August 23, 2007
Free Market and Copyright

Another piece that I wanted to make it a point to respond to in my flurry of blog updates today comes from Steven Lipscomb. For those of you not familiar with Lipscomb, he is the founder, CEO, and Director of the World Poker Tour, whose content my friend John Morris is addicted to, including buying it on PPV.

Lipscomb wrote a recent commentary on the TelevisionWeek blog, pointing out how China demonstrates the future of capitalism because it enforces the rules of the market better than the United States.

The paragraph that caught my eye in particular? "Free market advocates should agree with this proposition. Either we abandon things like copyright ownership entirely... or we enforce it. Today we have a system that rewards the cheaters and discourages ethical behavior. That simply cannot be the capitalist system we desire."

Those of you who follow the Convergence Culture Consortium well enough to have any idea of my political leanings (I'm guessing this would be a very slim category...Hey, Mom!) might know that I both emphasize the rights of the fan community and that I consider myself libertarian.

The fact that Lipscomb implies here that a free market is best achieved by cracking down really hard on copyright is a hard point for me to digest. He starts off by defending the music business, creating somewhat of a straw man argument by attacking the idea that record companies "had it coming." What he envisions is a free market that leaves little autonomy to the consumers and which resembles, in my mind, more of an oligopoly than a free market. Information is owned by a select few, and the best way to insure freedom of information is to do everything possible to restrict it.

He writes, "Ironically, China represents one of the few places in the world that protects legitimate businesses from being preyed upon by online businesses that will not play by the rules. They simply shut the sites down in China. And, it works."

Honestly, more than anything I've read in a while, this commentary frightened me, especially in realizing how the concept of the free market and libertarianism has become so skewed and so controlled by a significant portion of writers that it ends up meaning complete power in the hands of a few and dismissal of talk about fair use and consumer rights.

I agree with Lipscomb that IP issues are very important. We talk with media companies for which their intellectual property is most of what they have. Protecting content is important. But I think the problem is not as much a lack of enforcement as it is a lack of distinguishing between some very different behaviors, for instance the difference between quoting and mash-ups, on the one hand, and piracy, on the other.

For more, see my post from back in January.