Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate


Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

Copyright Notice: We don't think much of copyright, so you can do what you want with the content on this blog. Of course we are hungry for publicity, so we would be pleased if you avoided plagiarism and gave us credit for what we have written. We encourage you not to impose copyright restrictions on your "derivative" works, but we won't try to stop you. For the legally or statist minded, you can consider yourself subject to a Creative Commons Attribution License.

current posts | more recent posts | earlier posts

Traditional peer review in science faces challenges

Thomas Lin writes at length about the scientific process, peer review of results, and publication of scientific papers link here.

The concern remains that the results of research financed by the public's taxes are not available free. The science establishment turns out of be conservative, however, and is sticking to the tradition of time consuming peer review and publication in the established journals. The results are still appropriated by the journals and published at great expense but considerable profit and public access is correspondingly limited.

Still, some signs of progress are reported as taking advantage of technological changes, most importantly in the growth of the internet and the emergence of the “open web”. Open access sites include the Public Library of Science (PloS), GalaxyZoo, ResearchGate, arXiv, and ScienceOnline.

Tne traditional journals have seemingly struck back, supporting the Research Works Act now in Congress which would protect the traditional publishers through restricting access to papers and data.

Lin, however, seems convinced that the times are a changing and that access will be more open, costs reduced, the scientific process speeded up, and advantage taken of the technological changes in communication.

HR 3699

Kudos to Kevin Zelnio, who shoots down the self-serving rationales behind the so-called Research Works Act recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Darrell Issa and Carolyn Maloney. This piece of legislation would reverse the National Institute of Health's open access policy, which requires that all tax-payer funded research be available to the public for free. Kevin's piece appears in Scientific American's blog, and is well worth the read.

Copying the copyrighted is okay if it transforms: What's that?

Writing in the New York Times, Randy Kennedy reports on a court decision that would make it illegal to use most work of others still under copyright as the basis for new works which "transform" the original link here.

"The decision, by Judge Deborah A. Batts, set off alarm bells throughout Chelsea and in museums across America that show contemporary art. At the heart of the case, which Mr. Prince is now appealing, is the principle called fair use, a kind of door in the bulwark of copyright protections. It gives artists (or anyone for that matter) the ability to use someone else's material for certain purposes, especially if the result transforms the thing used or as Judge Pierre N. Leval described it in an influential 1990 law review article, if the new thing "adds value to the original" so that society as a whole is culturally enriched by it. In the most famous test of the principle, the Supreme Court in 1994 found a possibility of fair use by the group 2 Live Crew in its sampling of parts of Roy Orbison's "Oh Pretty Woman" for the sake of one form of added value, parody."

There is lots more in the article about what is allowable as being legally transformative. The line between what is not allowed will remain in dispute until copyright is once again shortened to a reasonable period. I would argue that anything more that 10 years is excessive because the present discounted value of the income stream arising therefrom approaches zero and no longer constitutes an incentive to create as required by the constitution for copyright.

A more nuanced view of copyright and enforcement

Matt Yglesias had two good blog posts on copyright yesterday, making a quite telling argument I had not seen before. The first post looks at the nature of "theft" implied by the use of the term piracy link here. He basically argues that it is not the usual form in which I deprive you of your property when I take an object and that therefore we can be much more relaxed about it.

The second looks at who benefits from copyright protection for things on the internet and whether it makes much difference in the incentive to create link here. Most violations occur on the internet where the returns to the creator for the high earning books and movies have become enormous; that constitutes, if anything, an incentive to produce less.

In short, why should public moneys be spent to guarantee ever higher, not to say exorbitant, returns to copyright owners? This is not the sort of argument lawyers will find attractive, but why trust their judgement since they are big gainers from enforcing prosecution. Better not to have the public pay for enforcement and make the lawyers earn their generous take.

The Times proposes copyright sanity

The New York Times has picked up on the recent proposal by the Administration to modify copyright law by invoking a new international agreement (ACTA) which would give US copyright protection previously given copyright protection under foreign law link here. These were in the U S public domain in the past but now they would be recognized as copyrighted. The Times opposes this.

The operative paragraphs read:

"As the petitioners said in their brief , "no treaty can authorize the government to do what the Constitution otherwise prohibits." Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. put it this way during argument: "One day I can perform Shostakovich; Congress does something, the next day I can't. Doesn't that present a serious First Amendment problem?"

"Copyright gives writers and others the incentive to create by giving them exclusive right to their work. But Congress's power to grant copyright is limited in time and scope so that works can move into the public domain, where they become an essential part of our culture. The government must find other ways to comply with the trade treaty without curbing free expression."

