Lately, lots of bogus arguments for copyright expansion have been floating around. A handy detector for bogus arguments is the Pizzaright Principle.
Pizzaright – the exclusive right to sell pizza – is a new kind of intellectual property right. Pizzaright law, if adopted, would make it illegal to make or serve a pizza without a license from the pizzaright owner.
Creating a pizzaright would be terrible policy, of course. We’re much better off letting the market decide who can make and sell pizza.
The Pizzaright Principle says that if you make an argument for expanding copyright or creating new kinds of intellectual property rights, and if your argument serves equally well as an argument for pizzaright, then your argument is defective. It proves too much. Whatever your argument is, it had better rest on some difference between pizzaright and the exclusive right you want to create.
Let’s apply the Pizzaright Principle to two well-known bogus arguments for intellectual property expansion.
Suppose Alice argues that extending the term of copyright is good, because it gives the copyright owner a revenue stream that can be invested in creating new works. She could equally well argue that pizzaright is good, because it gives the pizzaright owner a revenue stream that can be invested in creating new pizzas.
(The flaw in Alice’s argument is that the decision whether to invest in a new copyrighted work, or a new pizza, is rationally based only on the cost of the investment and the expected payoff. Making a transfer payment to the would-be investor doesn’t change his decision, assuming that capital markets are efficient.)
Suppose that Bob argues that the profitability of broadcasting may be about to decrease, so broadcasters should be given new intellectual property rights. He could equally well argue that if the pizza business has become less profitable, a pizzaright should be created.
(The flaw in Bob’s argument was the failure to show that the new right furthers the interests of society as a whole, as opposed to the narrow interests of the broadcasters or pizzamakers.)
The Pizzaright Principle is surprisingly useful. Try it out on the next IP expansion argument you hear.