Friday, 17 August 2007

Copyright and a bounty hunter metaphor

My own ideas on copyright law and intellectual works rights have been challenged by an essay (or, rather, a short book) at It explains copyright law and the surrounding history in terms of a wild west bounty hunter metaphor. The key concept to get out of my head is that copyright and patent law exist to reward the labour of producing intellectual works. The works so produced do not amount to a physical product, but are to be treated as such for the purposes of rewarding the creators, and that only for a limited time. The reason we do it that way is because it's easier than deciding to pay an author in advance for a book that might turn out to be rubbish. If authors were salary workers, there wouldn't be any intellectual property law.

These laws exist as a way of smoothing out a quality curve in supply and demand. All artistic works are not made equal, and those that are more worthy are to be rewarded more. The way we decide what is worthy is by deferring payment until the work is complete and letting the market sort it out. In order to do that, though, we need to have something to sell, and that is the reproduction rights to the work in question. That creates an easy misconception in some authors that the works they create are physical things.

Intellectual works are treated as physical things to reward the labour of producing them. If you've waited 42 years and not heard peep about your magnum opus, chances are good that you should have become a doctor like mother wanted. If you spend two years writing a mediocre book and over the next 42 years you make enough to pay back what you lived on during those two years, you've broken even, although it did take you 42 years to do so. If you spend two years writing a book and start making back enough to pay for a comfortable life, chances are that you'd want to protect that income stream rather than work some more. That's where the problem lies: laziness and greed.

Good authors should be rewarded. Mediocre authors should be rewarded too, but not as much.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - Bad authors need not be actively punished.
PPS - The market will do so passively for us.


littlemissrandom said...

I don't know ... there's a few authors out there that a bit of wiffle-batting would sort right out...

John said...

Well, yes, there are a few misguided authors out there who won't accept that the world doesn't want what they're writing. But that's okay as long as we can continue ignoring them.

littlemissrandom said...

But surely some ... active disuasion *eyebrow raising* can't hurt?

John said...

I dunno. It sounds to me like you want to hurt them to actively dissuade them... ;)