Intellectual Property

Glee and Copyright Law


Tonight is the season finale of Glee, a surprising popular TV show about scrappy high school show choir set in Lima, Ohio. Think High School Musical without the grimy coating of Disneyfied lameness.

In honor of the upcoming finale, Christina Mulligan of the Yale Law School Information Society Project blog has an interesting take on something that's not in the show:

The fictional high school chorus at the center of the show has a huge problem, you see — nearly a million dollars in potential legal liability….

In one recent episode, the AV Club helps cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester film a near-exact copy of Madonna's Vogue music video (the real-life fine for copying Madonna's original? up to $150,000). Just a few episodes later, a video of Sue dancing to Olivia Newton-John's 1981 hit Physical is posted online (damages for recording the entirety of Physical on Sue's camcorder: up to $300,000). And let's not forget the glee club's many mash-ups — songs created by mixing together two other musical pieces. Each mash-up is a "preparation of a derivative work" of the original two songs' compositions – an action for which there is no compulsory license available, meaning (in plain English) that if the Glee kids were a real group of teenagers, they could not feasibly ask for — or hope to get — the copyright permissions they would need to make their songs, and their actions, legal under copyright law. Punishment for making each mash-up? Up to another $150,000 — times two.

The absence of any mention of copyright law in Glee illustrates a painful tension in American culture. While copyright holders assert that copyright violators are "stealing" their "property," people everywhere are remixing and recreating artistic works for the very same reasons the Glee kids do — to learn about themselves, to become better musicians, to build relationships with friends, and to pay homage to the artists who came before them. Glee's protagonists — and the writers who created them — see so little wrong with this behavior that the word 'copyright' is never even uttered.

You might be tempted to assume that this tension isn't a big deal because copyright holders won't go after creative kids or amateurs. But they do: In the 1990s, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) asked members of the American Camping Association, including Girl Scout troops, to pay royalties for singing copyrighted songs at camp. In 2004, the Beatles' copyright holders tried to prevent the release of The Grey Album – a mash-up of Jay-Z's Black Album and the Beatles' White Album — and only gave up after massive civil disobedience resulted in the album's widespread distribution. Copyright holders even routinely demand that YouTube remove videos of kids dancing to popular music. While few copyright cases go to trial, copyright holders like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) don't hesitate to seek stratospheric damage awards when they do, as in the Jammie Thomas-Rasset filesharing case….

Defenders of modern copyright law will argue Congress has struck "the right balance" between copyright holders' interests and the public good. They'll suggest the current law is an appropriate compromise among interest groups. But by claiming the law strikes "the right balance," what they're really saying is that the Glee kids deserve to be on the losing side of a lawsuit. Does that sound like the right balance to you?

I know that's a long excerpt, but the whole post is worth reading. Go check it out here.

And here's a recent episode, in case you're curious.

NEXT: Supreme Court Blocks Matching Money for Moochers

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. My wife watches that crapfest. The music is rank.

    1. Your wife is married to you. Be thankful for her poor taste.

  2. copyright holders assert that copyright violators are “stealing” their “property”

    I love it when a libertarian site puts quotation marks around “property.” If you don’t own what you created, how can you own anything?

    1. Because it is intellectual property, not physical property.

      1. So you don’t own the money in your bank account.

        1. That’s right. If you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

          1. So libertards believe air doesn’t exist?

        2. IP is a constitutional exception to natural law.

          1. They had to put it in the constitution explicitly.

          2. It ends. Real property doesnt come with a time limit.

          3. Youve been around reason long enough to have been thru this argument a billion times. The bank comment is a troll.

      2. it’s a victimless crime. like punching someone in the dark.

      3. Or as I refer to it, imaginary property, if its not physical, you can’t own it as far as I am concerned.

      4. What is not physical about words and sound?

        1. Once I think it, I own it. Just because you thought it first, doesnt allow you to own my brain.

          1. Fear not, there’s no market for it.

        2. Words are definitely not physical. Sound is, but the right to control the production of certain sounds or sequences of sounds is not.

          Next question.

          1. If you are the originator of a song, how would you not control the means of it’s original production? You would have to be the first producer or it would never be heard. If you wrote it, and then gave or sold the lyrics to someone else to play, you still have controlled how it is first heard…unless someone stole the sheet music you wrote. Isn’t that theft?

            Obviously, anyone can sing your song once they’ve heard it once, but why should you not profit if they profit from it, which is what this is really about?

            Words are definitely not physical.

            How am I reading your gibberish?

