For years, we’ve been arguing against faith-based policy making when it comes to intellectual property. This is the belief that “if some intellectual property is good, more must be better,” when it’s never been established that the fundamental principle is true in the first place. Thankfully, there’s been a renewed focus on empirical studies looking at the impact of intellectual property law, and nearly all of them seem to suggest the very fundamental assumptions that underpin copyright law aren’t actually true. That link is from the Columbia Journalism Review (which discloses that the MPAA funds their coverage of IP issues, though I imagine the MPAA is less than pleased with this article), noting a renewed interest in empirical studies on the impact of copyright law and the fact that many of those studies show that the traditional claims about copyright law don’t actually appear to be true.
The takeaway, for Buccafusco and Sprigman, is that markets for creative work are not nearly as efficient as IP law assumes—and that the argument that more protection is needed to ensure innovation might not be quite right. “The work I do with Chris suggests that we don’t know as much about IP as we think we do,” says Sprigman. “It’s been a faith-based policy for a long time. A lot of people in my field are trying to uncover what IP laws actually do and what they don’t.”
Some of the research covered in the article, such as work done by Christopher Buccafusco and Christopher Sprigman, we’ve covered before. But it also highlights how this is a growing area of research, with a few new academic centers really devoted to the subject. This is a very good thing. For years I’ve pointed out that the lack of empirical research on the impact of copyright law (and changes to copyright law) was a real disaster for anyone wishing to change copyright policy. Having robust research that proves the actual impact of copyright law should be a good thing. One would imagine that it should be supported across the board, even by legacy entertainment industry players who often are copyright maximalists. After all, if their theories prove wrong and they might be better off with weaker copyright law, wouldn’t they want to know that?