18 July 2014

"We Don't Need More Copyright" - Tom W. Bell on Intellectual Property



"We don't need more copyright," says Chapman University law professor Tom W. Bell. "Probably we could dial it back and still enjoy this great wealth of culture that's been generated, that's already in our libraries."

Bell, a self-described "intellectual property skeptic," sat down with Reason TV to discuss his new book "Intellectual Privilege: Copyright, Common Law, and the Common Good."

Contemporary copyright law is a statutory privilege that inevitably contradicts our constitutional rights to free expression. The prospect of litigation scares off artists who want to create new works that exist in legal grey areas, like mashups, tributes, or parodies.

Bell's solution rests on a much simpler idea: we should emphasize common law instead of copyright. Common law -- which is to say, the established precedents that govern ordinary property, contracts, and torts -- already form the foundation of the American legal system. It provides plenty of encouragement for artists and designers to create new works, without the statutory failures of the current system.

How might the arts fare in a world without copyright protection? To a large extent, we already know the answer. Perfumes, jokes, recipes, fashion, furniture, and automobile design have never enjoyed copyright protection. Yet there's no shortage of creativity in any of these fields. Artists still find ways to make money -- sometimes a great deal of it -- in the absence of special legal protection.

After meeting with policymakers on Capitol Hill, Bell is hopeful about the prospects for reforming the Copyright Act. Legislators are starting to accept what consumers have long understood about the digital age: modern copyright law hinders the very innovation it was designed to promote.

Runs about 8:30.