Sunday, September 02, 2012

On IPR Abolition 17: Copyright by a Government Corporation

"If a film is fully funded by taxpayers, should copyright protection apply?"

That was a good question from a friend, Wan Saiful Wan Jan of IDEAS Malaysia, in his facebook status yesterday. I like the response by his friends:

Mohamad  I believe so,in order to fully exploit the film and to get max roi for the investment (of taxpayrtd money). Copyright protect ideas, regardless the wht method is being used to develop them

Wan  But how do you justify privatising ROI?

Afif  Yes only if for the revenue from having copyright belongs to the public. If the revenue goes into private pocket then no.

Mohamad  Wait... On the question was whethr the film should be protected. Yes and it should, to protect ideas and encourage the churning of more ideas. Next, in producing the film, regardless whtr it is publicly or privatley funded the copyright is still there.
Toprotect the idea from being copied by othrs for profit

Wan  If you pay fully for your potrait to be painted, do you have to pay the artist again everytime you want to see it?

Mohamad  To be eligible for protection the work must be original. Your portrait may not fall under that category since any other artist may produce the same.

I commented too on this:

Nonoy Oplas Hi Wan, my vote is also Yes. A copyright, patent, trademark, other forms of IPR, is recognition of a bright idea and distinguish it from mediocre or idiotic ideas, which do not need protection. Whether a product is taxpayers funded or not is a secondary question.

If a government-owned rice research institute develops a new revolutionary rice variety (say very drought-resistant or flood-resistant and high-yielding at the same time), that rice gene should be patented. It's up to the government whether to waive the royalties or not when it distributes the rice seeds to farmers for free, or at subsidized rate, or at full cost. At least rent-seekers and copy-caters who produce no rice R&D cannot steal the gene and sell it at high profit.

Wan ....Copyrighting a taxpayer funded item and then charging them for usage would mean taxpayers are double taxed while the profit is privatised. Of course this moral dilemma would not exist if govt does not meddle in the first place. But now that the damage already exist, how do we resolve it?

For example, if the govt pays 100% of the cost to make a film using taxpayer money, how is it justifiable to add royalty portion on ticket price? The moviemakers effectively get paid twice by taxpayers.

Nonoy In this case, the issue is no longer on copyright, but how the government will use the revenues from its movie production. If the government-produced film is really good, it can even sell the movie abroad and make more money there. The question is what will the government do with the extra revenues. Use it to fatten existing bureaucracies, or use it to retire some public debt and reduce interest payment, or finance new programs without raising existing taxes or creating new ones.

Mohamad  if the govt does not impose royalty to the ticket, then only a certain portion of the taxpayers will reap the benefit i.e. those who watch the movie. How about me who did not go to movies?

Nonoy Right. First rule, government should not be in the business of producing movies, or running banks, power plants, airlines, shipping lines, etc. But since this has been committed (also by governments in many other countries like the Philippines), then second rule: government should provide movie subsidy to all, in the form perhaps of a "movie voucher", and not just to those who watched the government-produced movie.

Going back to copyright. If you paid fully for a painting of yourself, I think you yourself have both the physical and intellectual (copyright) ownership of that painting. If the painter did not get money from you, he just painted your face (or somebody else' face) because he simply likes your/another person's face, and if he applied for a copyright for that painting, then his IPR ownership allows him full power and rights what to do with that painting -- to keep it, to sell it, to exchange it, to give it away for free, etc.


I will reiterate here: IPRs like copyright, patent and trademark, should be respected and protected, not disregarded or even abolished. The purpose is to distinguish and delineate bright ideas from mediocre ideas. The former is scarce and limited while the latter is non-scarce and unlimited as there are lots of mediocre or crackpot ideas spreading around.

For instance, a medicine against a particular deadly disease (dengue, prostate cancer,...) that has undergone a battery of clinical trials with various subjects and patients to test for efficacy and safety and has passed all those tests, is a bright invention. Compare it to an "invention" by a crackpot saying that his concoction of salt + banana leaves + sugar + chicken intestines ++ can kill various types of cancer cells even without undergoing any serious clinical trials.

The former would need a patent to protect it from many attempts to copy and produce it as if they also invented it. The latter would not need any protection because no serious scientist and biotech or pharma company will bother to copy his "invention".
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See also:
On IPR Abolition 12: Patent, Mini-Monopolies and Trademark, September 20, 2011
On IPR Abolition 13: Protecting Bright Ideas from Mediocre Ones, March 07, 2012
IPR Abolition 14: Mises Group and Anti-IPR Propaganda, April 19, 2012
On IPR Abolition 15: Motorcycle Patents, June 13, 2012
On IPR abolition 16: Debate with Teddy Boy Locsin, August 24, 2012

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