Copyright Protection - Who Does It Help?

Great piece by Ezra Klein on the fashion industry and the cost/benefit of extending copyright protections (link).  Here is a quote that captures the nub of the issue:

And companies love copyright. They love it so much they persuaded Congress to pass the Sonny Bono Act, which extended individual copyright protections to the life of the author, plus another 70 years; and corporate copyrights to 120 years from creation, or 95 years from publication, whichever is earlier. That’s an absurdly long time, and it belies the original point of patents: does anyone seriously believe that a 40-year-old with a money-making idea is going to hold back because someone can mimic it 20 years after he dies?

At a certain point, copyrights stop protecting innovation and begin protecting profits. They scare off future inventors who want to take a 60-year-old idea and use it as the foundation to build something new and interesting. That’s the difficulty of copyrights, patents, and other forms of intellectual protection. Too little, and the first innovation won’t happen. Too much, and the second innovation—the one relying on the first—will be stanched.

Which is why we have to be careful when one industry or another demands more copyright protection for itself. “Intellectual property is legalized monopoly,” says James Boyle, a professor at Duke Law School. “And like any monopoly, its tendency is to raise prices and diminish availability. We should have a high burden of proof for whether it’s necessary."

I'm going to add one more concept in here.  Monopolies are really just a way to collect rents.  Effectively, you don't have to do anything of value other than allow the use of your property in order to collect income.  The hard part is protecting that monopoly.  And the way to do that is politically.  You need to get some lawmakers on your side and you're off and running.  Is it any wonder that the copyright protections in this country are absurdly long, far longer than what would be required for to encourage content production?  The politicians running for office have a friend in the content owners who are seeking rents from their monopoly.  Disney is not #70 on the highest all-time 1989-2010 donor list (link) for fun.  They are protecting their rent.  Here's a link with more on rent seeking and its consequences.

If it was up to me, I'd reduce the protection significantly.  Life of author, plus seventy years goes from rent collection, to theft from society.

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