Monday, February 23, 2009

An Odd Problem that Proves the Obvious

The problem with the advertising slogan "diamonds are forever" is that diamonds are forever.

In reaction to the global recession, the DeBeers diamond cartel has reduced rough diamond prices by up to 20%; "...industry sources in South Africa are now estimating that diamond prices could fall another "59-63 percent." (Unwarranted precision, perhaps?)
At the heart of this concern is the reality that, except for those few stones that have been permanently lost, every diamond that has been found and cut into a gem since the beginning of time still exists today. This enormous inventory, which overhangs the market, is literally in - or on - the public's hands. Some hundred million women wear diamonds, while millions of other people keep them in safe deposit boxes as family heirlooms.
In the entire history of economic exchange, that problem has to be unique.

However, given just a bit of thought, pretty darn obvious. And with just twice that much thought, which still does not amount to very much, the moment this notion becomes widespread, diamond prices could crash through that 63% floor like a safe dropped from a vaulted ceiling.

Those safe deposit boxes are holding those diamonds for two reasons: sentimental and monetary. However, once prices start to slide, and the reason for that slide becomes obvious, people are going to get a sudden grasp of the "last fool" problem, and that diamond overhang could hit the market like a tidal wave.

Very bad news, indeed, for jewelers, and DeBeers. Their only hope is aspiration marketing in China and India. Success there could forestall the inevitable for another generation or two.

Good news though, for Africa, where diamonds have been the fuel for many a savage tribal war.

The marketing agency that cooked up this "diamonds are forever" thing was completely aware of the ultimate overhang: "Diamonds do not wear out and are not consumed. New diamonds add to the existing supply in trade channels and in the possession of the public. In our opinion old diamonds are in 'safe hands' only when widely dispersed and held by individuals as cherished possessions valued far above their market price."

In other words, individuals translates into "women", who can be persuaded to form an emotional attachment to a glittery crystal. In part, the validation for the attachment derives from its cost -- we are emotionally blackmailed into tolerating the DeBeers cartel -- and that attachment will, in turn, act to more-or-less permanently remove the stone from the market.

Now, imagine that same marketing campaign aimed at men. Can't do it, can you?

No matter the exhortations of NOW et al, the very existence, and success, of this marketing campaign proves, to the point of making all future "studies" redundant, that girl brains are inherently different from boy brains. The notions that women are narrow shouldered men, or that people are interchangeable units suffering from gender construct issues, bring the term "empty" to a whole new level of nothingness.

This is coated in irony.

Those who most reject evolution would explain this as a completely unsurprising matter of fact: it is true on account of God made it that way.

In contrast, the Left can manage intellectual coherence only by convincing themselves that evolution stopped at the neck.

So, on the one hand, the reasoning is fatuous, but the conclusion sound; on the other, the reasoning sound, but the conclusion fatuous. Probably as good a means as any to restore meaning to the political terms "Right" and "Left".

Regardless, it is probably a wise idea to beat the rush and sell those diamonds now.


Blogger Barry Meislin said...

I don't know if I follow your logic.

What about us guys who have a passionate, emotional attachment to our diamond drill bits??

March 03, 2009 1:23 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Great, just great. You had to go and cloud the issue with facts.

In my defense, I don't think the DeDrills cartel's marketing at you had anything like the same look and feel of DeBeers towards women.

March 03, 2009 3:36 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

"Regardless, it is probably a wise idea to beat the rush and sell those diamonds now."

Yeah, okay, I'll let my wife know that I'm gonna sell all her diamonds for her own good. Yeah, that's the ticket, I'm sure she'll appreciate my forward thinking.

March 03, 2009 4:19 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Gold. Although recently it has found industrial uses, it is the original recycled consumer good.

It's price is, almost unaccountably, down, too. although you'd think that people would be fleeing fiat money for gold now.

My friend who runs a pawn shop says the supply of old gold is inexhaustible. Every time the price hits a high, he is flooded with the stuff, until he cannot imagine that there is a broken chain or dental plate left. But when the price steps up another level, another flood, just as big as the last.

I dunno about the Chinese, but we won't have to teach the Indians to aspire to diamonds. They're the ones who taught us.