    2. First, Reason isn’t a strictly libertarian site, though it often advocates libertarian positions. Second, music cannot be a fully owned property unless it is performed only in private. If music is broadcast or performed in public, then anyone is entitled to sing it or play it without getting permission or paying a fee as long as they aren’t getting paid or giving a “public performance.” Ownership of a music “property” doesn’t confer total control over its use, though the RIAA wants to make such claims.

  3. I enjoy a lot of mashups, but I do think there’s a danger of dilution of the value of the originals, especially when the derivative work is given away rather than sold. Part of the value of a mashup is parody, which doesn’t dilute the original’s value because the audience has to be familiar with the originals to get it, and part of its value is the creativity that goes into the interweaving; but part of it is from the work that went into the ingredients. I don’t know what the solution to this problem is.

    Have you heard the all-Beatles mashup virtual albums, Cracked Pepper and Revolve?

    1. The solution to a lot of these problems is to have a sensible term of copyright, such as 20 years. A fairly strict copyright regime for a short term DOES strike the right balance for making sure content creators and their financiers have the opportunity to make money, AND that their work can be absorbed into the common culture after a reasonable duration.

      1. Copyright should be for the life of the creator. When you die, all of your stuff goes into the public domain. No more of this great-grandkids holding copyright crap.

        1. No, because then you have corporate-financed “accidents”. Either a straight fixed term or the life of the creator + a fixed term would be more appropriate.

        2. In my opinion life of creator is way too long a term, and too much of a pain in the neck to figure out for those who wish to develop the work if the term has expired. It would be better than the garbage we have now, which is “since Disney copyrighted Mickey Mouse”.

          1. i don’t have a problem with life as a copyright term, or even a little longer, but it’s absurd when rights pass down through generations of owners. If you sing “Happy Birthday” to someone in a restaurant, it counts as a public performance and you owe royalties. That won’t change until 2030.

            1. That won’t change until 2030.

              Disney gets copyright extended another 20 years about 2025.

            2. That actually might not be true. The rights to happy birthday have been bought and sold several times. However, original company who bought its rights, credited it to a guy who didn’t actually write it. The originally copyright is probably invalid.

              1. Wow that comment was full of grammatical mistakes.

        3. That seems a little unkind. One of the rewards of wealth is to be able to pass it on to your children, so they can have a better life. Some people spend a life’s work accumulating houses and stock in GE, and pass that on to the kids. Would you really rather encourage that, and discourage spending a lifetime creating great works of art, by making the latter produce of your life’s work something you can’t leave in your will?

          1. The wealth is the money you make off it while its in copyright.

            While I oppose IP, I have way more problem with copyright than patents, because patents have a reasonable time frame. Reduce copyright to ~20 years and I will stop giving a damn about the issue.

            At the very least, stop backdating extensions. You get what the law was at the time. Which makes all the old Disney stuff public domain.

            1. Why should Warner Brothers get to use Mickey Mouse when Disney, the Company, is still in business and using the character? Just because it’s been around for a long time?

              1. Tangled issues here, copyright and trademark. Copyright should have a limited term, trademark based on use. Which is the way it is, except the copyright terms is ridiculously long and retroactively extended.

                I think Warner should by now get to copy Mickey Mouse, but not to call it Mickey Mouse in anything but an exact copy of the original — i.e. the copyright should’ve been allowed to lapse, but the trademark should be there as long as Disney uses it.

                So, to the extent Mickey Mouse is itself a trademark — i.e. a mark that says in effect, “Disney” — Disney should be allowed to use it exclusively. So, for example, “Mickey Mouse” as a brand of baby food or some such: Disney’s property. Mickey Mouse as an emblem on clothing: Disney’s property. However, copies of Mickey Mouse cartoons, which are protected by a copyright which no longer has reason to exist: public domain (should be, I mean). Mickey Mouse knock-off characters in other cartoons, as long as they’re not called “Mickey Mouse” — even if they’re exact copies of film frames: should also be public domain.

  4. if the Glee kids were a real group of teenagers, they could not feasibly ask for ? or hope to get ? the copyright permissions they would need to make their songs

    This is a bad thing…how? Why not teach the importance of property rights and the joys of the creative process by having them make their own damn songs?

    1. Information and music want to be free, man. Screw the man! Corporations are evil! Music and stuff should be free for everyone! yaaaayyyyy

  5. They are saying that it takes place in a fictional William McKinley HS in Lima Ohio? That’s funny since the fictional William McKinley HS has the exact same colors as the real McKinley HS in Canton Ohio. Yes, I have a GF if you couldn’t tell already. I’m also from Canton and just automatically assumed it was Canton McKinley from the cheerleading uniforms.

    God I feel like a dork. I need a scotch in order to regain some manliness.

  6. I love it when a libertarian site puts quotation marks around “property.”

    That’s in the lefty asshole’s quote, not in the Libertarian?’s.

