November 2012

Over at the IPI Policy Blog, Tom Giovanetti has a new post about “Copyright and the GOP” reflecting on the recent brouhaha over Derek Khanna’s retracted Republican Study Committee policy brief on copyright. I’m afraid Giovanetti’s post is a good example of exactly what’s wrong with the Republican status quo thinking and rhetoric on copyright.

The post begins by explaining why the GOP has “historically been strong supporters of copyright protections”:

Markets simply don’t work without property rights. You can’t have contracts, or licensing, if you don’t have clear and enforceable property rights. ALL business models, not just “new” business models, rest on property rights.

Further, because the GOP believes in innovation, copyright is a natural fit, because copyright incentivizes and encourages the creation, distribution and promotion of new information. The alternative to copyright isn’t free information, but less creation, less widely distributed and marketed.

Do you see what just happened there? The implication is that Khanna in his memo, or those of us who would like to see copyright reform, don’t think there should be copyright at all or don’t think that copyright is property. That’s just not the case. In his memo, for example, Khanna explicitly proposes up to 46 years of protection for creative works. That is copyright, and that is property, and it would allow for contracts and licensing and for markets to work.

When folks say that copyright reformers are anarchists who don’t believe in property rights, don’t buy it. It’s an inaccurate and unfair characterization.

Giovanetti goes on to write,

That’s why it was jaw dropping to see a paper appear on the Republican Study Committee (RSC) website that was infused with much of the rhetoric and many of the assumptions of the CopyLeft movement. When an RSC paper is praised on the Daily Kos website, you have to wonder what’s going on.

Rather than address the merits of Khanna’s memo, Giovanetti instead tries to make Khanna guilty by association. If some on the left agree with your ideas, the argument seems to go, then there must be something wrong with your ideas. This tribal mentality is exactly what the GOP should be trying to expunge right now. Isn’t it more likely that if your up-and-coming intellectuals agree with other thinkers on the left, then there may in fact be a problem worth addressing? It’s like saying John McCain or Marco Rubio are liberal radicals because they would agree with Ted Kennedy on immigration.

It gets worse. Giovanetti argues that there’s nothing to see here since the Copyright Office regularly reviews exemptions:

In the Information Age, copyright and patents have become focal points of much criticism. And it is both appropriate and necessary to review current laws and standards to ensure they reflect changes in the marketplace and in technology. Accordingly, the Copyright Office regularly releases new exceptions to copyright that reflect those changes.

Boy, how far we’ve come when it is argued that the GOP should be in favor of an unelected regulatory bureaucracy deciding what are our rights. As Matt Schruers recently wrote,

While I’m at peace with this, it continues to baffle me that more conservatives are not skeptical of expanding intellectual property. What is regulation, if not when bureaucrats hold an administrative rulemaking and issue a triennial rule dictating how individuals must conduct their affairs with respect to media they have already purchased? That sounds a lot like regulation to me.

What is regulation, if not when bureaucracies dispense exclusive entitlements to special petitioners intentionally designed to restrict competition, because it serves the broader purpose of incentivizing the pursuit and disclosure of particular creative activity? This is what our IP law does.

Don’t fall for it folks. Copyright reform is perfectly compatible with a strong belief in property rights and markets. More than that, opposition to our bloated copyright system that serves special interests in Hollywood at the expense of the public is in fact the true conservative and libertarian position.

After more than a year of complaining about Google and being met with responses from me (see also here, here, here, here, and here, among others) and many others that these complaints have yet to offer up a rigorous theory of antitrust injury — let alone any evidence — FairSearch yesterday offered up its preferred remedies aimed at addressing, in its own words, “the fundamental conflict of interest driving Google’s incentive and ability to engage in anti-competitive conduct. . . . [by putting an] end [to] Google’s preferencing of its own products ahead of natural search results.”  Nothing in the post addresses the weakness of the organization’s underlying claims, and its proposed remedies would be damaging to consumers.

FairSearch’s first and core “abuse” is “[d]iscriminatory treatment favoring Google’s own vertical products in a manner that may harm competing vertical products.”  To address this it proposes prohibiting Google from preferencing its own content in search results and suggests as additional, “structural remedies” “[r]equiring Google to license data” and “[r]equiring Google to divest its vertical products that have benefited from Google’s abuses.”

Tom Barnett, former AAG for antitrust, counsel to FairSearch member Expedia, and FairSearch’s de facto spokesman should be ashamed to be associated with claims and proposals like these.  He better than many others knows that harm to competitors is not the issue under US antitrust laws.  Rather, US antitrust law requires a demonstration that consumers — not just rivals — will be harmed by a challenged practice.  He also knows (as economists have known for a long time) that favoring one’s own content — i.e., “vertically integrating” to produce both inputs as well as finished products — is generally procompetitive. Continue reading →