DeBeers lost cartel control years ago and, from the point of view of pawnbrokers, diamonds have been a drug on the market ever since.

Although women wear the diamonds, for the aspirant working, especially immigrant poor, the purchase was an economic act by the husband. The wife's diamond was the asset of last resort in hard times. See a fascinating book by Peter Schwed, 'God Bless Pawnbrokers.'

March 03, 2009 10:19 PM  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

Uhm - price is a function of supply and demand. There may a constant stock of diamonds - but a diamond being used is diamond that is not on the market - the supply is limited by who is prepared to sell and the new diamonds being mined and cut - now compare that to the growing demand - increasing population and more of that population being wealthy enough to want baubles such as diamonds.

The diamond producers are in a much better situation than e.g. software producers or indeed any product which is pure information such as music or video. Not only do they not wear out but the cost of reproduction is close to zero. There is effectively unlimited stock.

March 04, 2009 3:16 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Mark Frank wrote: "the supply is limited by ... the new diamonds being mined ..."

No. Perfect diamonds are now being manufactured by several vendors (for example, Ultimately, Apollo wants to make diamond substrates to eventually replace silicon substrates for computers so they mostly consider the gem thing a necessary evil to self-fund, but there are several other manufacturers as well now, using a variety of processes.

March 04, 2009 9:19 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'The diamond producers are in a much better situation than e.g. software producers or indeed any product which is pure information such as music or video'

Yeah, and not only that, if you steal a diamond the cops will treat it as a crime, while if you steal my product, they won't.

Not only that, but if you steal my product, the libertarians will cheer and explain that this is the new society that is going to benefit us all so much.

It isn't benefitting me.

March 04, 2009 3:36 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


[Gold's] price is, almost unaccountably, down, too. although you'd think that people would be fleeing fiat money for gold now.

That is an odd conclusion. Gold has essentially no value (outside industrial uses) independent of a fiat currency -- which is why it is always quoted with respect to fiat currencies.

The only way gold can have some intrinsic value is if it, instead of a fiat currency, becomes the medium of exchange.

Somehow, I don't see that happening. And if it did, the apocalyptic circumstances attending that outcome would mean most gold owners would be dead in any event.

The diamond producers are in a much better situation than e.g. software producers or indeed any product which is pure information such as music or video.

iTunes sales volume says otherwise. As it turns out, people will pay a reasonable price for what they want, rather than search out ways to download it for free.

The other thing you ignore is that the marginal cost of production for pure information, compared to diamonds, is zero.

Not only that, but if you steal my product, the libertarians will cheer ...

Strawman alert.

There may well be mass theft of newspaper articles, but I sure haven't seen much of it, and where it does exist (inappropriately lengthy quotes in blogs) often acts to increase audience for the original writer.

Operations like the NYT and WSJ act as news concentrators -- even now, there is no way to get broad spectrum news coverage in one place (ignoring how often the coverage is ignorant, slipshog, or shamelessly biased) then to go to the source.

However, as I noted in The vanity that killed the newspaper, newspapers don't seem to have acknowledged that the real problem for them is the big whack that the internet has taken out of their ad revenue stream.

That would be a huge problem, even if copyright laws were perfectly and ruthlessly enforced.


There may a constant stock of diamonds - but a diamond being used is diamond that is not on the market ...

Very true, but many of the diamonds not on the market are also not being used.

DeBeers exploited (in the non-pejorative sense of the term) the peculiarly female susceptibility to diamonds, during a period of high birth rates.

Ignoring the BRIC countries, where there is undoubtedly the aspirational market still has growth potential, all other diamond markets have demographies that are either flat, or declining.

So, a woman's own ring is safely off the market, and probably her mother's (keeping in mind that in a population that is just maintaining itself, there will be, on average, on daughter for each woman). However, her grandmother's are much less likely to stay entirely sequestered from the market -- unused in a safe deposit box.

Instead, they will either get reused by the woman's daughter, or sold. Either way, the enter the market as additional supply in the face of stagnant demand.

Anyway -- it is interesting how the very characteristics that make diamonds valuable will undermine their value, poke NOW in the eye, and show us some of what lies ahead for societies in demographic decline.

That is a lot of work for a glittery rock.


I watched a show about vapor deposition diamonds on the Discovery channel a few nights ago.

