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My recent writings against the expansion of intellectual protection laws to new domains have led to a few e-mails like this one: "I recently read your article on fashion copyright and have to totally agree, i also think it should apply to every aspect of life.
So in [the] future I will copy every word you ever write and reprint it in another publication or format without giving you any credit or paying for your creativity in anyway."

Touche! Sadly, copying blogs posts without credit or compensation is a crowded market. Take, whatever it is. They do just copy my posts. They don't link them back to me, or attach my name to them. But what do I care? I find it hard to believe that there's anyone who has chosen to read my blog on rather than at The Washington Post. And if ever did become a serious site, the fact that all its content was stolen would quickly emerge -- destroying its credibility and probably giving me some publicity in the process.

Of course, straight duplication is, in blogging and most other endeavors, rarer than conceptual mimicry. Most bloggers -- and for that matter, most writers and reporters -- have seen stories they've broken or ideas they've developed or research they've unearthed appear under other bylines. You can't always prove that it was your efforts that got ripped off, but fairly often, you know. This is more akin to the issues in the fashion world, where things that look suspiciously like runway designs show up in Forever 21 a few days after they're first photographed in Milan.

But, again, so what? If my ideas become popular, that gives me a market advantage, as I know them best. And because I care about my ideas and think they're correct and think it would be good if they got more exposure, I'm hard-pressed to complain when they begin to spread. If the situation were such that this sort of thing was putting writers in the poorhouse or people were no longer generating new ideas because it stopped seeming worthwhile to do so, that might argue for some change in policy. But that's not happening at all. Quite the opposite, in fact: There's probably more innovation because people are building off each other's work freely.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 3, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Intellectual Property  
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I think you can say this because you are paid a salary by your employer, whether or not your writings get plagiarized, copied, or ripped off. Plus, a post is (in general) not something terribly permanent or labor intensive: you'll have another one in a few hours. If you were a writer (or painter or filmmaker) whose income depended on someone buying your work, you would treat the idea of direct theft of your intellectual property a little more seriously.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | September 3, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

If anyone does mistakenly read this blog on Bullfax, they'll be surprised to encounter this very post:

Posted by: benmiller | September 3, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

You obviously think highly of yourself, Ezra. I hardly think that ANYONE thinks your ideas are "popular."

Posted by: Greenwaver | September 3, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

If your blog post was reproduced for the purposes of discussing and commenting on how horribly you botched rudimentary understanding of the differences between patent, copyright, and trademark law, then I'd say that's a protected fair use.

Posted by: MStreet1 | September 3, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

JJenkins2 makes a fair point. There are people who aren't hurt much by plagerism and there are others who are hurt more. But we should be realistic in evaluating who is hurt, to what degree they're hurt, and how that compares to the loss to the public by giving a creator a monopoly on that idea/product.

How hurt is Robert Altman if someone pirates his films today? I think it's pretty safe to say "not much". How hurt is Walt Disney if someone uses Mickey Mouse in their own work? Again, I think we can agree that Walt isn't hurt much at all by that use.

How hurt is an indie comic producer if his stuff gets pirated? Well, I don't really know, but probably more.

We should stop assuming that any use of any person's work is automatically wrong and that all works should be protected for all time. We also have to admit to ourselves that we have a world now where there are more people than ever willing to create and distribute things for free, so maybe there will be less opportunity for people to make a living of of their creative works.

Posted by: MosBen | September 3, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

"You obviously think highly of yourself, Ezra. I hardly think that ANYONE thinks your ideas are 'popular.'"

OOOOO.... BURN!!!1!! They are so unpopular that Greenwaver doesn't even read them! (Wait...)

Posted by: JEinATL | September 3, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Ezra...Small minded as you are, perhaps the Post, who pays your salary might care if your column were available elsewhere. They pay your salary (for a while) and someone else makes the ad revenue.

Liberal business model...everything should be free, wealth should be fairly distributed. This is great until you realize that jobs do not get created, salaries do not get paid, columns and new products are not created, taxes cannot be collected, wealth can not be redistributed unless you give people protection to profit from their efforts.

