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Monday, September 15, 2003

Music Copyright

One of my pet peeves is that I think intellectual property laws have simply got out of hand, especially copyright and especially for music. In a recent article the economist tyler cohen writes:

"But without copyright income the artists would be deeply, deeply in debt, or more realistically would never have the chance to record in the first place."

Not strictly true for the following reasons:
1. It can cost less than $2,000 to record, mix, and master a CD, and then about $.20/copy to create the actual CDs. (I know this because I'm an "artist" who has recorded/produced 2 CDs). Thus the cost is not in the recording/producing.

2. Virtually every aspiring group records prior to having a recording contract. Do you think it's like the old days where you go in and play live for a recording industry executive and then he gives you a contract? Not how it's usually done, you get a CD to him, then they decide to see you play live. So every group records, only very few groups get the contract and get promoted.

3. Most artists are musicians and make their money playing music (that's why they're called musicians). Recording income is non-existent or a tiny fraction for all but a few groups.

Tyler also wrote:
"But if there were no copyright, it would be hard to fund a music industry at anything close to current levels."

Sure, of course, pretty much by definition. But the question is whether or not the current levels of music industry funding is providing maximum benefit to society or whether or not by modifying existing copyright law there could be greater benefit at less cost. The current costs have to include arrests of college students who illegally download music (this is very, very expensive to society any time a new class of otherwise productive citizens are labeled criminals), the impact on the development and discussion of encryption/decryption algorithms because of the DMCA, and the profits and inefficiencies of the current recording industry.

I don't think we can go to having no copyrights, but I also think that the current system is quite detrimental to society. I would like to see economists such as Tyler figure out how to measure the costs and the benefits of current Copyright law and propose experiments that could incrementally and measurably provide more benefits to society.

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