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Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Public Goods and IP

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.





Copyright Notice: We don't think much of copyright, so you can do what you want with the content on this blog. Of course we are hungry for publicity, so we would be pleased if you avoided plagiarism and gave us credit for what we have written. We encourage you not to impose copyright restrictions on your "derivative" works, but we won't try to stop you. For the legally or statist minded, you can consider yourself subject to a Creative Commons Attribution License.


Founder of Project Gutenberg memorialized

John Bergmayer has a very nice piece on Project Gutenberg link here written on the occasion of the death of its founder, Michael Hart, "who passed away this week, after founding the project by typing in a copy of the Declaration of Independence in 1971. In doing this, Hart invented the ebook, and what became Project Gutenberg release #1 is still available online."

I had not realized that such a fundamental invention had been around that long. It gives me hope, given that some things in IP have gone right, we may hope for more despite the evidence to the contrary.

Bergmayer repeats Hart's fundamental realization about his project. To preserve creations, they need to be endlessly repeated so that there will be lots of copies (unlimited?) for future generations to be able to access and to preserve them from technological change that is already limiting access to some material that cannot be read by the latest computer software. Thus, they need to be kept in a simple and widely accessible form, such as plain text rather than as a PDF.

Hacking the WTO

Peter Suber's Open Access News draws an interesting parallel between copyright laws and the World Trade Organization. The General Public License is a way to "hack" copyright laws so as to put the licensed items out of reach of copyrights. In a similar way, the General Agreement of Trade and Services, which tries to regulate the trade of services and thus expand the reach of copyright and patent laws, could be hacked to specifically put some services out of reach of such laws. The GATS lays out rules within groups of countries to commit them to agreements. The same rules could be applied to free some services from intellectual property and define rules to enforce this. Public goods, which suffer the most from patents and copyrights, are obvious candidates for such agreements.

Call for papers: Economics of Open Access

More and more journals adopt a policy of open access, i.e., they do not charge anything to readers. One recent adopter is "Economic Analysis and Policy," which is also publishing in 2009 a special issue on the topic. Consider sending a paper!

Details.

Copyright on Lectures Notes?

It seems to be current at the University of Florida for professors to sell at inflated prices lecture notes to their students through a publisher called Faulkner. Not surprisingly, enterprising students started selling their own notes, to the point that there are now several businesses competing with each other, and in particular with Faulkner. The latter is now suing one note-taker, on the basis that it copied some material. Apparently, this is not the first suit, and the previous ones were not successful.

This raises several questions. 1) Does intellectual property extend to the spoken word? No, because it is not a tangible medium of expression. With all the recording going on in my classes, I am surprised I am not yet on iTunes (the homonym is not me...), and I would not care. 2) Does intellectual property extend to a summary and interpretation of the original work? No again, or movie reviewers, readers' digests and reporters would be out of business. 3) Does intellectual property extend to those you teach? No again, they came to listen precisely to acquire that knowledge, you cannot and should refrain them from using it. 4) Aren't academics in it for the public good, the dissemination of knowledge? Precisely.

More background material on Open Access News.

Britain uses copyright to suppress dissident views

The Washington Post carries an account of a curious use of copyright to suppress publication of the dissident views on human rights which ended the career of British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray (link here). The money quote from Murray: "I also wanted to publish a large number of documents to corroborate my story -- including my official dispatches from Tashkent and the government's demands that I change the text -- but when the government threatened legal action, I removed the documents from my book. I have continued to receive threatening letters; when Foreign Office lawyers argued that the government still retains copyright over all documents produced by the government (even if obtained through Freedom of Information laws), I had to remove them from my Web site." (The documents are said to be available on other websites, presumably outside Britain.)

Google's digitizing books

Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges, has an interesting op-ed piece in the Washington Post today on the arguments for universities supporting Google's digitizing all the world's books.
(linked here) Google would make a vast amount of printed material accessible to search and to limited use by students and scholars.

The article also notes that the universities have a conflict of interest in that they have their own publishing businesses. Faculties also have a conflict, to the extent that they write and publish texts. But it is in the overall public interest to make all printed material accessible.

It cites one helpful development: "Project Muse, begun in 1993 as a pioneering joint effort of the Johns Hopkins University Press and the university's Milton S. Eisenhower Library, makes available electronic "bundles" of current issues of journals to students and teachers in scattered locations. And JSTOR -- a coalition of journal publishers and libraries formed in the mid-1990s to create a reliable online collection of hundreds of older, little-used scholarly journals -- has brought these specialized works back into common use."

I wonder if there is room here for two kinds of copyright? One would protect the large-sale books, their authors and publishers. The other with small print runs would allow full access to digitized versions, including the right to download, not simply the right to limited search and quotation. The notion here is to protect authors who write to live, but prevent someone appropriating the uncopyrighted for personal profit. I think we need a good lawyer.

Against Monopoly

David gave me permission to flog my new book, Railroading Economics: The Creation of the Free Market Mythology (Monthly Review Press). Although the subject is not intellectual property, its relevance for this blog is the story it tells about the development of economics during the late 19th century.

The same people who created laissez-faire economics, such as John Bates Clark, insist that markets could not work for industries with high fixed costs. In particular, railroading at the time was a major industry in US. So these economists wrote textbooks arguing in favor of laissez-faire, especially with regard to labor markets, while at the same time promoting a Schumpeterian line about leniency toward oligopolistic industry.

In fact, Schumpeter seems to have cribbed much of his analysis from these economists, although all of them may have just been following the dominant German tradition -- dominant in the sense that the major figures among the young economist at the time all studied in Germany.

Centering around this railroading story is a thumbnail sketch of the economic history of the United States.

If any of you get the chance to look at the book, I would appreciate a dialogue.

Addendum: Michael is still learning how to use the posting system, so in response to Tim's request in the comments, here is the Amazon link for the book in clickable form [Posted by David.] .


   
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