Copyright sanity is finally getting some well warranted coverage and rational support from responsible journals.

Copyright discourages innovation, the more the worse

Matt Yglesias has a nice blog piece on the cost of extending copyrights, adding a wrinkle of his own link here.

He writes in response to PETER DECHENEY's piece which provides details on US trade agreements and legislation that extend copyright to foreign copyrighted works that had not previously been covered as they were in the public domain and the period of copyright by another 20 years link here. Yglesias point was a simple one: that so much of what is produced in the arts is derivative (i.e., it has a hard time being anything else), covering more and more works with copyright greatly complicates and raises the cost of producing new works you have to get "rights" or permission at cost in both time and money.

Validation for his point can be found in the many works that have not been produced like plays as the cost of getting the rights proved impossible to cover.

A day later, Robert Barnes goes into the same subject link here. And with lots of examples of the rise in the cost of producing or performing such derivative works. "Orchestras used to be able [to buy the score to] the Prokofiev symphony for $100, he said, and play it until the sheet music was worn out. Now it must be rented, at a cost of several hundred dollars for each performance.

Thus, copyright meant to encourage innovation does exactly the opposite.

Tattoo Artist Claims Copyright Over Mike Tyson's Tattoo - Sues Warner Bros.

Via CourthouseNews.com:

ST. LOUIS (CN) - The tattoo artist who did Mike Tyson's face claims Warner Bros. "pirated" his work to advertise its movie, "The Hangover 2." S. Victor Whitmill wants a federal judge to bar Warner Bros. from using the tattoo in its promotions, and damages for copyright infringement. Whitmill says he created and applied the tattoo to the upper left side of Tyson's face on Feb. 10, 2003. Whitmill says the boxer signed a release stating that Whitmill was the owner of the tattoo's design, and says he registered a copyright of the design. Whitmill claims Warner Bros. used an exact replica of his work, without permission, to promote "The Hangover 2" this spring.

Read the whole thing here:


Read the court complaint (in PDF format) here:


Another near-death experience for the International Music Score Library Project

IMSLP.org holds an extensive collection of public domain musical scores and is reputed to be the largest such collection world-wide. Established in Canada in 2006 by a music college student, and developed entirely by volunteers, the attention to copyright law was scrupulously maintained. Yet the site went offline in 2007 at the insistence of a European music publisher. The complaint was that while some scores may be public domain material in Canada, this may not be the case in Europe. As the BBC noted then, this raised the question of whether the public domain can only exist in an offline form. The site returned a year later and continues to thrive, despite some mistaken press on the part of the New York Times.

However, two days ago, the U.K. Music Publishers Association succeeded in blocking access to the site, via a notice-and-takedown complaint to Go-Daddy (the register of the IMSLP domain name). Go-Daddy immediately froze the domain name. Yet there was no legitimacy to the complaint; at issue was the status of The Bells, by Rachmaninoff. This composition is not only public domain material in Canada but also in the United States. IMSLP posted a detailed response here and filed a counter claim.

Go-Daddy has reversed the action, but this is a sad reminder of the ills of the notice-and-takedown regime. Due process is not the first step, it is the last.

Mimi and Eunice hit back

Nina Paley blogs here She posts this on her cartoon site: "Copying is an act of love. Please copy & share."

"The Economist" looks at the movie business and comes up short

The Economist takes a look at the movie business and calls it ailing link here. It sketches out the trends and competition-induced changes from the rise of new technologies and the responses of consumers. Consumption has gone from movie houses to homes, from tape to DVDs to Blu-ray, from sales to rentals, from video stores to kiosks like RedBox and now to streaming on line. One gets the impression that this is a vibrant industry with lots of innovation but the industry sees its revenues declining and profits under pressure. Competition has kept the adoption of new technology rapid despite attempts to suppress it.

The article fails, however, to mention the fact of copyright and the long and stringent monopoly it provides, far in excess of the minimum to induce investment or innovation. That is evident by the rush to reduce prices and expand the services. Nor does the author address how the creator of these stories and films gets a very small part of the total revenue generated by the industry. I almost forgot the lawyers and litigation as a significant barrier to competition and maintaining prices higher than they would otherwise be.

It is difficult to imagine what the industry would be like without copyright. Even more innovation and lower prices? In reaching a conclusion, it is hard not to conclude that the consumer would not be still better off; he pays for all of this, in the form of high theater prices, and expensive media sales and rentals. This could not occur without copyright.

current posts | more recent posts | earlier posts


Most Recent Comments

James Boyle's new book with his congenial IP views free to download

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

Copyright batte over 'unauthorized' Catcher in the Rye commentary 1