Very interesting, and if even half of what they said turns out to be true, Moore's law still has a lot of life left in it.

And diamond merchants will need to double their Zanex dosage.

March 05, 2009 1:14 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...


As some one who has been a software producer for over 3 decades, I just don't see Mr. Eagar's point with regard to that industry. We just adapted to reality and found ways to make money even in the era of digital copying.

I remember this coming up long ago (like, the late 70s) and the best view I read was that the value add for information producers is the editing / editor function. Yet that, more than anything else, is something Old Media has junked. They haven't just failed to adapt, they've mal-adapted.

March 06, 2009 6:00 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Did you now?

Ashton-Tate would be my favorite example, since it started out with theft.

March 08, 2009 12:12 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

The point I don't see is widespread copyright violations of newspaper articles.

I am sure it exists, but not apparently in a form that challenges the newspaper paradigm -- a news concentrator with some semblance of authority.

Until my first encounter with Craigslist, I simply presumed copyright violation was the primary issue.

Now, though, IMHO, it is a revenue problem driven by circumstances beyond newspapers' control, and over which newspapers should not have any control.

Same with diamonds -- the circumstances are beyond DeBeers control, and DeBeers should not get a vote.

Both are faced with a fundamental change in the revenue model that has nothing to do with producing their core product.

March 08, 2009 10:41 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Well, last I checked, the software industry wasn't collapsing in financial ruin.

March 09, 2009 6:56 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Well, talk to Broderbund, but, no, it isn't collapsing. It's just being robbed blind.

Weird. All the property-worshippers who disparage anything like supervision of business practices but as soon as whatever it is is digitized, they're mesmerized like a bird by a snake. Why is that?

Skipper, the revenue problem is distinct from the theft problem. Without the theft problem, the revenue problem still might be insoluble, but with the theft problem, there seems no conceivable solution.

I note, by the way, same deal with iTunes. ITunes may be successfullys selling songs, but that does not mean that billions of dollars worth of songs are not simultaneously being stolen.

You guys seem to be advocating the Nigerian petroleum pipeline setup as a general business model: As long as some product gets through, OK to siphon off as much as you can, and the occasional explosion is just a cost of doing business.

This violates the rule I learned from my biz law prof: He began every session by saying, 'Remember, we are considering the operating of a going concern.'

March 09, 2009 1:16 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

So, if a company fails in an industry, that's a sign of a systematic failure to adapt? As usual, your sensitivity functions seems cranked up to a near ludricous value.

If you want some actual explanations, I would start with "The Bell Jar" by Hernando De Soto.

The two key facts you need to consider are:

1) Several property is a complex legal construct, not some absolute and obvious thing.

2) Enforcement is not free. This is actually a very key part of your over all failures in analysis.

There are other issues as well, but if you don't get these, none of the others will matter.

March 09, 2009 5:47 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'Enforcement is not free.'

I guarantee that the amount spent on enforcing, say, burglary laws, is way, way more than the recoveries/preventions from having police.

But I bet if your business gets broken into, you will not say, 'Well, it makes no economic sense to report this, so I won't.'

This is what I find so weird. The people who say that property is not only the highest form of but the sum and purpose of all society, throw it all out as soon as the property is digitized.

It may well be that the value of an individual news story is so small that pursuing those who steal one is impractical, but that is not the same as saying it isn't theft.

Nor it is obvious that there are no possible ways to react to wholesale thefts.

Great businesses have been based upon repeated thefts of individual property (Eastman Kodak comes to mind). The argument seems to be, if you can get away with it, it's OK.

March 10, 2009 10:58 AM  
Blogger erp said...


Do you mean theft of print media only for sale/profit, or do you also mean clipping a story and sending it to a friend or keeping it your own files?

I remember when photocopying became cheap and easy and how publishers of text books insisted that only a very small portion of their property could be copied and distributed by faculty. Ten pages sticks in my mind.

There were directives and fiats to and fro from the legal department to the library and to department secretaries, etc. Shortly thereafter, copiers got so cheap, they were all over campus even in student rooms, so the point became moot.

Electronic media is at that place now. If information is out there, there's no way to stop its dissemination.

The NYT tried to force readers to pay for their non-news output, but all it did was reduce its value.