Posted by: ELF2 | September 3, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Elf2, Ezra specifically reserved on the situation where plagiarism causes a decrease in productivity. *He's* the one arguing for a market based solution. You're the one evidently on the side of a top-down, big government approach.

If people can write collumns and make money and not have inordinate levels of web traffic stolen from their primary site, why should Ezra care about the theft? If the market for collumn writers is busy and filled with people churning out new ideas then there's no need for regulation.

Posted by: MosBen | September 3, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

MosBen: There is always Fair Use of copyrighted material. And I've always taken a fairly broad interpretation of fair use. You're right that in cases like Disney the copyright has been taken to absurd lengths (timewise). Still, my heart lies with the little guy: the independent filmmaker, the freelance writer, the artist who should be able to maintain control over the way her images are used. So we can't throw babies out with the bath water, using Disney as the bad guy every time. It's complex, and I'm no expert (though I've had to consider copyright issues in my work from time to time). We need a smart discussion amongst a diverse group of lawyers and creators on this one.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | September 3, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

But even the little guy dies, eventually. I'm not opposed to some kind of regulation permitting creators some reasonable degree of control over their works (particularly the sale of their works) during their lifetimes, but I don't see any reason why an indie film maker from the 40s has any more claim over the control of their works than Disney does. At some point it *must* pass to the public.

Posted by: MosBen | September 3, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

There are pros and cons to patents and copywriters and to given terms of them. The optimum solution is not simpleminded. It depends greatly on the specifics of the situation.

Regarding this issue here are two of my favorite quotes. From the great growth economist Paul Romer of Stanford:

As just one example, recall that the increasing returns to scale that is implied by nonrivalry leads to the failure of Adam Smith’s famous invisible hand result. The institutions of complete property rights and perfect competition that work so well in a world consisting solely of rival goods no longer deliver the optimal allocation of resources in a world containing ideas.

– Forthcoming American Economic Journal paper, page 8, at:

"Think about the basic science that led to the discovery of the structure of DNA. There are some kinds of ideas where, once those ideas are uncovered, you'd like to make them as broadly available as possible, so everybody in the world can put them to good use. There we find it efficient to give those ideas away for free and encourage everybody to use them. If you're going to be giving things away for free, you're going to have to find some system to finance them, and that's where government support typically comes in... Because everybody can use the idea at the same time, there's no tragedy of the commons in the intellectual sphere. There's no problem of overuse or overgrazing or overfishing an idea. If you give an idea away for free, you don't get any of the problems when you try and give objects away for free. So the efficient thing for society is to offer really big rewards for some scientist who discovers an oral rehydration therapy. But then as soon as we discover it, we give the idea away for free to everybody throughout the world"


Posted by: RichardHSerlin | September 3, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to second JJenkins2's entry. I write for a very small paper, get paid a pittance when they use one of my pieces. One of the readers of Politico copied and pasted one of my columns onto their site -- not a link. In this case, the web site where the column originally appeared could use a few extra hits, and while the editor can't afford to give me a raise, I would have appreciated a bit of kharma.

In this case, Politico is the big dog -- and if they would like to pay for my opinion pieces, I'd be glad to accept, but I couldn't even find a place on their web site to complain about the plagiarism.

Posted by: su10 | September 5, 2010 8:12 AM | Report abuse

Guesswhosue said it perfectly. We've had lots of people willing to go into teaching as a career because it offered good benefits and job security. Now we're changing the rules -- refusing tenure, evaluating over and over, bickering over pensions because the politicians didn't fund the pension funds adequately. In many areas, teachers are asked not only to teach but to fill in for families in terms of inspirations and support. Teachers too often have to provide supplies that the school doesn't offer.

Sooner or later the laws of supply and demand will kick in, and a teacher with an MEd will expect to be compensated as well as someone with an MBA. The challenges of education are simply too complex to be resolved by judging teachers -- we have to look at ourselbves first.

Posted by: su10 | September 5, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

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