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Harvard Study Says Weak Copyright Benefits Society 326

Posted by samzenpus
from the free-is-good dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Michael Geist summarizes an important new study on file sharing from economists Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman Strumpf. The Harvard Business School working paper finds that given the increase in artistic production along with the greater public access conclude that 'weaker copyright protection, it seems, has benefited society.' The authors point out that file sharing may not result in reduced incentives to create if the willingness to pay for 'complements' such as concerts or author speaking tours increases."
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Harvard Study Says Weak Copyright Benefits Society

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  • Pointless (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Razalhague (1497249) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @05:03AM (#28371169) Homepage
    These kind of studies are largely pointless. We already know this, and the media industry will not believe it regardless of how many studies come to this conclusion.
  • Media Frenzy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Techmeology (1426095) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @05:06AM (#28371189) Homepage
    Now, where's a media frenzy when you need one? Anyone on here work for a major news corporation?
  • So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrEricSir (398214) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @05:09AM (#28371203) Homepage

    The media industry is not society. Why would they care if society benefits if their bottom line does not also benefit?

  • Re:Pointless (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @05:10AM (#28371209) Homepage

    the media industry will not believe it

    Indeed, since the media "industry" - the guys that buy the lawyers and Senators - have no interest in "creating" anything. Their job is to exploit other peoples' creations. Whether the creators get rewarded or not is utterly irrelevant to them.

  • in today's America (Score:5, Insightful)

    by joeyspqr (629639) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @05:11AM (#28371223)
    laws are not passed to benefit society, laws are bought to protect business models.
  • Re:Err.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Daimanta (1140543) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @05:29AM (#28371325) Journal

    The same question would be: What if you are a painter and you paint only for a niche of the market? You make less money. But if you love the art, that's where your hart lies and that's what will make you happy.

    Sure, you can go commercial and make more money, but that would probably negatively affect your happiness so you will have to choose and possible compromise.

  • Re:Err.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by richie2000 (159732) <> on Thursday June 18, 2009 @05:31AM (#28371337) Homepage Journal

    They can still do that.

    I swear to God, sometimes it's like people equate "loss of some monopoly privileges" with "absolutely forbidden to sell a disc ever again".

    Yes, some people will download instead of buying the CD or paying for it on iTunes. Others will find the artist through file-sharing sites and buy something to either support the artist, own the physical CD or just to feel good inside. On the whole, these effects evens out pretty well, except for the minority of really big artists who lose a bit of income and the majority of really small artists who gain from being more exposed. This is, generally speaking, a good thing since the incomes in the copyright industry is very uneven compared to other industries.

  • Re:Err.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by polar red (215081) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @05:38AM (#28371385)

    are you sure? []

  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Daengbo (523424) <> on Thursday June 18, 2009 @05:39AM (#28371387) Homepage Journal

    I read the first ten or so pages of the PDF before posting, and the intended audience was obviously not the media companies. I would guess that that audience would be law makers. The paper clearly states that social welfare for artists is not the intended consequence of copyrights, but that encouraging production is.

    I found most of the arguments in the front section (which were probably more general and less supported than ones later in the paper) to be logical and well-reasoned, except for the part about authors generating income through speaking tours, which I doubt would be effective for any but the most famous.

    I'll definitely read the rest of the paper this weekend.

  • Re:Err.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Daengbo (523424) <> on Thursday June 18, 2009 @05:50AM (#28371455) Homepage Journal

    You obviously don't know any true artists. They produce whether anyone is buying their stuff or not. The ones that desire admiration do it in public. Most, however, would be just as happy trying to create the perfect piece and put it in a box which would only be discovered after the artist's death. Money has no meaning except to pay for the materials needed to produce the art, and food, shelter and drugs if there's enough money left after the art.

    Look into history to find examples. You could, I guess, just find the musicians living out of their cars but which haven't pawned their guitars.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 18, 2009 @06:00AM (#28371483)

    Copyright was invented to allow creators to get an income from their creations before the creations are released to the public domain. The state should have stood firm in keeping the copyright protection short. However they didn't, but instead succumbed to the "industry" interests. This resulted to turning every creation in a cash-cow with no expiry date, which obviously hinders innovation and creation: there is little incentive to create a second good work since the first one you created will provide you and your descendants with a steady flow of cash for the next 200 years.

    I understand that the above is a bit simplified because it omits the role of the "industry" in the flow of cash. The "industry" pimps will absorb much of the cash intended for the creator (after all, they forced him to sell them for pennies the copyright of his work). This will keep the creator going because he doesn't really earn that much to retire. But it will also degrade his output because he knows that even if he does really-really good with his next creation, it is the "industry" pimps that will get the most out of his work.

