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Re: "My dad is a pirate."

From: Tim Smith
Subject: Re: "My dad is a pirate."
Date: Thu, 14 Feb 2008 18:30:41 -0800
User-agent: MT-NewsWatcher/3.5.3b2 (Intel Mac OS X)

In article <slrnfr9ftc.ei3.jedi@nomad.mishnet>,
 JEDIDIAH <jedi@nomad.mishnet> wrote:
> >
> > Are you playing word games because you don't have a real point to make?
> >
> No, he is making a genuine legal and economic distinction.

Sounds like he's nit picking language to me, for two or three reasons.

First, in ordinary English usage, people commonly use terms like theft, 
stealing, etc., to apply to situations beyond just taking of real 
property.  E.g., person X casually mentions an idea to coworker Y.  Y 
presents the idea to their boss, omitting to give X credit.  X is likely 
to say that Y "stole" his idea.  And how many times have Linux advocates 
said that Microsoft stole this or that from some free software project, 
or that Apple stole the GUI from Xerox?

If you are writing a brief, then yeah, you need to say "violated the 
exclusive right of distribution given to the copyright owner in 17 USC 
106".  But we aren't writing briefs here.

Second, copyright, and some other areas of Intellectual Property law 
*purposefully* give intangible property some aspects of real property.  
(That's why it is called intellectual *property* law, I suspect).  The 
economic justification for IP law is that intangible goods do not have 
the necessary properties to allow a free market to determine optimal 
production and consumption of them.  This is called a market failure. 
Since production and consumption of IP is considered to be a good thing, 
we want to fix this market failure.

There are basically two ways to do that.  One is to say "to hell with 
the market", and have someone decide what should be produced and how it 
should be made available for consumption.  This system has been used in 
the past and worked well in some cases.  E.g., in the Renaissance, you'd 
have the local lords or princes or whatever who would become patrons of 
artists and musicians.  Things have changed a bit since then, and that 
doesn't seem really practical now.  Not many people want the government 
deciding what musicians get funded!

The other way to fix the market failure is to artificially (e.g., by 
law) give art and music the same attributes that real property has, so 
that the free market can better handle it.

If you do that, the free market can then decide which musicians get 
funded.  There is a downside, however.  The price of music is higher 
under this system than it *should* be from an economics point of view.  
Economically, the cost is supposed to be close to the marginal cost of 
production, which is almost zero.  So, you get underconsumption.

(A hybrid approach has also been suggested.  The government maintains a 
fund for musicians, and people are allowed to freely copy music.  The 
government keeps track of what music people are consuming, and uses that 
to pay musicians out of the fund.  Consumers then get their music at the 
economically correct price (free), but musicians get paid according to 
what the public wants, so it is the market, not the government, that 
determines what gets made.  The big problem with this approach is 
deciding where that fund comes from.  The most common suggestion is a 
tax on something that correlates reasonably with music consumption, like 
blank media, or MP3 players, or speakers.  The hybrid approach is, I 
think, all things considered, the most sensible approach for music).

Anyway, since copyright law is *designed* to make copies of music act 
somewhat like real property, I don't see anything wrong in casual 
conversation with using terms related to real property when discussing 
artificially real property like copies of music.

--Tim Smith

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