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Harvard Study Says Weak Copyright Benefits Society 326

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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  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @05:13AM (#28371233) Homepage

    But ... their bottom line *could* benefit if they add value to the physical items they sell (eg. if their CD comes with an official t-shirt, sew-on patch, etc).

  • Err.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @05:17AM (#28371275)
    What if you're an artist but only want to create art and not tour all over the place just to make money? I realise that most musicians seem to like doing concerts, but what if that's not what you want to do and just want to record albums?
  • Re:So what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @05:30AM (#28371335)

    You know, that's something I just simply don't understand: Why don't they bundle some crap with the CDs? Cheap trinkets that cost close to zero but make the fans happy?

    You needn't go fancy. How about the "official, signed photograph"? Of course the signature is printed, but who cares? You can ONLY get it with THIS CD! (sure, others may exist, but THIS very special autograph picture is only available that way)

    It's not like this would break the bank. But then again, they don't even include booklets anymore in CDs, why would I assume they could spend half a buck for a cheap crappy picture print?

  • Re:Err.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @06:03AM (#28371497) Journal
    Well I only want to play video games and roleplay with friends, but I can't make money this way...

    By the way, just record music, distribute music and ask donation to make another album. If people are unwilling to pay you for that, well, maybe it is better for you to stop. Or not. Not very long ago, most musicians did not expect to earn any money at all. Those surviving thanks to their art only had music-hall pays. Records were a new thing, that changed the landscape completely and now it changes again. Now even a novice artist can reach millions of people if he manages to make ONE good tune. But he lost the ability to win millions of dollars once he established a trademark.
  • Re:So what? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CarpetShark ( 865376 ) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @06:13AM (#28371539)

    Personally, I couldn't give a crap who the artist is, much less about having their signed photograph. To paraphrase a common saying, "It's the information, stupid." People want information, because they know information is power. Anything that gets in their way will be mown down. It's really that simple.

    What can big media distribution companies do for money now that the internet has replaced their distribution model? Well, it's simple: they do the same thing spinning wheel operators did when the industrial revolution made it easy to get quality thread. They retrain, and get a new job --- one that's relevant and useful to the newer, more evolved society. They could become specialist, old-school, niche-market distributors for a select few, much like you can still go to a craft store and find hand-woven fabrics etc., but in that case, they'll need to be happy with their niche status, and their much reduced income. Not least, because people in hobbyist niche markets expect their suppliers to be decent people doing it for the love of tradition, rather than hate.

  • by ls671 ( 1122017 ) * on Thursday June 18, 2009 @06:35AM (#28371645) Homepage

    I am not trying to defend pirates at all here.

    But I was just telling somebody about that possibility last week.

    I had just watched an interview with an old theater actor which is pretty wealthy today. He said he made most of his money acting in theaters almost everyday, 2 or 3 shows a day. He said: "That was real work, there was almost no TV or movies in those times."
    He added: "Pay was god, because not that many people would be crazy enough to do it, but we had a lot of fun and I enjoyed every minute of it".

    I then envisioned things like a return of the pendulum, which sometimes seems like something natural in society. Nowadays, a limited set of actors get work making movies/TV shows and get paid the big bucks. Either you get famous and make millions or you starve. A lot more actors/musicians would get work if they had to do live shows. I can see how more diversity, thus availability would benefit society. Of course, the big names would lose but this is another story already largely covered here before..

    I guess the point I am trying to make is that even if technology is involved, like with nature, society seem sometimes driven by a magical hand that cause a return of the pendulum at some point when we have reached a breaking point in one direction ;-)) Like nature, society sometimes seem to tend to come back to an equilibrium by itself !!

  • Re:So what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by R0UTE ( 807673 ) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @06:46AM (#28371705)
    This is one way the game industry have attempted to over come piracy I think but to a slightly larger extent and I think we will see more and more of it.

    Look at games like Guitar Hero, excellent, fun games that could quite easily be pirated but what is the point of having the game without the nice guitar to play it with. Same goes for rock band etc. More bespoke controllers and extras that make the game worth playing and consumers are quite happy to pay through the nose for it and not bother trying to pirate it.

    Maybe as you said, something similar could be done by the music industry to provide an extra incentive to get out there and buy the cd's as opposed to pirating, or even downloading the mp3's legally.
  • Re:Pointless (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Vintermann ( 400722 ) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @07:05AM (#28371807) Homepage

    They will learn. They will learn, or they will die.

    The recent Virgin/Universal deal [] that was covered here on slashdot is an example of things moving in the right direction. In case you don't remember: A UK ISP will offer something very close to Magnatune, for Virgin/Universal's music. You can make a monthly payment for an all-you-can-eat buffet. Yeah, there are still some minor issues (they still want to disconnect people without any trial, and they still won't let you give a friend a copy), but it's a huge step forward.

