I need a (non-copyrighted) drink
I've spent the past few days with my family in California, and the week before that in a small diving town in Mexico. I had some good food, and a lot of time to rest and read. But I haven't had a decent cocktail in about two weeks. This is bad for both my mental health, and my health health. All of which may explain my distress over the news that there's an effort afoot to copyright cocktail recipes.
As is always the case with granting individuals legalized monopolies over intellectual property, we should start by asking whether consumers are suffering because bartenders don't have enough financial incentive to innovate interesting new drinks. Given that the past few years have seen an incredible explosion in creative mixology, that's a hard case to make. The status quo seems perfectly good at encouraging innovation -- so much so that the drinks have gotten increasingly comical.
And it's not just that there's no evidence that consumers are being harmed by the current arrangement. There's clear evidence that they're benefiting from it. I live in Washington. But a lot of really good cocktails are thought up in San Francisco. Happily, I can drink a lot of those cocktails, as the most successful recipes quickly proliferate. In a world where the originators of those cocktails can sue -- or, even worse, a world where the people who say they're the originators of those cocktails can sue -- those drinks stay off the menu. And that doesn't even get into the world of trolls -- people who would try and make their money by copyrighting dozens or hundreds of drink recipes and then suing bars that made anything similar.
Much like with the proposed fashion copyright, there should be a pretty strong bias toward an if-it's-not-broke-don't-fix-it position on intellectual property laws. To a degree people don't always appreciate, consumers really do benefit from the absence of monopolies, but since they're not politically organized around their intellectual property interests and small groups of producers often are, the law can tilt towards the few at the expense of the many.
Photo credit: Leah Jones/The Washington Post.
September 1, 2010; 9:19 AM ET
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