Is copyright actually beneficial to society?

May 26, 2010 9:32 am

Copyright law is one of the areas that keeps coming up for scrutiny as more of our daily life occurs within a digital (and thus trivially copied and shared) world.

There is a TED talk by Johanna Blakley entitled "Lessons from fashion's free culture" in which she discusses the lack of intellectual "property" protection in the fashion world (and in a myriad of other industries). It is very interesting and I highly recommend watching it. It's only 15 minutes and is available on the TED website here: Johanna Blakley: Lessons from fashion's free culture or on YouTube here: Johanna Blakley: Lessons from fashion's free culture. She refers to a website for more information which has currently been Slashdotted (that's slang for "collapsed under the strain of trying to serve up content to all of the Slashdot readers, like me, trying to view the site"). When it comes back to life it's available at

One of her best points is that copyright is always touted as the protection which drives innovation and investment into an industry. She then shows a graphic comparing the gross sales of industries with no or little IP protection against gross sales of industries with lots of IP protection. It's absolutely staggering how small industries with incredibly strong copyright protection like film, books, and music are when compared with industries with no copyright protection like clothing and food.

She has a quote from Stuart Weitzman, a shoe designer, who says that while the lack of copyright protection is frustrating it actually forces him to innovate far more than otherwise because he has to stay ahead of the curve before the cheaper knock-offs catch up rather than making one design. He also has to try to come up with designs that will be difficult for the cheap knock-offs to copy.

Sounds to me like he actually has to work, unlike one-hit-wonder music artists who live off of a single song for 30 years and feel entitled to never having to work again.

If you haven't gone to watch the video you really should. As I said, it's only 15 minutes and it's very interesting.

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