Tuesday, March 09, 2004


Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution asks for economic reasons against protecting folklore with copyright laws. Countries such as Ghana are attempting to protect their folklore in this manner in order to have the right to royalties when this "property" is used by rich companies (think Disney) from other countries to create commercially sucessful products.

I'll bite: creating this property right won't increase the quantity of folklore created (it was created long ago and not because there's money to be made in that line of work) but will decrease the quantity of products that are derived from the folklore (because creators of these derivative works will have to pay tribute for using the underlying work). Of course requiring tribute woudn't eliminate derivative works, but there will be fewer of them created than if tribute weren't required.

The whole struggle in copyright law is to try to balance incentives to creators so as to maximize the public benefit. There's value in both the first work and the second. The creator of the first work gets the right to dictate how and whether the work is used, but not indefinitely, so as not to exclude or lessen the possibility of the second work ever being created.

(Copyright law is a huge and daunting subject not well suited for my preference for bite size blog posts, but I had to give it a try. My apologies for failing.)

To dig the hole a little further, I'm with Larry Lessig in being very suspicious of the economic benefits of increasing intellectual property rights. I'm interested in what the blogging phenomenon, with its plethora of high-quality and thought-provoking writing apparently created with little hope of recompense, says about where copyright incentives ought to be placed.

I also have to admit I'm a little tickled at the idea that Disney, who was instrumental in lobbying for the recent increase in how long copyrights last, could find itself on the other side of the copyright calculus.


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