Revolution Lullabye

May 25, 2009

Kiebowitz and Margolis, Seventeen Famous Economists Weigh in on Copyright

Kiebowitz, Stan J. and Stephen Margolis. “Seventeen Famous Economists Weigh in on Copyright: The Role of Theory, Empirics, and Network Effects.” Harvard Journal of Law and Technology 18 (Spring 2005): 435.

Kiebowitz and Margolis point out the assumptions and weaknesses in the brief 17 notable economists wrote collaboratively to support the Supreme Court case Eldred v. Ashcroft, which challenged the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998. The Court overturned the challenge, and the authors argue that the economists’ argument did not have any hard data to back it up and it did not offer a complete understanding of the purposes of copyright. Copyright is not merely exclusion; it is ownership, and ownership (through copyright) helps regulate production and prevents some of the negative impact of network effects. It isn’t just the copyright owner vs. the public commons good; copyright is more about protection (for the public good) than about exclusions.

Quotable Quotes

“Open access is not a universally preferrable way to manage a resource” (448).

“The copyright owner’s role is similar to the private owner of a natural resource that can be subject to crowding. In both cases, the owner tries to prevent dissipation of value through misuse of an asset. A rational owner would approve derivative projects that maximize his or her profits. Copyright policy must balance beneficial restrictions that constitute stewardship over resources against standard monopoly losses” (449) – then argues for the benefit of allowing paradoies, critiques

“copyright protects expression, not ideas” (449)

“A more complete view requires consideration of the responsiveness of creative efforts to marginal incentives and the function of onwership of intellectual property beyond the incentive to create” (449).

Notable Notes

only a small % of books, movies made from 1920s-1930s have current market value – the law doesn’t affect that many of them

the brief argued two things: 1. copyright extension doesn’t make economic sense, since the authors weren’t not creating because they didn’t have a super-long copyright protection 2. extra incentive has little real effect on the authors (*focused on the economic effect with royalties, not other effects) but imposes new and more restrictions and costs on new authors

the law – 70 years after death, 75-95 years for institutional authors, applied retroactively


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