    But there isn’t any Libertarian? justification for copyright (as a right). And but there’s also no Libertarian? case against it.

    So they side with who they really side with, for un-libertarianism-related reasons?lefty assholes.

    1. There’s no Libertarian? justification for indecent exposure laws, peeping Tom laws, or any traffic laws, for that matter.

      1. 1. Public health
        2. Close the shades
        3. Build private roads

        1. 1. What diseases are spread by indecent exposure again?

          2. You don’t have that option when in a public restroom or a dressing room, or if you’re walking with a skirt on on a public sidewalk (can’t close your legs in that situation either).

          3. Simply not plausible, as I’ve shown many a time on these threads.

          1. I don’t know what disease it is, but when I see a old duded flashing their junk on the subway, I feel nauseous.

  7. Real libertarians respect property rights. Those who don’t are, at best, anarchists, those agnostics of liberty.

    1. I respect property, I just don’t think ideas in the abstract are property. A CD is property, a song isn’t.

      1. I would argue that song, novels, paintings, etc. are not “ideas in the abstract.” They are actual “works” that take a lot of work to create.

        My opinion is reinforced by the fact that I just spent nine hours creating different versions of buttons for a corporate website….

        1. So? Just because you spent time and effort forming them doesn’t mean they aren’t abstract ideas. Could you explain how copying those buttons is equivalent to stealing?

          1. Christ, for the very obvious reason that gold coins in my hand or numbers stored in my bank’s computer or a piece of property I own or some really cool code I wrote all represent the very same functional thing: my stored labor, which other people may pay me (i.e. trade their labor) to acquire, either permanently or on a rental basis.

            Please say you were just kidding, and are not simply one of those tiresome people who think it’s clever to question the obvious. But how do we know everyone means the same thing when they say ‘blue’? What if everything stops existing when we close our eyes? And so on.

            The fact that the fruits of one’s thought are as valuable a property as a 100-meter square patch of dirt you acquire by slaughtering the previous tenant has been recognized by grown-ups since the time of Caesar Augustus.

            1. Obvious? All those things you mentioned are very obviously different.

              Gold coins are property.

              Numbers stored in a bank computer is a promise by the bank that they will give you that money, not property.

              Lastly, a code cannot be “acquired” or “rented.” Copies that represent the code can be acquired or rented. But the code itself cannot be owned. If I come up with the exact same code by coincidence, copyright law would say that I am stealing your stored labor, even though I worked as much as you did to create it. You still have to account for the difference between stealing something and creating a copy of something.

              The fact that the fruits of one’s thought are as valuable a property as a 100-meter square patch of dirt you acquire by slaughtering the previous tenant has been recognized by grown-ups since the time of Caesar Augustus.

              No, the misconception that ideas can be owned has been around since the time of Caesar Augustus.

            2. The difference is, the gold coins in your hand cannot be replicated at (near-)zero cost of production, leaving you with the same quantity of stored labour as you previously had. (Nor can the bank numbers, but in a different way).

              What you are asserting is that the buttons you made are CAPITAL – things from which a flow of income is expected – and that its RATE OF RETURN should be artifically inflated by legislative fiat. But again, the difference between yur buttons and a piece of real capital (e.g., a die machine) is that I can’t download a perfect copy of your die machine while leaving your die machine in situ for you to use tomorrow.

              IP law is a way to furnish monopoly rents – to make easily-replicable goods more expensive.

              Nobody is saying that the creative act is not valuable – or that people shouldn’t pay for the output of creators: but the underlying economics is that eventually price= MARGINAL cost (not AVERAGE cost), and the marginal cost of an electronic copy of your buttons is as close to zero as makes no odds – the only thing that gives your output a price is legislative chicanery (which as we all know is part of the POLITICAL means to earning a living, not the ECONOMIC means).

              And besides – maybe if there was no copyright, the creative industries would not be so full of absolute SHIT in their output (movies that rehash TV, music that is a lot of incoherent yelling or boob-jobbed teens pouting, for instance): to call much of the entertainment industry’s output ‘creative works’ is linguistic gymnastics.

              Now with all that having been said, there is also the fact that individuals value creative works independently of their low marginal cost of production – thus Nine Inch Nails made a decent swag by permitting people to download an album and pay whatever they felt like… a LOT of people paid more than zero.

              The market works. Your buttons are worthless, but valuable. They’re probably very nice buttons.



        2. A painting is not an abstract idea. If you take the painting, you are stealing it. But if you copy the image of the painting, what are you stealing?

          1. An idea isn’t copyrightable. Only the specific execution of the idea is. This is why you could make a movie about an evil corporation that attacks a planet full of peaceful natives to obtain a rare mineral.