It's too bad and I understand your frustration, but how would you propose to stop it.

There are laws against passing off someone else's work as your own.

March 10, 2009 4:57 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

harry eagar wrote: "The people who say that property is not only the highest form of but the sum and purpose of all society, throw it all out as soon as the property is digitized."

I don't believe that numbers, even very large ones, should be considered property and/or copyrightable. If it's digitized, it's just a number.

March 10, 2009 5:11 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I rest my case. Thanks, Bret.

I may not live long enough, but the software designers will come up, some day, against the fact that the places they most need to exchange their digits for cash are places where software is routinely, almost universally, stolen.

There was a movie about Sir Thomas More that my constitutional history professor liked to refer to, the scene in which, after hearing an agrument that a particular law was a bad one, More asks, what happens if all the laws are thrown down?

What then?

In my business, we know the answer already.

March 10, 2009 5:20 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

"I guarantee that the amount spent on enforcing, say, burglary laws, is way, way more than the recoveries/preventions from having police."

I find that a laughable assertion. One need only examine societies with weaker police and court protections to see how much more burglary there is.

But your entire argument is a red herring, because it starts with the presumption that the ratio of cost to benefit of enforcing property rights for physical property is the same as for digital property. I find that utterly implausible as well.

The rest of your posts is based on the idea that there is one known best form of property and that is the same for physical and intellectual property. As with the previous, you provide no evidence or argumentation for such a sweeping proposition. That point is a central theme of The Bell Jar which is why it would be a good book for you to read.

P.S. I already live in a world where software is routinely stolen. I did a business case analysis with my business partners on precisely that subject so we could decide on the optimal level of copy protection. That is, we adapted to the world as it is. I wouldn't go as far as Bret, but all legal mechanisms must in the end be enforceable or they're irrelevant.

March 10, 2009 5:50 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Once again, I am crippled by my knowledge of economic history, in this case, the history of the Concord grape.

As a matter of principle, I cannot think why intellectual property should be treated differently from other kinds of personalty. On the practical level, if we are really going to be an information economy, it had better not be.

I've already acknowledged the difficulty of protecting rights in intellectual property -- the problem of the grape. It didn't start yesterday.

It had better be solvable, though, or we're in trouble. As my industrial adviser says, the Japanese will never honor patents. Their view is that it would be crazy not to use the best technology available.

This is one of the dirty little secrets of globalization. Not everybody plays by the rules. How 'bout that?

What mystifies me is that people who yammer on about property rights (I'm lookin' at you, Glenn Reynolds) have adopted exactly the Japanese position, so long as the property at issue can be stolen over the Internet.

This is not the same as throwing up your hands at the difficulty of managing theft. It's advocating theft, a different matter.

As I asked at VC on another topic, why do libertarians avail themselves of the limited liability corporation laws, don't they trust markets? Sometimes I think that I'm the only person who really does take seriously markets and the sanctity of property. For everybody else, it seems they are just matters of convenience, to be ignored when the chance of a short-term gain presents itself.

March 11, 2009 11:22 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

"why do libertarians avail themselves of the limited liability corporation laws, don't they trust markets?"

It's the courts they don't trust.

Do you also not see, as a matter of principle, why currency and land should be treated differently? What about artillery pieces and shoes? Or dogs and archery targets? It's all just personal property, right?

March 11, 2009 4:16 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

No, land is realty and has always been treated differently. In principle, I would be a Single Taxer, as I can see no justification, logically, for allowing anyone to inherit land. Practically, people are so ready to kill over it, it wouldn't work.

But the rest is personalty, and as far as ownership goes, I cannot think why any of it should be singled out. I especially cannot think why work-product should be singled out.

Your remark about courts and corporation law baffles me. The Delaware corporation law was not passed because state courts in Delaware were scandalously abusing businesses with headquarters in New York.

March 12, 2009 10:38 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Skipper, the revenue problem is distinct from the theft problem. Without the theft problem ...

You keep asserting there is a theft problem with regard to daily news production as if it is an accomplished fact that needs no further demonstration.

However, and this may well be a function of my own ignorance, I have no idea where I would go on the internet to find a location that acting as a news aggregator in the same way that, say, the NYT does, by mass reproduction of copyrighted articles.

