Intellectual Property

Hal Kant, R.I.P.


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.