private enterprise thus strangulating effort, industry, and initiative. This system is called collecting the public values (or taxation of land-values or, more commonly, LVT, that is Land-Value Taxation).

To see the whole article, click here .

JJS: While a building is yours exclusively, where you have to put it -- on land somewhere -- that’s not something you made and it is something everyone needs. Similarly, while a joke or song or movie can be yours exclusively, where you have to put it -- in the market -- is public space, something we all made and all need. Hence, to pay for taking up public space, and for prohibiting anyone else from taking the same creative direction you took, it seems fair (not to mention efficient) to pay more than a filing fee for a land title and for a copyright but instead to pay its “rental value”. Doing that is what would make one’s property proper.


Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics and helped prepare a course for the UN on geonomics. To take the “Land Rights” course, click here .

Also see:

The main bank cheated, the artists hit up kids, but ...

What are one-way public relationships?

Privatize values, Socialize costs

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