Free-riding, cooperation, and 'peaceful revolutions' in copyright

Suzor, Nicolas P. (2014) Free-riding, cooperation, and 'peaceful revolutions' in copyright. Harvard Journal of Law and Technology, 28(1), pp. 138-193.

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Modern copyright law is based on the inescapable assumption that users, given the choice, will free-ride rather than pay for access. In fact, many consumers of cultural works – music, books, films, games, and other works – fundamentally want to support their production. It turns out that humans are motivated to support cultural production not only by extrinsic incentives, but also by social norms of fairness and reciprocity. This article explains how producers across the creative industries have used this insight to develop increasingly sophisticated business models that rely on voluntary payments (including pay-what-you-want schemes) to fund their costs of production.

The recognition that users are not always free-riders suggests that current policy approaches to copyright are fundamentally flawed. Because social norms are so important in consumer motivations, the perceived unfairness of the current copyright system undermines the willingness of people to pay for access to cultural goods. While recent copyright reform debate has focused on creating stronger deterrence through enforcement, increasing the perceived fairness and legitimacy of copyright law is likely to be much more effective.

The fact that users will sometimes willingly support cultural production also challenges the economic raison d'être of copyright law. This article demonstrates how 'peaceful revolutions' are flipping conventional copyright models and encouraging free-riding through combining incentives and prosocial norms. Because they provide a means to support production without limiting the dissemination of knowledge and culture, there is good reason to believe that these commons-based systems of cultural production can be more efficient, more fair, and more conducive to human flourishing than conventional copyright systems. This article explains what we know about free-riding so far and what work remains to be done to understand the viability and importance of cooperative systems in funding cultural production.

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ID Code: 70343
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Keywords: copyright, pay-what-you-want, free-riding, behavioral economics, commons, open access
ISSN: 2153-263X
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES (180000) > LAW (180100) > Intellectual Property Law (180115)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law
Current > Schools > School of Law
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2014 Nicolas Suzor and Queensland University of Technology.
Copyright Statement: This article is distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Australia (CC BY-NC 3.0 AU) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:
Deposited On: 22 Apr 2014 02:54
Last Modified: 23 Jan 2015 03:23

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