February 2, 2010

Piracy. Is. Stealing.

By: Sonny Bunch

Every time I think the pro-piracy, illegally-downloading-music-is-okay crowd can’t top their own silliness I read something like this. From Yglesias:

It is, of course, possible that at some point the digital music situation will start imperiling the ability of consumers to enjoy music. The purpose of intellectual property law is to prevent that from happening, and if it does come to pass we’ll need to think seriously about rejiggering things.

No! False! The purpose of intellectual property law has very little to do with Matt Yglesias being able to enjoy a wide variety of new music. The purpose of intellectual property law is to protect the intellectual property created by artists so they are rewarded for their efforts. The purpose of intellectual property law is to punish people who steal that which isn’t theirs.

Yes, copyright was created in part because there were concerns that authors wouldn’t bother creating new work if they were consistently stolen from, leading to Yglesias’s oddly solipsistic reading of intellectual property law. But, more importantly, copyright law evolved because we think that artists, writers, musicians, and others have a right to profit from their labors. It’s a crazy idea, I know.

Also, Yglesias’s cute little bit about the marginal distribution cost being zero ignores the fact that the production cost of music is far from zero — leaving aside the artists (who Yglesias clearly doesn’t care about being paid for their work), there are studio technicians who mix the music, producers who craft the songs, and all sorts of other people involved with the creation of music. I suppose they shouldn’t be paid either? That we should just rob them of their labor too?

I sometimes look at what my generation has done with their access to Napster, Kazaa and bit torrents, and the ethics to which they subscribe when it comes to intellectual property and weep. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs.