Download for our troops! (?)

As always, John Degen has some interesting things to say. He has posted some thoughts in his blog on This magazine based on some comments that Cory Doctorow made on his BLOG.

I offered the following as my own comments.

It is interesting, but there will be a few people talking about the economics of creativity at the upcoming CopyCamp. I just looked at the session list on the WIKI and notice that there is not only my "Making sense of a full spectrum of business models for works of the mind", but there is also Chris Moore and his question, "Can someone explain the economics of Copyright to me?".

As a board member at Access Copyright my guess is that Chris will have a lot more to say on this topic than he is letting on, and will have strong critiques of many of the responses -- especially discussions that separate marginal and fixed costs.

In response to your note that, "The arrangement is fraught with difficult questions not normally addressed in the copyright debate". I think this is the only way we can make sense of problems. The copyright debate needs to be narrowed to discussing the limited exclusive rights necessary to grant to the creator to provide incentives for creativity. Everything else should fall outside of the copyright debate and into a free market of a full spectrum of methods of production, distribution and funding.

I may believe that never charging royalties, pre-authorizing derivatives (under certain conditions), and focusing on the fixed costs is the way to go. You might believe differently. None of this needs to ever be part of the "copyright debate". As long as you and I have the right to exclude others from publicly copying/communicating/performing without our permission, then it becomes our personal choice as authors when we will require permission, when we require payment, and when we don't.

As to the military pre-purchasing books, the point is that the structure is not (I believe capable of) putting resources into that. There would be a bulky bureaucratic procurement process, that makes regular government procurement seem like "dropping off at the corner store". The military is not known for being able to procure based on the different interests of individual people, necessarily operating at a higher level of abstraction that avoids getting too personal.

The only way literature that the troops will personally enjoy can get into their hands is if nobody needs to ask permission from any hierarchy in order to get it. This reading by these people costs Doctorow nothing, but offers him benefits in ways that cannot be calculated. It isn't simply a "loss leader" which is a concept from the tangible world given with a "loss leader" there is actually a loss (a marginal cost) that is absorbed by the seller -- something that doesn't apply here.

While there are methods of distribution of creativity that include a tangible container (such as the paper/bindings/etc of a traditional book) which thus has a marginal cost of those tangibles, the economics of works of the mind is entirely different from the economics of tangibles. It is possible to produce, distribute and fund creativity in ways that have no marginal cost at all, only a fixed cost.

Note: By saying there is no loss I am not in any way forgiving copyright infringement. Copyright infringement (for the level of copyright we would agree with) is harmful because it violates the copyright holders choice of business models. They have given openly granted certain permissions, required payment for other permissions, and with this combination they create a business model. In my case I am not only opposed to copyright infringement, but also extended/statutory licenses which are effectively the same removal of choices from the author. Where there is a market failure, and there are no other alternatives, it is a measure that has a place. Where there is not a market failure, and there are many competing business models, extended/statutory licenses become no different than government authorized copyright infringement. Where someone other than the author is able to "give permission" on terms different than the copyright holder, the authors business model will fail.