            If you make the natives look like giant smurfs, however, you could get sued by James Cameron.

            1. That’s not true. Ideas get patent protection all the time. Amazon and the 1-click patent as wekk as every other software comapny trying to patent little every pathetic piece of code they write, and on and on.

              Patent and copyright law in this country are terrible, and at this point work against the only reason why a free society would waste it’s money enforcing them: that they foster creativity. It’s not my job as a citizen to pay taxes so that someone else’s intellectual property claim is enforced. And only an idiot would be willing to do so without force unless the result produced more creative works. The current system does not do that.

          2. You are stealing the image.

            Think of it this way: you start Heller’s Cookies with a shop and a website. Someone else copies your website, logo, and store design and opens a chain of Heller’s Cookies. Have they taken anything? Is this an injustice?

            1. No, they haven’t stolen anything. They’ve copied it. There is nothing unjust about it.

              I don’t own the order of code that makes my website. I don’t own an image. I don’t own the words Heller’s Cookies. Nor should I.

              1. Nah, the more I think about it, I’ve changed my mind. Everything I’ve said up until this point is wrong. Everyone, please ignore it.

                1. For those of you (like, I suspect, heller) who are too stupid to figure it out without being told, that last heller comment was mockery.

      2. Read the Wikipedia article on Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and tell me that isn’t property considering the work and expense by many people that went into creating it. Why should you be able to profit from that song when you didn’t do jack shit to create it?

        1. So do you think that Bohemian Rhapsody should never enter the public domain?

          Most people here are not arguing against having any intellectual property rights. We simply see that IP is not the same as property and that IP protections (especially copyright) are too strong and long lasting. I, at least, agree that the creator of a creative work should have the opportunity to make some money form it. But I think that fair use should cover use in derivative works and “mashups” and things like that. There is some pretty amazing artistic creation out there which uses other people’s works as the raw material, so to speak. TO call such work simply “stealing” is ridiculous. You may as well say that a painting is not original because they painter did not make the paint, brushes or canvas he works with.

          1. Freedom is an abstract idea that exists without any person having created it. A song is not.

            I see no reason why Bohemian Rhapsody, the song as they produced it, should not remain with whomever Queen bequeaths it to in perpetuity. If they sell or grant that ownership to their record label for X dollars or out of the goodness of their hearts with or without conditions that is up to them. I’m sure there was a contract the band had with their label to hash out how that is carried out. I see no reason the government should get to decide that contract ends 95 years into the future or whatever the copyright law says. If there needs to be a debate about how their work is used as a derivative, I’m willing to listen to ideas as I haven’t thought about this beyond what the original production is. Some here ARE saying the song wouldn’t belong to them because songs are abstract ideas. I say it does belong to them because it is a unique piece of material that would not exist without them creating it.

        2. Why not? If someone arbitrarily decides to grow a bunch of crops on my land, why can’t I take them for myself? I might still consider a good idea to pay them, if I appreciate it, but I’m not obligated.

          My mind is my property, and the fact that someone else elected to make it more valuable through originating ideas is appreciated, but does not confer an obligation on me.

      3. This is a fucking stupid argument, heller.

        Let’s say I’m a talented musician. I write and record songs and let’s assume they’re good songs and lots of people like them. Unfortunately, there’s no IP/copyright laws! As soon as I record and release my songs, anyone anywhere can copy, take, or distribute my work for any reason at absolutely no cost to them. I’m not making any money!

        How long do you think I’m going to keep making music if all it does is cost me money? Probably not long. At the very least I’m not going to dedicate a whole lot of effort and resources to my music since I can make more sitting in a cubicle eight hours a day.

        Same goes for writing novels or short stories, making a movie, etc.

        Now, an individual lyric–sure, that’s probably not property because theoretically anyone anywhere might come up with the same five or six word string without ever hearing my song.

        But what you’re arguing for is absurd.

        1. All of this is not to say that our current system of IP/copyright laws couldn’t use some overhaul. I’m not saying it’s a perfect setup, but I will not advocate abolishing the basic concept of IP laws. If you create something, be it a song, a novel, a medicine, or a new engineering tool, whatever, you’re entitled to try and make a profit on it, and control the way it’s used (in some cases, anyway; I mean, the inventor of the screwdriver wouldn’t have any authority to force people to not use a screwdriver as a hammer. I’m referring more to, say, using an artist’s song in a movie soundtrack, etc.).

        2. No, what YOU’re saying is that your EFFORT must be rewarded by some amount different to the marginal cost of the output. In other words, you don’t believe in sunk costs.

          Let’s say I spend ten years perfecting a machine that makes widgets. I spend ten million bucks doing so. I think my widgets are neat, and my machine can crank them out at a rate of ten a day.