    What's even more interesting, is that deals like these will give artists incentive to reduce copyright terms. The reason is that there is a pool of income (the subscription fees) that is divided among the artists according to popularity. New and current artists will not want to share with the old-timers forever. "Move over! While people still love your music, it's our new music that keeps them subscribing!", they might say. It will probably be true, too.

  • by jonaskoelker ( 922170 ) <> on Thursday June 18, 2009 @07:16AM (#28371861)

    Did the study consider questions of causality?

    Meet Alice. She buys two games per year. Now meet Bob. He downloads five games per year, and buys five.

    If Alice started downloading two games per year instead of buying, would she start playing more games? At the current state, why isn't she playing more games?

    If it's the price, letting her download wouldn't seem to change things. If it's her lack of interest, offering her something she doesn't want for free isn't going to change things.

    It seems that the observations you put forth leave several important questions unanswered. I hope the answers come out in favor of downloading stuff for free ;-)

  • Re:Err.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BlueStrat ( 756137 ) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @09:04AM (#28372683)

    Yeah, the only difference is, like it or not, right now the studio artist makes $1-2 for each album sold, without it, well, he'd make nothing.

    That's actually not so true today. Check out the distribution one can buy these days: []

    The problem is there are too many stupid artists, and I say this as an artist myself. Most seem to not take any time or trouble at all to even learn about basic copyright, never mind researching the various types of contracts available or that could be demanded from labels if they bothered to organize and put collective pressure on all the labels. More are beginning to adopt online distribution, however there are still plenty of pitfalls for the unwary & lazy.

    Most are too self-centered around their art and ego. The big "Gold Ring" they drive for is to "get signed", and most of them are without any real clue as to what that can actually mean when you're talking about dealing with a record label.

    Those kinds of artists get chewed up and spit out, ending up as burned-out cynical husks touring crappy venues in a crappy bus, living on less income than they'd make at a burger joint, trying to pay off what they "owe" to the record label after the third album, which the label didn't really promote much anyway, while still tied contractually to the label and unable to break free without paying the label tons more money on top of the mint they've already made the label.

    Here's a piece I post a link to when this topic comes up. It's a bit cynical and also dated, but the situation he describes here is generally pretty accurate in how labels tend to treat bands/artists, which is generally as crappy as the band/artist lets them get away with. []

    Until artists make more effort to educate themselves about the business/legal end of the music biz and stop throwing themselves into the big-label roasting pit carrying their own bucket of BBQ sauce, not much will change. As long as the labels have lambs begging to be slaughtered and handing them the axe while shoving the previous lambs' remains off the block to make room, why would they want to change?


  • Re:So what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @09:44AM (#28373115) Homepage

    They could even look to the cereal industry for ways of doing these promotions. Cereal boxes all the time will offer something only to require that the person mail in a request form and pay some small shipping and handling fee. They could, as you said, include a code for a free 4x6 photo and then, when the photo is shipped to the person, toss in a mini-catalog with other band items the person can buy. Posters, hats, t-shirts, etc. Heck, it could just be a small card with the URL to the band's page where all of the items are offered. This would add value to the CD (free photo) and increase the band's revenue stream (via other products) at the same time.

  • Re:So what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Belial6 ( 794905 ) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @12:00PM (#28375103)
    How about a more realistic comparison. How many people scan and print their own football cards?
  • by vivaelamor ( 1418031 ) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @12:00PM (#28375125)

    Good question. If you wanted things to be "fair", then by doing the replication, the only things you're sparing GM are the entire manufacturing costs. So if you wanted to be "fair", you'd pay GM the price of the car minus its manufacturing costs, so that it would get the same money to pay for its designers and whatever else that is paid for when you buy a car, minus the manufacturing.

    The manufacturing costs are the only things to spare, they already designed the car so those costs have already been met (even if they had to take out a loan to do it). What I think you mean is that they would be denied a return on their investment, the question is should someone who never signed a contract with GM be obliged to provide a return on their investment.

    If you didn't pay anything to GM because you think it's all in the manufacturing, GM wouldn't have any incentive to make any car if they're only going to sell one, and neither would any other car manufacturer, so you'd successfully kill the auto industry, and be doomed to replicate cars that were made before the replication craze started, which means that even in 200 years people would drive 20th and 21st century cars.

    Leaving aside how you attribute the death of the auto industry to peoples intent rather than natural progression, why would we need the auto industry in its previous form at that point? There will still be plenty of incentive for new designs.. for example more eco-friendly cars and safer cars. When you run out of incentives there's no point in doing any more work, the question is not whether they will get paid, it is how. If you can't think how people would get the money considering we've done things from providing countrywide support networks funded by charity to putting a man on the moon funded by political desire then perhaps you should exercise your imagination more.

