Intellectual Property

Hal Kant, R.I.P.

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The lawyer for the Grateful Dead who helped them along on their unique path toward protecting their intellectual property–that is, inviting fans to steal it and give it away through trading of their live tapes, with no appreciable crushing of their ability to rake in the ol do-re-mi–has died.

An interesting, detailed obit (with a truly awful Dead-referencing headline that I won't retype here) at the Wall Street Journal. News to me from the obit: Kant "was co-author of 'Pornography and Social Deviance,' which summarized the findings of President Richard Nixon's Commission of Obscenity and Pornography. To the president's consternation, the panel recommended decriminalizing pornography."

Two cheers, at least, then, for the late Mr. Kant.

My interview from reason's August/September 2004 issue with Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow that touches on their innovative, and still lucrative, decisions about tape-trading. Barlow told me:

The motion picture industry should realize in an information economy that when you've got a lot of free access to commercial goods it does not necessarily reduce their value, because there is a relationship between value and familiarity in informational goods. Despite the fact that there's a huge amount of motion picture piracy at the moment, theaters are doing better than ever.

I get pilloried for saying this—"Oh, Barlow thinks the Grateful Dead model ought to extend to the world"—but I don't see any reason why it can't. It worked for us and it has worked for everyone else I've ever seen try it. I think that what we stumbled into was a real deep—we didn't know it at the time—a deep quality of how an information economy works. We really did just stumble into it. We just decided it was morally shaky to toss people out of concerts just because they had tape recorders. It's bad for your karma to be mean to a Deadhead. And we thought we'd take a hit on it.

An essay by me about the Dead's hippie capitalism from reason's March 2003 issue. Audience boot video of a late-period performance of my favorite Dead song.

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  1. We just decided it was morally shaky to toss people out of concerts just because they had tape recorders. It’s bad for your karma to be mean to a Deadhead. And we thought we’d take a hit on it.

    He uses words like “morally shaky” and “bad karma” to describe a sensible business model for dealing with Deadheads — don’t be a dick. Don’t act like the people the Deadheads hate.

    This business model wouldn’t necessarily work with all other groups of people, but profoundly offending your core customers is rarely a good idea.

  2. News to me from the obit: Kant “was co-author of ‘Pornography and Social Deviance,’ which summarized the findings of President Richard Nixon’s Commission of Obscenity and Pornography. To the president’s consternation, the panel recommended decriminalizing pornography.”

    I bought a copy of this from my college library’s used book sales. It’s not nearly as titillating as the title might suggest.

    Regardless, RIP to Mr. Kant.

  3. What a guy! What a rich life it appears he lived. IMHO, although lawyers, as a class, are near the bottom of the barrel, private practice attorneys who do not rent seek will always be better than government employees, in general, and cops, soldiers, DEA dickwads, FBI agents and ATF assholes, in particular.

    His innovative intellectual property ideas concerning the taping of the Dead’s concerts is something, IMHO, that the typical science/computer geek would not have conceived.

  4. “was co-author of ‘Pornography and Social Deviance

    The original co-author of ‘Pornography and Social Deviance’ not watered down second version. Also a membee of the Seattle Seven…Him and six other guys.

  5. This business model wouldn’t necessarily work with all other groups of people

    True, it may not work with all groups of people, but it has been successfully used by many bands since.

    While the douchenozzles in Metallica were freaking out about Napster, quite a few bands were cashing in big even despite what essentially amounted to giving their music away for free.

  6. ALthough I was never a big Dead fan, I did attend several concerts with some buddies who were Deadheads. I remember going to one concert at the old Boston Garden in 1991. My buddy had to go to a bankruptcy meeting of creditors and I went with him dressed to the nines in a new suit and tie. After the meeting, he changed his clothes in the men’s room while I remained in my new suit. Then we exited the federal building to see a throng of Deadheads. I just loved the atmosphere-particularly all the strange looks I got as I lit up and passed around and vice-versa.

  7. I remember going to one concert at the old Boston Garden in 1991

    This show, maybe? Certainly not as good as actually being there, but as a result of their business model you can stream audio from that show, and many others.

  8. Linus Torvalds is another example of this model working out.

  9. What the fuck did Nixon expect? A lawyer who works for the Dead is unlikely to be a real buttoned-down prude, ya know…

  10. Ironically, IIRC, Metallica didn’t have a problem with people taping their live shows. It was only their pre-recorded music they had a problem with.

  11. Ironically, IIRC, Metallica didn’t have a problem with people taping their live shows. It was only their pre-recorded music they had a problem with.

    That’s a fair point, although I’m betting their security still would have thrown me out of a show if they saw me carrying in a mic or DAT recorder.

    Either way, I still maintain that Lars Ulrich is a complete douchenozzle.

  12. much better youtube, from ’90, “Eyes of the World”, with the amazing Bruce Hornsby on piano

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLDw_gj5e3g&feature=related

  13. much better youtube, from ’90, “Eyes of the World”, with the amazing Bruce Hornsby on piano

    That is an excellent video, although I have to agree with Doherty, Terrapin Station is a much better song (maybe it’s a Brian thing)

    Still, great clip, and Bruce Hornsby is fantastic (I heard a great Bruce Hornsby solo show where he played “Sugaree”, and had to argue with a guy in the audience who thought it should be played faster – funny stuff)

  14. For those looking for a good clip of a great song(s):

    Part 1 –
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVDf1oH-z68

    Part 2 –
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0f6f587sKs

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