Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tapping the Creative Commons

It can be challenging to refrain from curmudgeonry when it seems like every time I switch on a Top 40 station and hear the latest pop drivel, it seems fueled by something I heard done better 20 years back.

My rough estimation for the formula to making a hit song in 2013:
  1. Find a track that Rhys Fulber engineered somewhere in the Caustic Grip to Millennium era.
  2. Strip it of any complex or meaningfully assonant elements.
  3. Plop bland lyrics on top.
  4. Autotune to taste.
  5. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Importantly, it's not the ripping off that turns me into a discount Oscar The Grouch, it's the uninspired craftsmanship. Leeb and Fulber (& al) are nothing if not prolific and unapologetic samplers. They've lifted from a pretty wide swath of movies from the Alien franchise to Robocop 2 (seriously) to Hellraiser to the Michael Douglas tour de force Falling Down to that old chestnut The Atomic Cafe. And on Millennium, they lifted guitar riffs wholesale from mainstream metal acts. And I thank them profusely for that. 

"Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal"
-T.S. Eliot

I tend to agree with Tabarrok that there is an optimal level of intellectual property protection, and that it's possible that copyright statutes are on the dy/dx < 0 side of the hump.

My public choice discipline tells me that ex ante formal rules signed by legislatures will probably be penned by and in the best interests of established industries. This could be bad news for nascent firms looking to sail down that long road to the top (if they want to rock and/or roll). Contrariwise, ex post litigation is cumbersome and costly for the little guy, viz. the dust-up between The Honest Toddler and The Honest Company. It's tough peach pits to balance the Type I and Type II errors here. How much prior restraint is optimal? How much redress?

And is Eliot right? Is IP "theft" euvoluntary under the right conditions? If so, what are those conditions? Shakespeare's thievery would put Selina Kyle to shame. Do we see him as history's greatest villain? How is he different from Vanilla Ice (now there's a question I never thought I'd ask)? Is artistic cachet important? If so, how?

This sort of stuff is, I think, wrangling over conventional ownership and exchange. I'm not sure these questions are adequately settled in the realm of IP. We have decided to "coordinate" (I'm still not sure it's a symmetric game) on a set of formal rules, but without emerging from well-established informal rules, they seem awfully subject to change. Is there a better approach? Is that better approach in the core of the game?

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?