          Someone notices that they can make a perfect replica of a widget using their toaster, and their widget costs them nothing and the ycan produce fiteen million an hour.

          Oops – the price of widgets just fell, andmy $10m just went to money heaven.

          Unless I can convince a legislator that my widget is special and that my rate of return ought to be held at an artificially high level.

          But let’s say you’re a talented musician: you could offer your output to folks and let them pay what they think it’s worth. Lots of people (including software developers) are having a go at that model: no usage restrictions, no copyright… just a simple appeal to users to show their appreciation if they think it’s worth it.

          You see, there are enough mostly-nice people who will pay for things that they could get for free… if they think the material is worth it. They will give up ‘consumer surplus’.

          None of the Old Masters had copyright protection during their lives, but many of them made a decent living. Shakespeare had no copyright protection, but he didn’t whine about it or try and get laws passed.

          Copyright proteciton is a bit like industry subsidies: if you need it, you don’t deserve it and those who deserve it don’t need it.



          1. +1

            Thanks for backing me up GT.

          2. Your widget example is inapt. It’s not about legal protection of some rate of return: it doesn’t matter whether your widget is bad or a bestseller, the law says others can’t steal the design. It’s about preventing theft of private intellectual property. The new widget builder can either sell widgets of a different design, or sell the rights to his improved widget-maker to the first widget maker.

            Saying all creative people should just work for tips is, to put it politely, impractical.

            The Old Masters and even Shakespeare didn’t need copyright, because copying their work was very difficult at the time.

  8. Anyone surprised that a fucktard TV show aimed at teenagers and valium-popping, middle-aged suburban women doesn’t get into the issue of “copyright”?

    *crickets chirping*

    Slow day at Yale Law School, apparently.

  9. Corporate greed and power have distorted copyright laws beyond their original purpose. Art is not historically considered to be like property otherwise its protection wouldn’t get an expiration date. And you’re severing an entire creative aspect of art if you remove its ability to quote and interact with other art–not to mention hobbling important aspects of freedom of speech. Copyright is an exception to intellectual freedom for the sake of capitalistic expediency for the purpose of subsidizing creativity.

    1. Copyright is hardly a restriction of intellectual freedom. You are still free to think and express any idea you wish, even if it has been the subject of copyrighted material. Only the particular means of expressing an idea is restricted by copyright.

      And frankly, most of the copyright battles are over gorram insipid pop music. Not exactly the poster child for intellectual freedom.

      1. I believe in copyright and sanctions for plagiarism and what not, but I admit they are technically restrictions on freedom in the service of higher social purposes. So we shouldn’t take it too far, right? How does more government + less individual freedom = libertarian?

      2. Tulpa, copyright is a restriction on intellectual freedom. You cannot express an idea that is copyrighted, even if you aren’t copying the idea.

        1. Sorry, Tulpa is right and I don’t think you know what you are talking about. Name an “idea” that has been copyrighted. (It’s possible to trademark a few words or a particular shape of a product or use of a color, or get a software patent, but those are different issues.)

          1. Whenever you copyright something you are claiming ownership of, for lack of a better word, an abstract idea. When you copyright an invention, you are not saying that you own the physical invention that you made, but the idea of the invention itself, the specific ORDER of in which matter is put together to form the invention. An order is an abstract idea.

            The same can be said for an image or a song. You aren’t claiming ownership of the physical examples of the image or song, but of the order that makes up the image or song.

            1. No, it’s saying you own the particular manifestation (and the right to copy it). Yes, there is certainly something abstract about a song or a book or a painting, but that’s not all there is to it.

              1. First of all, owning the manifestation has nothing to do with copyrighting.

                Second, owning the right to copy something is equivalent to owning the idea behind it. In other words, you own the copyable information in the book or song. This simply doesn’t make sense. You can’t OWN information. You can only own specific manifestations of information.

                My right to express ANY information I choose does not impede on any of your rights. You have no right to control the expression of information that is already in my head.

          2. Ideas aren’t copy-written, AFAIK, they are patented, so I suppose your right, but, to me, they are basically the same thing, owned. And as far as colors are concerned, TMobile owns the color magenta apparently.


          3. Oh right, and the laws of california have been copyrighted. I forgot I love that example.

            What is a law but an idea, exactly?

    2. Corporate greed and power have distorted copyright laws beyond their original purpose.

      No, Congress has distorted copyright laws beyond their original purpose. Sure, I’ll grant you that the humanoids in Congress were bought off by corporate money. What’s that teach you about power and corruption?

  10. Meh. The dirty secret here is that “property” in physical things is as socially constructed as intellectual property…Neither one should be absolute.