    Still quite simplified, but I think you get my point: You can't grant quasi-perpetual copyright protection (google "The Mickey Mouse Protection Act") and still expect the same amount of innovative creations.

  • Flawed logic (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gnupun (752725) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @06:04AM (#28371499)
    The study says "Piracy (filesharing) was the driving force behind increased creative output" -- more movies, songs etc., which is complete nonsense. The real reason is the cost of producing and distributing art has dropped due to new software for creating the art and using the web for distribution.

    The study encourages artists to use complements -- "speaking tours, concerts, t-shirts etc." to make income. Well, that only works for famous, top 5% artists. What about the remaining 95%? They are not famous enough to make any income from such "complements."
  • Re:Err.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gnupun (752725) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @06:19AM (#28371555)
    Mozart, Beethoven, Picasso all died more or less penniless, while the business-savvy people who owned their works made a fortune. It's true most artists create stuff for the sake of creating it. But good artists have very poor business sense, which means they will get taken advantage of by the business people. The situation has become so terrible that the creator of many copyrighted works has no right over his/her own work, and will not gain royalty, nor credit -- especially computer programmers.

    In the end, it all boils down to fairness -- does the consuming public, government, and business want to reward artists fairly, with money. Or just be a cunning shylock and pay them with only words and superficial admiration. Lack of financial rewards will force the artists to work second jobs, and most of them are quite poor at any job other than their art. Just because you can take advantage of someone doesn't mean you should.
  • Re:Flawed logic (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @06:25AM (#28371585)

    They are not famous enough to make any income from such "complements."

    Why is that my problem?

    If 95% of [insert poor helpless group] can't make any income from [insert some lifestyle choice they want] it is not society's problems. Its theirs. If they can't make it as an artist then don't quit your day job.

  • by siddesu (698447) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @06:33AM (#28371633)

    Nope, it is not a differing view on "society", but rather a differing view on "good".

    For the society outside of the corporations, "good" is, generally, more creativity, i.e. less copyright. Less copyright means less monopoly, and less monopoly provides generally a better allocation of the resources of society. Of course, it'll make those lawyers, who want to succeed in the creative business work harder, but ain't that the American way anyway? Incidentally, this freedom may make people who invest in art more focused on the art itself as opposed to taking the easy way out -- owning copyrights and doing a failed remake after remake.

    For the corporations, "good" is exactly the opposite. A corporation doesn't give a damn about what is good for society, as long as it benefits the corporate bottom line. Monopoly is the best way to insure a bottom line, especially in the view of the corporate owners (see, e.g. concepts like "economic moat"). So, a corporation will allocate resources not for new art, but for protection of lucrative copyrights, and for politics. Neither of which is good for art, or society.

    If you take a look, you'll see that's exactly what's been happening in the decades since the ifpies and the wipos of the world came about.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 18, 2009 @06:37AM (#28371665)

    The authors fail to take into account that the displacement rate would very easily be affected by the ease of filesharing which is a function of its legality. They treat the displacement rate as fixed.

    At the present, there are many instances where individuals buy instead of download. For simplicity, this can be separated into three groups: 1) People who could very easily have downloaded (they have a fast internet connection, the required software and the knowledge how to) yet still choose to buy, 2) People who could not easily have downloaded for physical reasons (e.g. lack of speedy internet connection), 3) People who could not have downloaded for reasons of mental blocks, for example, lack of understanding of how to apply cracks, or worry over being caught.

    If downloading is make legal, there is likely to be an explosion of technologies to enable filesharing and make it even easier for group 1, and remove all barriers for group 3. Group 2 should dwindle over time in line with the spread of fast broadband. Off the top of my head you would be highly likely to see a couple of NEW technologies;

    1) a cell phone app that lets you take a picture of the front of a DVD cover, and automatically schedule its downloading to your computer.
    2) a program that shows you the release dates of software or music ahead for the next year, letting you one-click the automatic scheduling for whenever it's available up to six months ahead.

    each of these could have a very significant impact on the displacement rate itself. If no. 1 was available, I can honestly say that I would never buy a DVD again unless I was swimming in cash and feeling extremely lazy. If you treat the displacement rate as NOT being a function of ease which is partly a function of the legality of filesharing, you're an idiot.