In cases where I have used articles as the basis for a post, I Google for the item. While have found plenty of occurrences of the item, they were all either syndicated, or legitimate links to the original.

So, I remain skeptical about your claim. Particularly because readily available evidence suggests that essentially the whole problem is on the ad revenue side.

I am in LA on vacation, and talked to my dad about the LA Times. He noted that the once huge classified ad section (ten years ago on a Sunday it weighed nearly a pound) has almost disappeared.

Which brings up a thought experiment: imagine a world where the internet does not exist, and all the classifieds are gone. What does the newspaper business look like in that world? Then, on the flip side, the internet exists as it is today, except classifieds remain now as they were ten years ago. How would that look?

IMHO, if the latter state of affairs existed, no one would be talking about newspaper financial problems. That means the real problem is newspapers losing the lock on a revenue stream that there is no reason they should possess.

So long as newspapers focus on a non-existent problem, they aren't going to solve the crucial one: finding a revenue stream to replace lost ad revenue.

IMHO, micro-charges, on the order of a penny or two, for reading an article are the answer.

ITunes may be successfully selling songs, but that does not mean that billions of dollars worth of songs are not simultaneously being stolen.

That is an assertion that begs further analysis, none of it favorable to your assumptions.

First, as I noted above, that iTunes is wildly successful prove that people will, in fact, pay for pure information.

Second, music companies complaining that theft is responsible for declining sales are either perpetrating pure self-serving cant, or are collectively burdened with room temperature IQs. Until internet downloading, record companies effectively sold music in bulk when, in most cases, consumers wanted the product in small lots. Very few recording artists are capable of producing an entire CD that is uniformly appealing to a given consumer. So, most of the time a consumer is paying for, say, 10 tracks when that consumer really only wants several, or one. The reduction in CD sales is not due to theft, but rather the unbundling of content.

Finally, you really need to come to terms with what you mean by "stolen", and what the consequences really are. As a for instance, every once in a while a friend of mine sends me an MP3 disk with tracks he has pulled from an internet radio station (Radio Paradise, to be exact). Some of them I put on my computer.

Theft, right?

Well, maybe not. If I would not have bought the product in any event, and my possession of that instance of the product does not in any way affect supply, then my "theft" does not exist in any meaningful sense.

In some instances, though, I like the track well enough to check out the artist on iTunes, and end up downloading a few tracks as a consequence that I would not have purchased in bundled form.

Were those instances theft?

Since I ended up spending more money than I would have otherwise done without these "thefts", then how does the concept have any meaning whatsoever?

(NB: this shows your Nigerian example is an excellent example of false analogy.)

Of course record companies are going to claim disaster -- they deeply desire to maintain a lock over distribution. Which leads to another issue the music companies' claims do not address: music sales directly from the artist to the consumer. The only two CDs I have bought recently were directly from the artists themselves.

March 12, 2009 12:51 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Mr. Eagar;

But there is no theft of the "work product" even in your case. Your work product is the arrangement of magnetic fields in ferric subtrates on rotating disks. No one is allowed to take those from you or your newspaper and that is rigorously enforced. I cannot think of a single example of such a theft.

What you call theft is someone making a similar pattern of magnetic fields on their own personalty. So what's the problem? Where is the theft? None of your personalty was taken from you.

"But that's not the intellectual property" you say. Why not? Answer that and you answer why it's quite reasonably treated differently from personalty.

You're trying to have it both ways -- either it's personalty and there's no theft, or it's different and you concede my point.

March 12, 2009 6:42 PM  
Blogger erp said...

SH, cruel, but spot on.

March 12, 2009 7:52 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

No problem. I just define work product as property.

No one, a few years ago, would have said that shoplifting a book wasn't theft. Yet no one ever boosted a paperback because he wanted the paper.

Skipper, unfortunately, I was in the room when the capitalist who put up most of the money for Napster explained why he did it. It was so people could steal music.

Do you sample the fruit at the grocery and then, if you liked it and are going to buy some, tell the clerk to add a few shekels to the bill because you already consumer some?

March 12, 2009 8:29 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Skipper, unfortunately, I was in the room when the capitalist who put up most of the money for Napster explained why he did it. It was so people could steal music.

