This is a rather old video (mid-2010 according to ted.com’s timestamp) but it’s made me think rather hard about copyright, books, and the publishing industry:
The gist of the talk is in this graph:
(Point: that whole industries do just fine without Intellectual Property protection.)
Now, I do question one of the assumptions behind this: while it is true that fashion, food and furniture cannot be copyrighted, and that these industries are still highly innovative, we should also remember that they are more necessary than music, films, and books. Gross sales is an oversimplification of the effects of copyright: certainly more people would buy clothes than they would books!
But, that said, her primary example holds true. High fashion is indeed still very lucrative (and creative!) without IP protection. Would publishing be in a similar environment if books were not copyrightable? It doesn’t take much to imagine a world in which fan-fiction is sanctioned, where riffing on the books you love is a norm.
So here’s a thought experiment: if for one year all copyright were to be revoked (or demoted to a Creative Commons-like attribution-only license) would innovation increase worldwide, or would the opposite happen? Would this be good for society?
Writers like Nicholas Carr have argued that our digital culture values mashups over source material. I disagree with that (I believe both are equally valued, and equally valuable, though we should perhaps leave that argument for another day); I suspect that the world would benefit as the rate of innovation increases in response to these freedoms.
What I’m not certain about is how this would affect the creators. Would they benefit, if at all? Or would the benefits only show themselves after the industry has had to make do without copyright, like how the fashion industry has had to do?
I will admit, though: a future where Pride and Prejudice and Zombies can then be combined with Twilight and Buffy The Vampire Slayer sounds like a very fun world indeed.