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March 01, 2013 10:00 AM Copyright Reform, Right and Left

By Hans Noel

Matt Yglesias asks me what I think about any likely partisan division over copyright reform.

The claim, made by Joe Karaganis at NRO (semi-gated) and echoed by Jerry Brito, is that the Republicans could be leading the fight for copyright reform because even though both parties have constituencies on both sides, the conservative pro-reform position has a natural home on the Right.

Karaganis (via Brito):

How would an Internet politics emerge in the Democratic party? The answer is probably simple: It is impossible in the short term because of the power of Hollywood and inevitable in the long term because of the power of time. Most of the young are already Democrats.
How would an Internet politics emerge in the Republican party? Given the decades of rhetorical entrenchment around property rights and law enforcement, it would probably require the recasting of intellectual-property rights as government monopoly, of SOPA-style bills as crony capitalism, and of Internet enforcement as part of a digital-surveillance state.

Maybe. I don’t know as much as most about this issue, but it seems this analysis gets wrong the party identification of those who most benefit from the status quo.

Sure, the celebrity liberal activists of the film business are definitely Democrats … your Susan Sarandons and your Barbara Streisands and your Matt Damons. But the guys who actually hold all the copyrights, who are trying to squeeze the last penny out of Battleship — not necessarily. Gimpel, Lee and Parrott, for example, break down partisan giving by economic sector, and they show that those in the Motion Picture and Video Distribution sector appear to have no party preference. Those in Motion Picture and Video Production give slightly more the Republicans. The “talent” in the entertainment business may be Liz Lemon, but the corporation is still run by Jack Donaghy. Remember the writers’ strike?

If that’s right, then it’s more than “rhetorical entrenchment” around property rights. It’s actually supporting conservative business interests. Intellectual property is property, and copyright laws are designed to keep people from stealing your property. Anything else is socialism.

Meanwhile, the libertarian, information-just-wants-to-be-free folks are neither as big a part of the Right as this makes them out to be, nor are they uniquely on the Right. Liberals actually don’t like unaccountable big government either — see for example lefties on (1) drone strikes and (2) Aaron Swartz.

My guess is that this issue isn’t going to move to the top of the agenda as quickly as we might think. It’s a classic unorganized issue, where those who benefit from the status quo have power and influence, while those who would benefit from reform are diffuse and often are not even aware of the issue.

[Originally posted at The Mischiefs of Faction]

Hans Noel is an assistant professor of government at Georgetown University.

Comments

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  • Liz Reno on March 03, 2013 5:09 AM:

    I am confused about this issue. Is it being suggested that writers of any stripe, for example, not hold the rights to their work and distribute it for free? That a wage-earner should have a good minimum wage and a writer none at all?

  • Crissa on March 04, 2013 12:34 PM:

    Liz, that doesn't follow at all.

    As copyrights are being enforced now, writers don't have right to their work. Copyright infringement is nearly completely based upon the worth of the work - not its relative worth to its owner. So a poor writer making minimum wage's work is literally not enforceable - but a large corporation can have their least bit enforced. Secondly, do you remember Napster? The way that copyright reform has shaken down, it has basically banned anyone who isn't a big name from distributing their own stuff.

    http://higletfilms.com/2012/04/how-do-you-prove-to-youtube-that-you-have-the-rights-to-your-own-work/

    http://www.vice.com/read/universal-music-group-took-down-after-the-smokes-music

    etc. There's actually dozens of the previous one. Basically, the big holders get their due and small holders - no matter how popular in the short term - get nothing.

    This is not a choice between a writer getting a wage and not getting a wage. The default is that they don't get a wage today.