Elementary and Persistent Errors in the Economic Analysis of Intellectual Property
The literature on the economic analysis of intellectual property rights evidences a broad scholarly consensus on a number of central and important issues. First, intellectual property rights enable economic actors to capture some of the benefits of the investment they make in establishing a good reputation, creating expressive works, and inventing new and improved technology. Absent intellectual property rights, copiers are free to take for themselves a significant part of the economic benefit generated by these types of investment and to undermine the incentive to make these in- vestments in the first place. Second, the investment activities induced by intellectual property rights-developing a positive reputation with consumers, creating expressive works that consumers want to read, view, or hear, and developing improved technology- are efficient investments up to the point that consumers are willing to pay for their fruits. Third, a decentralized system of incentives such as that created by a system of intellectual property rights will over time produce results better preferred by consumers than will any kind of centrally directed subsidy system. Fourth, intellectual property rights systems have costs, costs involved in identifying, defining and enforcing the subject matter of the rights. Fifth, the intellectual property regimes of the United States, in particular, and of the developed economies are, as a general matter, economically sensible, no matter what particular details may concern a particular author. Even Justice Stephen Breyer, that once youthful Harvard skeptic, has said that the issue is not whether to have intellectual property rights, but what form they should take.
Scholars made considerable progress over the last century understanding the economics of intellectual property rights. Yet, much remains to be done. There is ample room for additional progress in the literature. Indeed, it seems likely that this progress will result in part from the work of the scholars who assembled for this conference.