  • Re:So what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gaspyy (514539) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @06:47AM (#28371711)

    Years ago we've done some work for a record label to promote an artist. When the job was over, we received a few "special" complimentary CDs - a lot better packaging, hand-signed, lots of extras. It was really nice and it succeeded in making us feel, well, special. It was probably a short-run that was given to press and so on as part of the promotion.

    So they CAN do it. If, instead of a cheap plastic holder and some paper they'd add something of value, people would have an extra incentive to buy the CD as opposed to download the mp3 (legally or not).

  • Re:Err.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 4D6963 (933028) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @06:52AM (#28371745)
    Sorry but I really don't get your point. What does getting a cut on albums actually sold have anything to do with "being lazy and wanting to get money for free"?
  • Re:Err.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Yvanhoe (564877) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @07:25AM (#28371925) Journal

    What the hell does it have to do with anything? I'm talking about artists getting a cut of the money on albums they sell. If the market will buy, it means you created value, value which you should get.

    But if the market won't buy, what does it mean ? That you didn't create value or that someone steals from you ?

    Bullshit. If you knew anything about classical music...

    I'm talking about the 1900' before the record industry went up. But yes if we go further back in time, we find composers (not musicians, musicians just had a regular salary when part of an orchestra or were itinerant artists if not) that are paid for commissioned work. A model that worked well enough to provide us with Mozart's and Bach's music. Why could this model not be used today ? Instead of some rich aristocrat, you would have donation from thousands or millions of people asking for new songs, et voila...

  • Re:Pointless (Score:2, Insightful)

    by rundgren (550942) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @07:29AM (#28371943) Homepage

    These kind of studies are largely pointless. We already know this, and the media industry will not believe it regardless of how many studies come to this conclusion.

    You're right, but the important part is convincing society in general, and of course politicans. And at least some of them _do_ listen to/read academic papers.

  • Get a job. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by remmelt (837671) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @07:31AM (#28371959) Homepage

    Get a job like the rest of us? You can't just label yourself an artist and go around whining about loss of income if you don't want to go the extra mile. I'm terribly sorry for people's overly romantic view of stardom, but it just sucks, especially if you're not a star (yet).

    By the way, pretty much any artist has a side job. In my experience, the more serious the job is, the less serious the artist is about being an artist and vice versa. There is only a very limited subset of artists that can make a living from their art.

  • by EEDAm (808004) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @07:38AM (#28371997)
    It is truly crippling to see the mental fails that keep being propogated by the press and even supposedly academia here. "Piracy (filesharing) was the driving force behind increased creative output". It's simply not true that one caused the other. There isn't an artist or an amorphous group of artists who are outputting more per artist because they are thinking ex-ante "shit I'm going to get paid less than I used to so I better produce more". That might work for widgets and industry but for artistic output? Total rubbish. I'm not entering into the debate about the pros and cons of filesharing by the way but this sort of causative fail is just depressing and so utterly prevalent.
  • by jedidiah (1196) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @07:43AM (#28372021) Homepage

    Lets see...

          70 year copyright terms that continue to be perpetually extended.
          150K per song statutory damages for individuals.
          Tools that allow you to put your own DVD on your own iPod are illegal.

  • Re:Flawed logic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jesus_666 (702802) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @07:50AM (#28372065)
    No, they need to be paid in a different way. Selling copies of something that can be copied at zero cost is not a maintainable business because everyone can make those copies. You can't magically make that go away.

    So the artists need to find a way to get paid in some other way. Most smaller bands don't make any appreciable money fom record sales anyway (if they even produce recordings of their shows) but work on a per-gig basis: You hire them, they play at your venue. So bigger bands have to do this as well, only they call it a tour. Or you produce stuff of intrinsic value and sell that - for example by bundling your CDs with something physical your fans are going to like. Or even auctioning off the gold master of your studio album if you're big enough. Or just by selling your music on vinyl.

    The problem bands face is that the current distribution model has become obsolete. Extending copyright is not going to change that, especially as the labels now have the copyright for longer than the artist lives, so they'll keep profiting off his work when he won't be able to benefit from that profit (leaving aside that the artist only sees a small fraction of what the label makes).
  • Re:Err.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Daengbo (523424) <> on Thursday June 18, 2009 @08:27AM (#28372331) Homepage Journal

    Copyright in the U.S. was not created as a social welfare device, but as an incentive to create. The question this research paper raises is whether strong copyright actually creates that incentive or not.

    You keep calling other people dense, but I think it's you that doesn't get the argument that's occurring.

  • Re:So what? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by loufoque (1400831) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @08:35AM (#28372399)

    People aren't going to pay to go see a band they've never heard of either.

