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Sapere aude - dare to be wise
Sunday, September 14, 2003
Posted 3:39 PM by Joshua Claybourn
Intellectual Property Rights
Prof. Eugene Volokh and Lawrence Solum had an interesting exchange over the nature of intellectual property, with much of it steeped in economic efficiency. During my undergraduate days (you know, way back then) club goods were somewhat of a focus for me, so I like the exchange. Although the two add a few exceptions and distinctions, they both pretty much reach the same conclusion: protecting intellectual property is necessary for incentives. Of course that's a widely held belief, but the Professors offer a top-notch defense.

I think there are some market-based situations, though, where the incentive would be to relinquish some sticks of the property rights bundle. Fame and wealth are the two biggest motivating factors for aspiring musicians, yet if and when they reach stardom, the bulk of their wealth comes not from album sales, but from concerts. The market seems ripe for a talented musician to freely dispense their music online as a fame-building promotional stunt to get more fans to their concerts. The concerts, which are club goods, would continue to serve as an incentive and in many cases the freely distributed songs will actually boost ticket sales.

The primary incentives protected in musical intellectual property rights are those of the record labels. But the ever changing technological landscape means that their skills - putting music onto CDs and promoting it - are no longer needed. People can now transfer music and listen to it anywhere without CDs. Promoting good music through web sites, message boards, and TV shows is becoming increasingly common and, perhaps most importantly, increasingly easy. The record labels are a middle man that technology is cutting out, and intellectual property rights in music are serving their unnecessary existence more than the musician's. I'm looking forward to the first major stars who realize this and finally cut themselves from the bonds of record label slavery.

Update: Here's a musician who agrees with me. Also, Prof. Volokh has responded to Prof. Solum here.

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