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CONTACT: Amy Smorodin
February 28 , 2006
(202) 289-8928

Property Rights Protect Both Artists and Culture
PFF's Ross Disputes Idea that Internet has
Changed Role of IP

WASHINGTON D.C. - Neither side of the intellectual property debate can define what is best for culture or society, explains Patrick Ross in "Artists and Culture: Empowering the Former to Foster the Latter," a new Progress on Point released today by The Progress & Freedom Foundation. Instead, an artist's control over her work, enforced by intellectual property rights, allows culture to spread and thrive. It isn't necessary for self-appointed defenders of culture to decide what is in the best interests of the artist. Furthermore, digital delivery of content should not dilute the rights of artists.

In his paper, Ross, Senior Fellow and Vice President for Communications and External Affairs, cites the history of intellectual property law, and the subsequent flourish of culture in the U.S., to illustrate that giving artists a limited monopoly on their work encourages future creation. In the U.S., our views and laws on intellectual property stem from philosophers of physical property. William Blackstone, heavily influenced by John Locke's idea of property as an inalienable right, first gave us the concept of the "Blackstonian bundle," an idea Ross considers vital to intellectual property. The "Blackstonian bundle" compares individual property rights to a bundle of sticks, which "can be leased sold, traded or given away." "[C]ulture has thrived even as artists alternately extended and withheld sticks from their Blackstonian bundle," Ross explains.

The copyright debate has gathered momentum with the widespread adoption of the Internet to distribute content. The author takes issue with the idea that the advent of new technologies should result in a change an artist's rights. One key point Ross disputes is that obtaining out-of-print works by filesharing is "harmless to the artist." Instead, the author explains that the Internet has created an increase in "niche markets" because of the falling cost of distribution and production of online content. Therefore, creators of specialized content now have the ability to profit from their work. "For respected scholars to argue that depriving a creator of potential revenue for her work is 'harmless to the artist' shows a true disrespect to all artists, and a dangerous compulsion to put the desires of the masses ahead of the rights of the individual," Ross states.

Ross identifies the role of the artist after content becomes "one with culture" as a key difference of opinion in the IP debate, with those focused on culture quick to dismiss the artist's ongoing role that comes with his or her Blackstonian bundle. Self-appointed guardians are not necessary to protect culture in the midst of changing technology. Instead, Ross explains, artists need to continue to have control over their "Blackstonian bundle," and in so doing will continue to contribute to the culture.

The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.



The Progress & Freedom Foundation