    Unknown bands go to festivals to become more known, and people go to festivals to see the known bands and also take a look a other stuff while they're at it.
    It's the same for other kinds of artists, except conventions or the like replace festivals.

  • Re:Err.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sorak (246725) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @08:43AM (#28372461)

    The same question would be: What if you are a painter and you paint only for a niche of the market? You make less money. But if you love the art, that's where your hart lies and that's what will make you happy.

    Sure, you can go commercial and make more money, but that would probably negatively affect your happiness so you will have to choose and possible compromise.

    Well said. I was going to say something along the lines of:

    What if you're a food critic. You love traveling to exotic locations and sampling new food items for free, but you don't like having to write about it later. How do we, as a society, make your wishes profitable?

  • Re:So what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mcgrew (92797) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @08:48AM (#28372493) Homepage Journal

    Their bottom line DOES benefit. Their problem is that their indie competetion, who don't have radio and empty-v, also benefit. The mainstream recording industry doesn't want to keep Metallica out of your ears, they want to keep indie music out of your ears.

  • Re:Pointless (Score:5, Insightful)

    by erroneus (253617) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @08:59AM (#28372611) Homepage

    The media industry DOES believe it. In fact they have known it for a long time. This is easily demonstrable in that people listen to their radios and then turn around and go to concerts and other things. Radio play does not necessarily equate to CD sales unless the buyer is more or less a fan. On the radio the music is already effectively free. (Yes I know it is paid for by advertising and that the radio stations pay the music publishers for the right to play. But to the listener, it's free.)

    The music publishers only have music to publish. That's what they sell. They don't do concerts. They might have the rights to sell t-shirts and other things as well, but their primary income is selling music. If the study says free music is better for society, they already know that. If the study says free music is better for artists, they already know that. The study effectively says that the music publishers are bad for society and are holding everyone back with their business model. Do you expect them to care? I don't.

    This study is for legislators to listen to, not "the enemy."

  • Re:Err.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 4D6963 (933028) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @09:02AM (#28372657)

    Copyright in the U.S. was not created as a social welfare device, but as an incentive to create. The question this research paper raises is whether strong copyright actually creates that incentive or not.

    You keep calling other people dense, but I think it's you that doesn't get the argument that's occurring.

    At last a comment that makes a bit of sense. You're right about copyright, its use is questionable. The problem with other people's comment that I deemed 'dense' was that they said artists shouldn't get a dime for their studio work. The problem at hand is copyright, not the actual sale of albums. Even without copyright you can sell albums. In that sense, the comments in question are indeed quite retarded.

  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Joce640k (829181) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @09:37AM (#28373037) Homepage
    Whatever the reason ... the games industry is MAKING MONEY. So is the DVD industry, the movie industry, the cellphone/ringtone industry, etc., etc..

    The RIAA isn't making money because it's stuck in a rut with a 1990's business model. A big reason that people pirate music is because the RIAA isn't giving them what they want and the P2P networks are. What most people want is that song they heard on the radio in a format that works on their MP3 player (and no trip to the shops to get it). Apple is doing Ok with their iTunes store because they're doing this (though it's still a bit heavy handed with the DRM - I want files I can put on a USB stick and plug it into my car/HiFI).

    The CD sales model? Not so much. The only people I know who still buy CDs are the ones who aren't handy with a PC. This is doomed business model. Period.

    I don't care if the RIAA dies but I do care about all the laws they're buying that are rushed and later get misused (eg. DMCA).
  • Re:Err.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vivaelamor (1418031) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @10:23AM (#28373715)
    His point is if no one is giving you money for making albums then there isn't a market for the albums. Forcing people to give you money for the privilege of using what they already have access to isn't an economic business model, it is money for menaces.
  • by vivaelamor (1418031) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @11:04AM (#28374267)

    'Armchair Pirates' (lol) don't force anyone to give anything for free. They redistribute for free what they already have access to, if I was an artist I would say they would be doing me a favour by distributing my work for me. If you mean forcing people to give away for free by undermining copyright.. how is not asking for money worse than forcing people to give you money?

    Basically you decide arbitrarily that studio recorded music should be free, and therefore as a sort of feedback loop that makes it inherently unworthy of any money. You can't just say "this should be free, make it free" for something that's not free and that the market validated as something you can ask money for.

    Firstly, information is already free. The law might want to change the way reality works but you're not going to win an argument by saying 'it's true because it's written down', even religions have gotten over that notion. What copyright puts a price on is your liberty, not the information it purports to protect. Even taxes have to benefit those who pay them in some way, copyright does nothing of the sort.