    1. No one is saying that IP should be absolute. Well, except the rights-holders, who I doubt are here.

    2. So all your property are belong to us, MNG?

      1. No no no, your property is MNG’s.

    3. It’s not a dirty secret. Nothing is absolute. That doesn’t make it arbitrary, either.

  11. Tulpa
    I actually agree your proposal above strikes the right balance.

  12. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If intellectual property doesn’t matter to the writers of Reason, I’m sure they’d heartily endorse me creating where I reprint every article they unedited, without their permission, make advertising revenue off of the traffic it generates, and set up a blog called “Shit and Fun” where I reprint every Reason blog post and trolls are deleted, therefore winning a competitive advantage for Reason viewers. Why does Reason even bother putting a “Copyright 2010, Reason Magazine” at the bottom of this page if they don’t give a god damn about the property rights of musicians, moviemakers, software designers, etc.

    1. every article they *publish* unedited

    2. “Why does Reason even bother putting a “Copyright 2010, Reason Magazine” at the bottom of this page if they don’t give a god damn about the property rights of musicians, moviemakers, software designers, etc.”

      Probaly because if they did not, someone else could copyright the “Reason” name out from under them. In that, reason is not being hypocritical. They are playing by the rules, even if they want the rules to be different. On the other hand, if they tried to enforce the copyright against a plagiarist, that might be a different story.

      1. According to the way they think musicians shouldn’t care if someone takes their words, music, audio productions, etc. and makes money (or not) off of it, why should they care if we turn it back on them? Why does their intangible intellectual property rights to the “Reason” label matter more than the intangible intellectual property rights of musicians or anyone else?

        1. Its not that the musician shouldn’t care, its that they should be able to use the forceful and coercive hand of the gov’t to prosecute these “(imaginary) property rights violators”, while the “violators” have to reach in their own much more shallow pocket to defend themselves.

          1. edit due to lack of negative:

            Its not that the musician shouldn’t care, its that they shouldn’t be able to use the forceful and coercive hand of the gov’t to prosecute these “(imaginary) property rights violators”, while the “violators” have to reach in their own much more shallow pocket to defend themselves.

            1. As far as I know, copyright violation is a tort, and you have to prosecute it yourself by bringing suit against a violator. You haven’t seen the government prosecute a copyright violation case, have you? It’s always the copyright owner.

              If the copyright owners band together, e.g. the RIAA, then the owners may have the deep pockets and the defendants seem sad underdogs. But on the other hand, it’s equally possible for the copyright owners to be the underdogs — there are plenty of cases of large, well-funded organizations or people stealing the ideas of impoverished inventors. Then the shoe’s on the other foot. It’s really impossible to make generalizations about whether the inventors/artists or those who copy their work are weaker or more pathetic. It varies.

              Furthermore, one of the main reasons for copyright and patent is to encourage closely-related but not identical work. For example, someone may read a patent to see how some clever machine works and learn enough to go invent something similar but not identical. Or someone may listen to a piece of music and be inspired to compose something similar, but not identical.

              In the absence of copyright or patent, inventors would only be able to control the distribution and sale of their work by keeping it largely within their actual physical control. In the case of patentable machines, that means keeping how the machines work secret. In the case of artists, presumably they would take great care never to allow their work to be recorded — insist on only live performances, with people strip-searched, whatever.

              Clearly the world would be impoverished by such a situation. (So would the inventors, of course, but less so than if they had no defense at all against someone copying their stuff.) Nor is this a theory — this is how things actually were long ago, with trade secrets passed on father to son (and often lost with someone’s death). Newton kept his invention of calculus secret for decades. It was a tool he invented for the (at the time) all-important commercially-valuable ability to predict the positions of the planets, and there’s a good chance he simply didn’t want anyone else to have his advantage. But what was the cost to society of not having calculus available for decades? Perhaps quite a lot — perhaps someone might have developed electromagnetic theory in the 1700s and electronics in the 1800s. Who knows?

              The purpose of copyright and patent is a trade: in return for the artist or inventor disclosing all the details of his work he would otherwise, in self-defense, keep secret, the government agrees to make it illegal for someone to copy his work without his permission, and give him a chance (at his own expense) in court to recover damages. The idea is to let Newton patent or copyright his method of predicting the orbits of the planets in exchange for revealing the details of how to do calculus — so that someone else can use calculus for some other purpose, not covered by Newton’s patent on astrology.

          2. What makes torrenting a CD illegally that different from shoplifting the same CD from Best Buy or a local used CD store? Sure, the labor costs to create the CD were higher than the labor costs to create the MP3, but does that make it any more wrong? The government doesn’t even have any coercive power because enforcement is executed through lawsuit.

