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Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Pirates' Code

There have been a number of attempts to alter consumer norms about copyright infringement (especially those of teenagers). The MPAA has its campaigns; the BSA has its ferret; and now New York City has a crowdsourced initiative to design a new public service announcement. At first blush, the plan looks smart: rather than have studio executives try to figure out what will appeal to kids (Sorcerer's Apprentice, anyone?), leave it to the kids themselves.

On further inspection, though, the plan seems a bit shaky. First, it's not actually a NYC campaign: the Bloomberg administration is sockpuppeting for NBC Universal. Second, why is the City even spending scarce taxpayer funds on this? Copyright enforcement is primarily private, although the Obama administration is lending a helping hand. Third, is this the most effective tactic? It seems more efficient to go after the street vendors who sell bootleg DVDs, for example - I can buy a Blockbuster Video store's worth of movies just by walking out the front door of my office. 

Yogi Berra (or was it Niels Bohr?) said that the hardest thing to predict is the future. And the hardest thing about norms is changing them. Larry Lessig's New Chicago framework not only points to the power of norms regulation (along the lines of Bob Ellickson), but suggests that norms are effectively free - no one has to pay to enforce them. This makes them attractive as a means of regulation. The problem, though, is that norms tend to be resistant to overt efforts to shift them. Think of how long it took to change norms around smoking - a practice proven to kill you - and you'll appreciate the scope of the challenge. The Bloomberg administration should save its resources for moving snow this winter...

Posted by Derek Bambauer on October 13, 2011 at 06:52 PM in Film, Information and Technology, Intellectual Property, Music, Property, Television, Web/Tech | Permalink


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The Lucy v. Zehmer case has always intrigued me.

Posted by: Dee Larry | Oct 26, 2011 12:53:24 PM

Thanks. The issue of just how to change or eliminate social norms is of course a complicated but no less urgent one. I think it is one area of research that may be amenable to learning from discoveries intrinsic to psychoanalytic theory (as an extension of 'folk psychological' explanation), cognitive psychology and social (and more psychoanalytically informed, 'group') psychology. Sensitivity to questions of social class, status, and the role of sundry "groups" are also important, especially with regard to public policy, which can be obtuse to such matters.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Oct 14, 2011 1:30:30 PM

Thanks, Patrick! I look forward to reading the Bicchieri and Muldoon article. Also, here's a working link to the Lessig piece - sorry about that: http://www.lessig.org/content/articles/works/LessigNewchicschool.pdf

Posted by: Derek Bambauer | Oct 14, 2011 12:07:01 PM

...and the Lessig link does not work.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Oct 14, 2011 8:38:59 AM

You might have have also exploited this post to link to an excellent introduction to social norms by Cristina Bicchieri and Ryan Muldoon in the SEP (Bicchieri is the author of one of the foremost books on social norms: The Grammar of Society...., 2006)): http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/social-norms/#Rel

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Oct 14, 2011 8:37:50 AM

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