Did you know that the best possible way to increase your creative productivity is to get a copyright lawyer? Yeah, we didn’t either. But lookee here, fellow ignoramii:
Are lawyers the driving force behind artistic freedom?
by Zach Graves
Are lawyers the driving force behind artistic freedom? Astonishingly, that’s the impression you get when you read the Copyright Alliance’s account of a recent panel on music copyright hosted at George Mason University. To be clear, they note the importance of creators, in the sense that:
Intellectual property drives economic and artistic freedom, thereby supporting a professional class of musicians and innovations that continue to fuel the creation of music.
But this emphasis aims to privilege the copyright lawyers, as if copyright enforcement were the primary source of artistic creativity. Certainly, copyright plays an important role in securing incentives for creators. But it’s absurd to suggest that regulatory monopolies are the only source of artistic creation and freedom or that stronger intellectual-property laws are always in the best interest of artists. Rather, the history of intellectual-property laws have often been a double-edged sword for creators.
There are numerous examples of overly broad intellectual-property laws being used to limit free expression. Just take a look at EFF’s Takedown Hall of Shame. Or, in the music industry, the recent judgment against Pharrell and Robin Thicke (presumably, to provide further incentive for the creativity of the late, lamented Marvin Gaye). Or the video game maker who was sued for using the likeness of Gen. George S. Patton. The absurdities go on and on.
While intellectual property is an important legal protection that helps encourage creation, it has its limits. Where intellectual-property laws are too weak, there may be insufficient incentive to create. But where they are too strong, they impose costly restrictions on other creative freedoms and distort the market to transfer unearned wealth from consumers to rights holders. The latter, it should be noted, aren’t always artists. This is especially true in the music industry, where entrenched middlemen armed with large legal teams extract most of the revenues.
Our nation’s founders took steps to achieve the proper balance. Indeed, we must not forget that the constitutional basis of our intellectual property system is a utilitarian one. The Progress Clause grants Congress power to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” The clause doesn’t create a “property right,” as such, any more than Article I’s grant of war-declaration powers to Congress creates a property right in declarations of war. The Progress Clause creates a legislative power, with instructions to use it as an incentive for creation. Where such exercises of power provide appropriate incentives — or, worse, undermine other incentives — they ought to be constrained.
Human nature being what it is, it’s not surprising that the copyright industries have succeeded, over the years, in ratcheting up copyright protections with less attention to the underlying theory of the Progress Clause. Thus, copyright terms today are nearly 580 percent longer than at the time of the founders, and extend to works far beyond the maps, charts and books that originally were covered….