            Let’s put this a different way. If I go out and re-record a Beatles song, adding one extra chord change or a slightly different introduction and change up one or two words and claim that I am the author of the song, should the author not have any rights to sue? What if I just record the exact same song?

            If intellectual property rights are fake, let’s be consistent here. Let’s say that every single software development company, record label, patent holder, movie production studio, newspaper/magazine and artist hold no rights over their work (other than tangible copies produced by themselves), thus have no legal recourse if they sell one copy of their work and it gets replicated for millions of consumers to own without paying and without permission. If another band or production company or software company replicates their work, they should not be able to claim any damages because their intellectual property rights are “fake.” Thus the production of works of art/music/film, robust software, etc. would severely slow because the production costs become loss inducing, even if you are doing it because it is your passion or hobby, and quality would be lower as people attempt to cut production costs to the bare minimum (saying that with the caveat that many of my favorite albums were recorded for next to nothing).

            If you use the example of Linux or Radiohead’s CD, note that those were voluntarily given away by the producers, not stolen by unscrupulous listeners without the consent of the producers.

            Why stop there? What incentive would corporations have to research and create new products if they can’t legally protect their findings from their competition? I assume in your world, I could not protect myself from someone from using my credit card information and stealing my identity, Social Security number, etc.? After all credit is “intellectual property” – an IOU, not tangible money. Where does it end?

        2. I think you missed MJ’s point. In their ideal world, another “Reason” could exist, and it wouldn’t bother the Reason Foundation, except that they would want to point out that it was a copy, and they were the original.

          But in this world with the laws we have now, if they don’t copywrite their IP (the Reason name), then someone else could do so instead and thereafter block anyone else (including the Reason Foundation) from using that name.

          1. The copyright is on the content too, however. Not just the name. I guess they could care less about their syndication rights for their articles thus I would be justified republishing all their articles verbatim without paying them or asking permission? My site will also happen to have advertising. I’ll also put out a print edition. I can sell it for cheaper than they can because I don’t have to pay workers to research and create the articles. It won’t matter if it’s a knockoff because the content is the exact same. And I’ll change the captions on the Friday Funnies so they will actually be funny.

            Oh wait – I can’t because their content is copyrighted and they would probably sue me like a bunch of hypocrites if I tried it. I’m being facetious of course, but trying to make a point.

            1. Your speculations about hypothetical hypocritcal lawsuits aside, it’s clear that Reason has very good grounds for copywriting their product because of the way the current law is written and enforced.

              As for your competitive advantage in such a situation, I really doubt you would be able to draw many eyes to your ‘copy’ site, since it would no doubt be one of many (they’re easy to make & host) and links to the content from other sites would go to rather than your site. Good luck making any money at all printing a magazine, especially one with as limited a reader base as Reason (no offense, guys)

              In the meantime, I urge you to challenge their hypocrisy by following through on your threat. I’m interested to see what happens.

          2. What if I say I’m the original, and reason is the copy? If I backdate all the articles and make my site identical to theirs, most people would never know which is actually the original.

            1. I doubt that anyone at all would believe you. Will you allow comments, as they do? When you copy their content, will you scrub it for messages about how your site is a fake site? Will any other webpages link to you? How will you differentiate your copy site from any of the other dozens of copy sites that spring up just as yours did? Will you have respectable advertisers (surely Reason’s advertisers won’t be advertising on your site, so your webpage will have to at least look different in that sense) or will your lack of page views leave you with the dregs of the online ads?

              Anyway, if Reason ever gets their way and the laws change to be as they would like (never happen) then you can show me how easy it is to steal away their pageviews with their own content. (Assuming, of course, that what we’re talking about is the Reason Foundation’s position on copywrite law) Good luck!

              1. I will definitely nitpick to an absurd degree anyone’s hypothetical, not entirely serious questions.

              2. That’s easy – just surround their article with pictures of naked women. Competitive advantage win!

    3. Why don’t you just do that and see what happens?

    4. Did Reason say that they oppose all copyright laws and the entire concept of intellectual property? It does not appear that way to me. There are other possibilities than IP being treated exactly like real property and no IP protection at all.

      1. They have repeatedly mocked and criticized copyright owners attempting to defend their rights. If we’re having an intellectual conversation about rational limits on copyright law, that’s one thing – however, to me their whining comes off as “we want to use other people’s stuff for free and justify away our hypocritical stance by mocking copyright holders.”

    5. Guess what? I bet that if you were to do that, you would lose money.

      My former mentor (Peter Dixon) built one of the most complex economic models known to man (ORANI) at the time, and then made it intertemporal (MONASH)… and you can get hold of the code and the data very easily.

