Copyright, though nominally instituted to encourage the creation of a work, has as its only logical purpose the encouragement of the reproduction of the work. What we see again and again in our society is that people do not need to be encouraged to create, only that businesses want methods by which they can minimize the risk of investing in the creation.

Richard Stallman has argued that the central bargain in copyright is that the public gives up a right they couldn’t actually use. Until recently, it was more expensive to make a copy of a book than it was to simply buy the book. So when society agreed to grant authors and publishers the monopoly, it was a good bargain. Now that the public can make copies of something, they are giving up a right they could in fact enjoy—or, rather, the public has proceeded to make copies anyway, regardless of the previous bargain, a kind of jury nullification. As with any law that loses the consent of the governed because it no longer reflects the logic of society, the law is not overturned, just ignored. It recedes into the past, like laws forbidding pigs to enter saloons or alcohol sold on Sundays or adultery or interracial marriage.

One theory from the creative industries has been to educate the public that content is worth something, and therefore they should pay for it. That notion is everywhere, in trailers before movie screenings and in the pages of magazines, whether they talk about themselves or the book business. As charitable as Americans are, and as willing as Europeans are to subsidize, relying on the notion that one deserves to get paid will fail every time. Imagine that as a dating strategy: I deserve to be desired by you. Apple, Prada, the NFL, the purveyors of widely desired goods and experiences do not “educate” the public that they deserve to be paid. The public simply offers up its money, gratefully.

The Business of Literature