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Dean Baker on IP

Dean Baker is one of the most interesting public intellectuals working in DC. His blog Beat the Press does a great job correcting misconceptions about economics generated by the MSM. He has a number of interesting insights on the relative competence of government and business. I just noticed that the PAER has published his piece “The Reform of Intellectual Property.” A few excerpts are below the fold. . . .

Like many copyright scholars (look in Salil Mehra’s paper on the iPod tax for a good roundup), the economist Baker favors a separation of rights to compensation from rights to control:

It is possible to design a system that compensates creative workers, while still leaving the choice of material to individuals (rather than some government commission), and eliminates the economic distortions associated with copyright. The basic point of such a system would be to compensate the creative worker at the point where they do their work, rather than compensating them after then fact for the work. If the creative worker is compensated at the point where he or she produces the material, then there is no need for copyright, the work can be transferred as quickly and freely as technology will allow.

One mechanism for this sort of compensation is a system of individual vouchers, where each adult can be given a fixed sum (e.g. 50 to 100 dollars a year), which can only be used to support creative or artistic work. These “artistic freedom vouchers” (AFV) could be paid out through the tax filing system, so that individuals could make their payments each year directly through their tax return.

Clearly the AFV would have to be fleshed out at a level of detail that, say, Terry Fisher gives for new CRO’s in Promises to Keep. As tools for measuring audiences get more sophisticated, Fisher’s may be the better route to reform. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see the spread of such ideas in economists’ circles.

Here’s the philosophical conflict that Baker’s and Fisher’s ideas raise. Fisher wants artists to be compensated according to how often their work is actually viewed, or listened to. Baker apparently would rather have people choose ex ante whom to support. Baker’s approach may lead to a more “highbrow” public culture. I’ve heard that in some studies of Netflix queues, people are likely to keep moving edifying films slightly lower down in their queues–they know they *should* watch them, but want instant gratification now.

There’s some discussion of the divergence between actual, desired, and predicted media consumption habits in studies of Nielsen ratings and the new Soundscan. Many thought it a triumph when new measurers managed to get a real sense of what people actually watch, rather than what they write in their diaries. However, it may turn out that little apirational lies do more to preserve a public service culture than perfect reporting of actual habits.