      But there is only ONE Dicko (and his team), and while you might easily get the wherewithal to compete with him, you would not have gotten the State Department contract to build a multi-regional model of the United States. (Quite a filip for an Australian ‘think tank’: even though Dicko was once a prof at Harvard, and did his PhD under Leontiev, Dicko is still a dyed-in-the-wool Australian).

      IP protection is for people who need it: talented people don’t need it. My own work is all ‘CopyLeft’, too, because I know that regardless of who reproduces it, there’s only 1 person who can perform it properly.



      1. Software is a special case. If you wrote novels or songs or made movies for a living, you’d be OK with other people making copies and selling them without your permission?

  13. will also have 60 second window where you can delete your comment after you post it when you realize you made a typo.

    1. sounds reezunable.

    2. The Disqus system allows editing of posted comments, probably because it lacks a preview feature.

  14. There’s actually a lot of controversy among libertarians about whether intellectual property is actually property. For example, Tom Palmer of Cato and law professor Tom Bell have argued against the idea that IP is property from a libertarian perspective.

    Some more discussion of this is here: and in Palmer’s article:…..-v13n3.pdf .

  15. I’m damned if I can see what’s interesting about this pathetic article. So far as I can tell, it contains no actual intellectual content, just an appeal to emotion. Oh the poor bright-eyed children! Deprived of their innocent fun by stone-hearted lawyers and profiteers, they must now sit around, glumly, taking what amusement they can from drawing funny faces in the playground dirt with sticks. Probably get into hard drugs and prostitution before long…

    Feh. If you changed the protagonists here to a bunch of fat waistcoated Monopoly men with monocles, who set up a sweat shop in Bangladesh where skinny underpaid 12-year-olds slave at mashing up Beatles songs in clever ways, which are then shipped to the United States and sold on iTunes for $millions — which go right into the slimy pockets of the rich businessmen, to buy hookers and blow in Vegas while they chortle over surveillance videos of the Bangladeshi fighting over crusts of bread at the lunch break — does this change the conclusion?

    The law should be the law whether you’re an engaging photogenic moppet on the tube or a snarling balding redneck starching your KKK robe. The fact that such a big part of the “argument” here is an appeal to the generic deservingness of the copyright infringers is a contemptible abdication of, ironically, the authors’ ability for cool reason.

  16. The copyright laws need to be reformed. I like the idea of Creative Commons Founders’ Copyright, go back to 14 year copyrights with the option to extend it 14 more years. I also believe that what falls under the definition of “fair use” needs to be expanded. It should be possible to protect intellectual property, but the current protections go to far.

  17. I used to work for a large YMCA and we had to pay ASCAP a couple of grand every year for the privilege of letting our campers sing copyrighted songs and playing cd’s which we bought during step and spin classes. It was a lot simpler than tracking each and every song we used in hundreds of locations.

  18. Glee????

    Jesus christ.

  19. Lets get the facts straight, at least.

    Only a particular expression of an idea is copyrightable. An “abstract” idea is not.

    Intellectual property is merely a subset of intangible property, much of which no one would argue is and should be treated as property. The major weakness of most arguments against intellectual property is that they apply equally against all forms of abstract property. Hell, when you get down to it, real property rights are almost indistiguishable from intangible property rights.

    Before you trot out an argument against IP, think about substituting another form of intangible property (money, stocks, easements, etc.) for IP, and see if your argument still works for you.

    1. much of which no one would arguedeny is and should be treated as property.

      Edited for sanity.

    2. But people want free music from the Internet! So, it’s not really stealing.

    3. If only a particular expression of an idea is copyrightable, how exactly are remixes, fan fiction, or independent reboots shut down?

      Trademarks? Shouldn’t something clearly labeled as unofficial get a pass on that?

  20. I’d comment, but due to international copyright law, the video is not available in my country.

  21. If real-life students run the risk of getting heavily fined for videotaping their performance of a song or a mash-up, then how is the show “Glee” able to do it and put it on network television?

  22. I think you guys are missing the point.

    Regardless of where you stand on copyright law and consumer ethics, is what’s reportedly coming down the pike with ACTA – a digital “rights” Patriot Act in my opinion – really a just way to enforce compliance with copyright law?(likely bought and paid for by RIAA, MPAA, etc.)

    What has more value to you – privacy and due process or somebody’s “idea” getting draconian state protection beyond its second or third run and on into the digital infinity?

    Those of you who rabidly support tough IP laws are rationalizing a drug way style digital IP war where non-violent behavior is about to be criminalized and the government is going to use it as a trojan horse to intervene in all sorts of digital places.

    Some of you think Net Neutrality is bad. Just go take a look at ACTA.

  23. And by curious in that last sentence, you mean bi-curious.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.