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September 15, 2010


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I think there are several reasons people are becoming more comfortable infringing copyrights these days.

Many people don't realize that copyright is actually defined in the Constitution. Its original purpose was to incentivize the creation of new works. It was thought that by giving content creators a window in which only they could produce new copies of their works, they could be ensured of a healthy financial return on a successful work. It was believed that even though the system caused works to be locked up temporarily, it would spur the creation of many more works that would eventually be added to the public domain, enriching our shared culture. This was the true purpose of copyright - it was intended to add to the public domain. A copyright was set to last for 14 years, with the option to extend a copyright for an additional 14 years if the creator wished.

Unfortunately, we've lost sight of this original purpose. Due to intense lobbying by content creating industries, copyright law has been consistently expanded over the years, along with the punishments for violating them. A creative work is now under copyright for the lifetime of the creator, plus 70 years. As a result, the public domain has suffered greatly. We've ceded the rights of the public to ever-expanding rights for content creators. Instead of incentivizing the creation of new works, the current copyright system encourages the creation of a few successful works that the creator can draw payment from for the rest of their natural life and beyond. Every new creative work is locked behind a paywall until its relevance to our culture is purely historical.

The internet has sparked an awareness that there may be something wrong with copyright. The internet doesn't just enable people to infringe copyrights, but to use existing works in creative new ways. It has spawned a culture of mashups, remixes, and parodies. These works could never have been created in the traditional broadcast world - they fly in the face of copyright laws. But many people today have realized the benefits of these derivative works, and that they actually increase the value of the original work. Even though sales of recorded music are in decline, the overall music industry is actually growing. Despite film piracy online, movies still break box office records every summer. More music, movies and books are being produced today than ever before.

Another reason people may be willing to infringe copyrights is the dawning awareness that the prices of these forms of entertainment don't seem to conform to basic economics. In Econ 101, college students learn that the price of a product eventually falls to the product's marginal cost, i.e. the cost of producing another unit of that product. When talking about digital good like a music file, the cost of producing another copy of that file is basically zero once the original has been created. But even though the manufacturing and distribution costs have plummeted for music producers, music prices are actually increasing. This is because entertainment prices aren't subject to free market forces. Copyright grants content producers a monopoly over each creative work. As we all know, monopoly pricing is much different than pricing in a competitive market. Artists and content companies do compete with each other, but they rarely compete on price. It's not in their best interests to do so. This is why prices for new songs on iTunes are all the same. It's why prices for e-books are the same across publishers. It's why movie prices at the theater are all the same. Artificially high prices, combined with the knowledge that the typical artist makes almost no money from sales of recorded music or films (google “Hollywood accounting”) probably lessens a lot of the guilt about infringement.

People in the willpower and strengths or weaknesses of struggle, often leads to their success or failure is one of the important reasons.Do you think so?

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