Why Copyright?

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People should listen to Tim Lee:

I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with Braden Cox’s take on post-sale restrictions of the first sale doctrine. Braden did a good job of explaining why limiting the first sale doctrine would be good for software companies. But he did not, as far as I can see, provide any explanation for how limiting the first sale doctrine would benefit society as a whole, which is what copyright is supposed to accomplish.[…]

But the fundamental issue here is that the convenience of the software industry is not a sufficient argument for any given change to copyright law. The copyright system is supposed to promote “the progress of science and the useful arts,” not to make Steve Ballmer’s life easier. The two aren’t always in conflict, of course, but they’re also rarely in perfect alignment.

It’s really impressive that IP owners have done such a good job of obscuring the basic point of intellectual property law. Impressive as a PR achievement, but also extremely unfortunate. It is, however, an important point. The nation’s IP regime is supposed to serve the public interest, not the business models of today’s IP-creating companies. Keep that in mind as you ponder magazine cover stories about whether or not Rick Rubin can save the music industry. Even if he can’t save Columbia Records — even if nobody can save any of the major labels — their fate isn’t identical with the fate of music, or even the fate of the music business. Once-dominant firms like IBM and AT&T fell very far without that in any way meaning the collapse of the computer or telecom businesses.