Advertising is the alternative to copyright

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From: Russell Turpin (
Date: Fri May 18 2001 - 17:03:59 PDT

Gordon Mohr's wrote an interesting essay on the
evils of IP, both patents and copyright. In part,
he argued that copyright subsidizes the creation
of more works than would be present without
copyright, and that this is the cause for the morass
of pop media, of bubblegum copies of bubblegum
originals, of TV shows that all look the same, etc.

On thinking about this, I'm unconvinced. There
are two models for the production of media in a
free economy. (1) Consumer pays. (2) Advertiser
pays. Movies, books, and albums are based on
the first model. TV, radio, and magazines are
based on the second model.

What does this have to do with copyright? It
seems to me that the first model relies on copyright,
where the second model does not. Without
copyright or some other exclusion mechanism,
the consumer has no incentive to pay through the
channels that funnel revenue back to the content
producer, rather than through other channels that
forego this expense. This means the media producer
no longer has the consumer as a customer. That
channel goes away. So who is the customer? The
only answer so far is: the advertiser. This is the
reason that copyright is much more an issue for the
movie industry than for the TV industry. A TV
show makes its money from advertisers. If you
show "The Practice" at a local bar, ABC is thrilled
because more people see its advertiser's
commercials. If New Line cinema can't control
who shows its movies, then it also will turn to the
advertising model. Because that's the only other
game in town.

What worries me is this: The divide between
advertising funded media and consumer funded
media also defines a scale of quality. Movies
can have higher production values, more
intense development, and (sometimes) better
writing than TV shows. Books go deeper than
magazines. The radio version of a song is not
as good as the album version. This isn't accident.
Advertisers want just enough content surrounding
their message to maximize its distribution.
Without copyright, commercial media will
become little more than advertising outlet.
Writing, directing, and composing become --
even more than now -- branches of the
advertising industry. And that worries me.

At the end of the day, there are only two
sources of revenue that drive media production:
consumers and advertisers. The first depends
on channel exclusion. I'm not thrilled with
the idea of eliminating the consumer channel. I
am quite interested if anyone can show how the
economics of content production would lead to
a different result, without copyright or other
channel exclusion.


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