That's as may be, but in no way contradicts what I said above: people will pay for pure information, and do so in great numbers. How is Napster doing these days?

Do you sample the fruit at the grocery and then ...

What I don't do is argue from analogy, when it does not serve to make anything clearer.

And especially when elements of the analogy are completely inappropriate.

If I sample the fruit, there is less fruit afterwards, which means someone else cannot buy it. That makes your analogy patently false, because my sampling a music track does not reduce the overall supply of music tracks: that supply is effectively infinite, and the opportunity cost of producing an additional instance is zero. In what possible way does fruit at the grocery fit here?

If I keep on my computer something I would never have purchased otherwise, the concept of theft simply does not apply.

If I retain something on my computer what I would have bought otherwise, but as a consequence, buy things I would not have bought otherwise, then the "theft" creates a gain for the "victim". That doesn't sound like theft to me, either.

Theft occurs only in the case where I obtain something for which I would otherwise have paid, and do not provide offsetting income.

Apply the "what if everyone did it" test. In the first case, there is no gain to the artists, but no loss, either no matter how many people do it. In the second case, the more people that do it, the better off the artist is. It is only the last case where the concept of theft even begins to apply, and if done by everyone might very well result in eliminating the very thing being "stolen". I completely grant that; however, based on the success of iTunes, I think you have a long way to go in demonstrating that pure information cannot have substantial market value to its creators.

Similarly, I am having an increasingly hard time accepting that copyright violation has any meaningful impact on newspapers' financial problems, and so far you have provided nothing to the contrary.

March 12, 2009 10:28 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

"No one, a few years ago, would have said that shoplifting a book wasn't theft. Yet no one ever boosted a paperback because he wanted the paper."

The motive is irrelevant. In this case, the owner can point to an empty on the shelf and say "my personalty was there, and now it isn't". Contrarily, in the cases of which you speak, you cannot point to any empty spot and say "my personalty was there and now it isn't". This is, of course, the same point Skipper is making. Personalty cannot be stolen if it remains in your possession.

March 13, 2009 7:26 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Napster did not fail because the market failed to provide enough thieves.

If Guy's right about imaginary property, then we can cancel all those Nobel Prizes for discoveries in physics. Obviously, the so-called discoverers can show no evidence that they had anything to do with them.

March 13, 2009 9:38 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Please point to where I used the term "imaginary" or any cognate thereof. You're making stuff up again.

To re-iterate, your claim was there was no reason in principle to treat physical property and intellectual property differently. I disagreed, claiming there were fundamental differences which justified, in principle, different legal regimes. Is your claim now that "not physical" and "imaginary" are synonymous? I think that's unlikely to support your original claim.

March 13, 2009 9:58 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

The difference between physical and intellectual property, as Hey Skipper noted, is that if I take from you a physical entity, I deprive you of BOTH the USE of that entity and MONOPOLY RIGHT TO SELL that entity. If I take from you a (copy of a) non-physical entity, I only deprive you of a monopoly right to sell, but not the use.

March 13, 2009 11:26 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

So what?

If it's mine, if I am the only begetter, why shouldn't I have a monopoly right to sell?

March 13, 2009 9:21 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

You seemed to be unclear on the differences between real and intellectual properties. There's no objective right or wrong here - only subjective.

I am pretty sure, though, that when God gave the ten commandments to Moses, the injunction against stealing didn't apply to intellectual property. :-)

March 13, 2009 10:51 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

For how long should you have the monopoly right to sell that IP? A millenium? An hour? I am reminded of the classic "what do you think I am?" joke, because the fact that discussing time limits on IP rights demonstrates that we all accept a fundamental difference between personalty and IP.

Ignoring the precise time limits, I agree that you should have that right. But there are many other things in life that you should get, but don't, due to building our institutions out of the crooked timber of humanity.

March 14, 2009 6:10 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Well, I guess we're making progress, except with Bret, who belongs to the robber baron school.

The 14 + 14 copyright law worked well enough for a long time. It wasn't changed for any good reason.

The only area where I see any difficulty of principle at all in property rights is ownership of your own mug. At any event, just like you cannot libel the dead, your heirs should not inherit your face.

But that's not intellectual property, just intangible.

March 14, 2009 9:00 PM  

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