The Squirrels Are Watching

What’s the right length of time for copyright and patents?

Posted in Fact and Law by andrewfong on November 14, 2009

One of my issues with copyrights and patents are setup is how arbitrary their length is. Copyrights lasts for your entire life + 70 years. A patent lasts for 20 years. That seems odd to me. The end result of billions of dollars worth of product development can be under protection for a shorter amount of time than some doodle you scribbled on a napkin one afternoon.

Ideally, the length of time a copyright or patent lasts should be tied to market behavior by producers. I’m not sure how’d you make this work, but as a starting point, the market value of a copyrights or patent should correspond roughly to your sunk costs in producing the relevant intellectual property. One you account for those, I feel the law shouldn’t offer any additional protection. You are of course, entitled to try to earn a profit, but your profits should come not from a monopoly but from making a better product than your competitors — and I mean competitors in a very narrow sense. For example, I’d like to choose between book publishers based on factors like the quality of the paper or which ones offer digital copies, as opposed to which one of them managed to snag the exclusive rights to a book first.

I really can’t justify sunk costs as a barometer of the ideal value of a copyright over say, sunk costs + 20%, but it seems to jive from from the standpoint of putting the original content producer on a level playing field with the copycats. If anyone has thoughts on this, I’d be interested in hearing them.

Advertisements

Comments Off on What’s the right length of time for copyright and patents?

Gun Manufacturer Liability

Posted in Fact and Law by andrewfong on October 29, 2009

In Torts yesterday, we started on strict products liability. At some point, we touched on the liability of gun manufacturers for the costs of crimes committed with guns. This naturally started up a shitstorm.

First, let’s assume that there is in fact a legitimate public interest in ordinary citizens being able to buy a gun (if there weren’t, then we would be discussing banning guns period, not strict products liability). Given that legitimate interest, my initial reaction was that holding gun manufacturers liable for gun crimes would be horribly unfair. It’d be the equivalent of holdng auto-manufacturers liable for hit and runs. After talking to my modmate Sam though, I think, from an economic efficiency and loss distribution perspective at least, it’s an interesting proposition.

(more…)

Comments Off on Gun Manufacturer Liability

Life Experiences – An Example

Posted in Fact and Law by andrewfong on July 14, 2009

A follow up regarding the role of life experience in interpreting the law:

In Jacobellis v. Ohio, the Supreme Court examined whether a particular film violated obscenity laws. In his concurrence, Justice Potter Stewart famously wrote, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within [hardcore porngraphy]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” (emphasis mine).

I humbly submit that the life experiences of Justice Stewart figured prominently in his knowing it when he saw it.

Tagged with: , ,

Comments Off on Life Experiences – An Example

Impartial Defined

Posted in Fact and Law by andrewfong on July 14, 2009

I’m going to Berkeley Law this fall, and in an attempt to get my toes wet, spent some time going over the transcript of the Sotomayor hearings earlier today. One of the issues that came up repeatedly was whether allowing “life experiences” to affect your judgment violated the duty of a judge to remain impartial. The most experience I have with judging is high school debate, so … big grain of salt, but myinitial reaction is no, it doesn’t. To understand why, let’s step back a little bit and consider what it even means to be impartial.

Law is not math. It is subject to interpretation. When your laws are written over the course of over two hundred (occasionally turbulent) year by thousands of (occasionally boneheaded) individuals, you’re going to get contradictions, gray areas, and general stupidity.  Ideally, you’d ask the legislature to clarify, but it’s possible (probable?) that individuals within the legislature will disagree on what they meant when they wrote it. And that’s assuming the individuals are still alive and conscious.

Therefore, law cannot be impartially interpreted in the same manner that, say, a calculator impartially interprets a mathematical equation. Instead, the best a judge can do to be impartial is to be consistent and by extension, predictable.

(more…)

Comments Off on Impartial Defined