Over at the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP), Mark Schultz has an important blog posting on the Mercatus Center‘s recent launch of its new copyright piracy website, piracydata.org. The launch of this website has caused a bit of a tempest in a teapot with a positive report on it in the Washington Post and with a report in the Columbia Journalism Review pointing out problems in its data and errors in its claims. (It is a bit ironic that a libertarian organization is having trouble with the launch of a website at the same time that there is similar reporting on troubles of the launch of another website on the opposite side of the political spectrum, Obamacare.)
Professor Schultz, who is a Senior Scholar at CPIP and a law professor at Southern Illinois University, makes many important points in his blog posting (too many to recount here). One of his more important identifications is that the piracydata.org website reflects an unfortunate tendency among libertarian IP skeptics, who seem to fall victim to an error that they often identify in leftist critiques of the free market, at least on non-IP issues. That is, some libertarian IP skeptics seem all to quick to deduce conclusions about actual, real-world business models from solely theoretical knowledge about what they think these business models should be in some “ideal” world.
Professor Schultz also identifies that, despite protestations to the contrary, Jerry Brito has explicitly framed his website as a “blame the victim” defense of copyright piracy — stating explicitly on Twitter that “Hollywood should blame itself for its piracy problems.” Consistent with such statements, of course, conventional wisdom has quickly gelled around the piracydata.org website that it is in fact a condemnation of the creative industries’ business models. (Professor Schultz backs up this point with many references and links, including a screen grab of Jerry’s tweet.)
Professor Schultz ultimately concludes his important essay as follows:
perhaps the authors should simply dispense with the pretext. All too often, we see arguments such as this that say ‘I think copyright is important and abhor piracy, BUT . . . ‘ And, after the “but” comes outrage at most any attempt by creators to enforce their rights and protect their investment. Or, as in this case, advice that excuses piracy and counsels surrender to piracy as the only practical way forward. Perhaps it would be less hypocritical for such commentators to admit that they are members of the Copyleft. While I think that it’s a terribly misguided and unfortunate position, it is all too respectable in libertarian circles these days. See the debate in which I participated earlier this year in Cato Unbound.
In any event, however, how about a little more modesty and a little more respect for copyright owners? In truth, the “content” industry leaders I’ve met are, as I’ve told them, way smarter than the Internet says they are. They are certainly smarter about their business than any policy analysts or other Washingtonians I’ve met.
The movie industry knows these numbers very well and knows about the challenges imposed by its release windows. They know their business better than their critics. All sorts of internal, business, and practical constraints may keep them from fixing their problems overnight, but it’s not a lack of will or insight that’s doing it. If you love the free market, then perhaps it’s time to respect the people with the best information about their property and the greatest motivation to engage in mutually beneficial voluntary exchanges.
Or you can just contribute to the mountain of lame excuses for piracy that have piled up over the last decade.
This is a compelling call to arms for some libertarians doing policy work in the creative industries to take more seriously in practice their theoretical commitments to private ordering and free enterprise.
As the blogging king (Instapundit) is wont to say: Read the whole thing.