    Oh, Market Validated. Now I see how I've been wrong.. because people have been paying for it they should be forced to pay for it! Uh, wait, lets think about what market means for a start. Markets are about exchange of goods. If I get given a copy of a song by someone then that is an exchange between me and them not me and the artist. If there are infinite goods available for exchange for free then the market value is zero. That doesn't stop you charging for it but people who buy it aren't paying the market value of the song.

    Most Slashdotters are libertarians, but when it comes to stuff you want for free you all turn to commies.

    Damn, now I know why you got modded troll.. although flamebait would have been more accurate. Maybe you should look up what libertarian and communism mean and realise that libertarian ideals are kinda the anti-hero of copyright. I'm not even sure how you think communism is relevant to anything in this thread at all.

  • Equally Pointless (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Main Gauche (881147) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @11:32AM (#28374675)

    These kind of studies are largely pointless. We already know this, and the media industry will not believe it regardless of how many studies come to this conclusion.

    It is equally pointless to post a summary of this economic paper to slashdot. Everyone here "already knows" the answers.

    Let me explain what it means when an economist says "society benefits". (By the way, I am one.) If a policy change causes Person A to lose $1 and Person B to gain $2, then "society benefits". If a policy change causes Persons A and B and C each to lose $1,000, but Person D gains $5,000, then "society benefits".

    If you RTFpdf, you'll notice one argument they make: While file sharing may have caused the music industry (including artists) to lose money, sales of MP3 players skyrocketed! Therefore, it is plausible that "society benefited."

    Now, see why it's not so simple? We may prefer artists to get $1, rather than Apple and Sandisk to get $2.

    It gets even worse. The main argument of the paper is on page 6:

    Three conditions need to hold for [file sharing] to undermine the
    incentives for artistic production: [1] original works and copies on file-sharing networks
    must be reasonably close substitutes; [2] artists and the entertainment industry must not be
    able to shift from previous sources of income to the (similarly profitable) sale of
    complements; and [3] falling incomes must be an important-enough motivator for artists to
    reduce production. Only if all three conditions hold will file sharing hurt social welfare.

    Translation: Social welfare goes down if:
    [1] the mp3's you share are just as good as the one's you'd rip yourself.
    [2] the extra concert/tshirt revenues you make are less than the revenue lost to file sharing.
    [3] Some artists would have to quit the business if their pay goes down.

    [1] and [3] are laughably true. One could debate whether [2] is true, but certainly there are artists who make good music, but would not survive when the music execs tell them they have to bring in more revenue from concerts.

  • by vivaelamor (1418031) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @01:44PM (#28376705)

    That's completely off topic. You're extrapolating on the situation of the analogy used to make a point that has little connection with the subject the analogy was used for. But sure, why not.

    What was off topic?

    So you have that car duplicator thing, and you don't want to pay the license I talked about to GM for duplicating their cars, am I right? So what's the incentive for GM to innovate anything if they're not gonna get any money for it? It pains me to even have to explain it (seriously, more people should read about Adam Smith, it's getting old always explaining why corporations do the things they do), but GM doesn't care about eco-friendly cars, or safer cars, it only cares about money. So where's the incentive if you don't pay GM something for their new cars? (Also, what's wrong with my license idea? Please address that).

    The incentive is that their old business model doesn't work and they need a new one, they can always move to a different industry if they don't want to design cars. You still haven't explained why people won't pay them to design new cars if they want new car designs. If there is a market for it then people will pay for it, if there isn't then they won't. Not paying for something is only a problem if you made an exchange, if you copied their car design you have not made an exchange and therefore they are not damaged by your lack of patronage. If you told them you were going to pay them for a design and then didn't then that would be a problem as they have exchanged their time and effort for your promise of payment.

    lol.. what? Are you trying to say that car makers should be publicly funded either through charity, or be entirely nationalised, paid for by tax payers money and told what to do by the government? Let me guess, would you use 5-year plans like communists do?

    I'm saying that where people don't find a business model there is still money if there is a demand. If you insist on a business example then just look at building architects. The burden for funding is between those who want to invest in car designs and those who want to make money out of car designs. I am certainly NOT saying they should be funded in any particular way, you appear to be the only one saying that.

    Seriously, it's getting painful to listen to people's suggestions that wouldn't begin to hold together if someone was mad enough to even try these.

    Nobody is forcing you to look at the screen, are they? If it helps you feel better, I won't cry if you stop posting.

Your own mileage may vary.