  • Re:Pointless (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cpt kangarooski ( 3773 ) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @12:06PM (#28375197) Homepage

    Actually, no we don't know this, but, most importantly, it does not matter. This misses the point. The copyrights ought to exist, because the creators of things, that are hard to create but easy to replicate -- like software, literature, music, video, fashion design, what have you -- ought to enjoy to lesser control of their creations, than creators of things tangible.

    Didn't you read the last post I made responding to you? Fashion design is not copyrightable, at least in the United States, and never has been, so why do you keep bringing it up, and perhaps pretending that it is? It's very odd. And it's certainly an unusual example to bring up in any case, since most people wouldn't think of it as a creative work, particularly around here.

    Anyway, assuming you misspoke when you said that "creators ... ought to enjoy lesser control," you're wrong. This has nothing to do with fairness. The world, it is well known, is not fair. And while it might be a good idea to make it more fair, surely we must prioritize our efforts such that we make things more fair for the most people before moving on to increased fairness for smaller groups, all the while not making things less fair for anyone, nor reducing the amount of increased fairness we've already brought about. Well, there are more readers of books than there are authors of books. So not only do the readers have more power in a democratic society, but making things fair for them surely must take precedence, if fairness is truly your goal, as opposed to, say, pandering to special interests while disguising yourself in noble-sounding lies about fairness.

    The world seems to be made in such a way that things that are hard to create, but easy to copy are, well, easy to copy. If I come up with a good story which entertains and enlightens people who hear it, then surely it would be most fair to those who have not yet heard it if they could hear it from more than one person. After all, even if I went on the speaking tour from hell, and printed a lot of books, and distributed them all over, I'm sure to miss some people who cannot take the time to see me, cannot afford to buy a book, can't read, don't know the language I work in, etc. Letting others fill in the gaps that I, a mere one person cannot possibly fill myself, is a better method than letting them go unenlightened and unentertained. Copyright would prohibit this.

    A lack of copyright, OTOH, certainly wouldn't prohibit me still going on tour and selling books, it would merely mean I'd face more competition. Since copyright didn't exist anywhere until the 18th century, and didn't exist most places until well into the 19th and 20th centuries, yet world literature got along okay, and has likely benefited more from things like improved printing technology, increased literacy, increased leisure time, improved methods of transporting books, etc. than it has from mere copyright, we can be pretty confident that the lack of copyright would not be a big deal.

    Of course, it's not fairness, per se, that copyright is interested in. The goal of copyright is to promote the progress of science (i.e. knowledge) by encouraging the creation and publication of more original and derivative creative works, and having those works be as minimally copyrighted in both scope and duration as possible in the process, and fully in the public domain as rapidly as possible, since it is only then that the people of the world can take advantage of the easy-to-copy nature of the world that you have noticed, and help themselves the most. Since there are more of them than there are of authors, this is appropriate. Since it aids authors as well (e.g. Disney making films based upon public domain fairy tales), it's even more appropriate.

    This derives not from it being economically beneficial (which it may or may not be), but from simple fairness. A book-writer ought to be no less protected from thieves, than a shoemaker...

    An author and a cordwainer are pretty much protected the same. A tangib

  • by TheCycoONE ( 913189 ) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @12:14PM (#28375317)

    I think what the GP was saying is that compared to 150k per song for downloading, a $500 fine for stealing the whole CD is rather trivial. Ie in the eyes of the law it's a lesser crime to steal music than to copy it.

  • Re:So what? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Webcommando ( 755831 ) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @01:52PM (#28376853) Homepage Journal
    There actually was a smaller label (Victory Records) that included a DVD with the CD's. It basically had some interviews, videos, and highlights of other bands in the stable.

    That was enough for me to buy albums instead of a hit single off of iTunes for their artists. These little things add up to extra value. Actually found some new bands from the DVD extas that I liked. A win-win for Victory and consumer.

    I really don't know if they still do this or not.
  • by vivaelamor ( 1418031 ) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @02:02PM (#28377001)

    Insults? I thought you were just throwing wildly inaccurate statements into the mix, like calling me a troll for using a simile to show why I think your argument is poor. I find that ironic.

    As you apparently couldn't understand my use of a simile I'll spell it out for you; The oil industry have a history of being far more evil bastards than anyone thinks the RIAA are. Using them as an example of why we should have the choice whether to pay people if they cannot set the price is, I would wager, counter-productive.

    As well as that, oil is a limited resource governed by the effects of scarcity. If someone mined some oil and it was possible to copy that oil at no expense to the person who mined it then I certainly wouldn't be paying them for every bit of oil that got copied. If you would, then that's your call and I have no problem with that.

Federal grants are offered for... research into the recreation potential of interplanetary space travel for the culturally disadvantaged.