In their paper Money Ruins Everything, Australian law professor Dan Hunter and economist John Quiggin (right) argue that open source and Internet creativity mandate changes in copyright law, which now favor industries whose costs have disappeared.
"If copyright industries were, as once was the case, the only path for content to move from the author to the public, then it would be a terrible thing if these industries died," they write. But these industries "are no longer the only game in town."
Thus their conclusion:
The ever-insistent calls to criminalize copyright infringement or to impose greater controls on content, must therefore be assessed against the effect on the amateur sphere, which is emerging as a relevant alternative to the commercial sphere.
It's not money that's the problem, in other words, it's monopoly. Giving distributors a monopoly on ideas when distribution is free no longer makes sense.
(The picture of Dan Hunter to the left is from New York Law School, where he is listed as a visiting professor.)
The two authors also make a nationalistic argument. Small countries can't compete with Hollywood. Copyright law is a subsidy to Hollywood. Why subsidize the competition now that real competition is possible?
I've been covering this "copyright war" for over a decade, since before such laws as the DMCA were passed. Identifying copyright and patent rights as "monopolies," as was done during the original debates over the U.S. Constitution, has always made sense to me.
What Quiggin and Hunter contribute, in my view, is an understanding of why these monopolies have existed, namely for manufacturing and distribution, and why they are obsolete, because so many of these costs have disappeared.
These monopolies were originally created, however, to protect the individual inventor or author from manufacturers or printers who might use his or her creation without payment. They became corporate rights only in the 20th century, and any reform regime should recognize this fact.
As I've noted here many times, this is how America in fact acted for nearly a century. And how developing countries like China and India act today. They ignore the corporate right and, in so doing, dismiss the individual right as well.
The purpose of copyright and patent rights is not the permanent enrichment of authors, inventors, and their descendents or assigned corporate parents. It is to provide an incentive for the creation and distribution of new work.
It is past time our laws were reformed to reflect this economic reality.