Friday, March 14, 2008

Popularity and piracy

More popular songs, medicines, rubbershoes, cellphone models, any invention, tend to get pirated more than their less popular counterparts. This is a regular pattern. And this is being done not only by individuals, households or firms, but also by governments. The case of compulsory licensing (CL) of popular drugs against AIDS, cancer, TB, etc., is an example. Only those drugs that are more effective will be
issued CL or be copied by copycat manufacturers; the other less popular, less effective medicines, are left alone.

If I were a singer, say a famous rock star, and my songs and CDs are being pirated in many countries around the world, I could cry foul and sue IP infringement all over. But the cost of enforcement, by going through litigations in so many places, is much
much higher than the benefit of piracy being controlled or minimized.

One attitude I could choose, is to allow piracy of my songs and CDs, I won't run after the pirates. Then my songs will be heard even in the remotest and poorest villages in poor countries because my CDs are sold dirt cheap there. Many people on earth would have heard of my songs and known my name and my band. The manufacturers of known brands, whether sports equipment or cellphone, car and tv manufacturers will take note of this, and pretty soon, I will be swamped with plenty of offers for commercial endorsement. That's where I will make lots of money. Also, I can do live concerts in many cities around the world, I can charge high, and many people will still come and pay the high tickets because of my popularity, courtesy of my pirated songs and CDs.

It's a matter of "internalizing the externalities" of piracy. But then again, this is one option that IP owners can take. They can take the opposite tack, which is full and costly enforcement of IP rights.

I think that both approaches can be merged. If certain taxes and government regulations related to invention and composition will be removed or at least drastically cut, then the cost of production, distribution and marketing of songs, medical innovations, other agricultural or industrial inventions, will become lower, which translates to higher profits to inventors and innovators, which attracts new players and competitors, which translates to lower prices, which reduces the incentives for piracy.

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