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November 19, 2012 9:40 AM Radicals for Capitalism

By Henry Farrell

Some of the bits of the Web that I pay close attention to are trying to figure out how to react to the Republican Study Committee’s new thinkpiece on copyright. On the one hand, they want to cheer on every word of the document, even if it is written from a more directly market-oriented perspective than their own. E.g.:

Copyright violates nearly every tenet of laissez faire capitalism. Under the current system of copyright, producers of content are entitled to a guaranteed, government instituted, government subsidized content-monopoly … It is a system implemented and regulated by the government, and backed up by laws that allow for massive damages for violations. These massive damages are not conventional tort law damages, but damages that are vastly disproportionate from the actual damage to the copyright producer. … we do know that our copyright paradigm has … Retarded the creation of a robust DJ/Remix industry … Hampering scientific inquiry … Stifling the creation of a public library … Free 12-year copyright term for all new works – subject to registration, and all existing works are renewed as of the passage of the reform legislation. If passed today this would mean that new works have a copyright until 2024.

On the other … Republican Study Committee. Republican Study Committee claiming the mantle of protector of DJ culture, scientific inquiry and public library. But still. Republican Study Committee.

I don’t know anything about the motivations of the aide who wrote this paper. However, I think it’s reasonably safe to speculate that if the Republican party takes this up, it will be less because of its burning desire to promote a healthy remix culture (‘tho perhaps their desperation to appeal to the kids might play a small role), and more because they’d like to screw an industry largely composed of people who give to the Democratic party (think movie stars and record industry executives as trial lawyers). One could be more cynical still, and see this as a shakedown intended to encourage entertainment industry people to give lavishly to Republican PACs so as to sway them away from the cause of righteousness (personally, I doubt this was the rationale for the paper, but it certainly might end up describing the outcome).

Even so, it poses an interesting question. Would we be better off in a world where this position prevailed, so that (a) copyright law was much looser, (b) the entertainment industry was much poorer, and (c ) giving to the Democratic party and other liberal causes was significantly lower as a result? Personally, my answer is emphatically yes, but there is a tradeoff here, where others might reasonably disagree (and perhaps even convince me that I’m wrong …).

[Cross-posted at Crooked Timber]

Henry Farrell is an associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.