Copyrighting Culture: The Political Economy of Intellectual Property

By Ronald V. Bettig | Go to book overview

4
The (Political) Economics of Intellectual Property
As a marketable commodity, intellectual property has come under the scrutiny of economists specializing in the "economics of information." This chapter reviews some of the key concepts from the field of "information economics," particularly those germane to intellectual property issues, among them:
· the nature of information as a public good
· the problem of excluding nonpaying consumers of information
· the relationship between the first-copy costs of producing information and the costs of reproducing and distributing it
· price discrimination in information markets
· the nondepletability of information and entertainment goods, and
· the economies of scale and scope in the production and distribution of informational and cultural goods.

The chapter concludes with a discussion of the debate between neoclassical economists and radical political economists over differing conceptions of "efficiency."


The Economics of Intellectual Property

Thomas Jefferson recognized early the difference between the nature of ideas and information and that of material goods. He said of "an idea": "Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me."1Jefferson was describing what contemporary economists call "public goods," which allow joint, or nonrival, consumption by all potential consumers. Like Jefferson's taper, the use of a radio broadcast or lighthouse signal by one person does not prevent its actual or potential consumption by another. A related

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