Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

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FBI to Enforce Copyright?

The Senate Jucidiary committee has reported a bill that will assign the Department of Justice the obligation of enforcing copyright. In an unusual outbreak of common sense, the Department of Justice opposes the bill arguing that it is for the private sector to enforce intellectual property through civil law.

It is interesting and little known that history is repeating itself. From chapter 2 of our book:

At the turn of nineteenth, the music industry was different from the one we are familiar with today. No CDs, no mass concerts, and no radio and TV rights. The core source of revenue was the sale of printed sheet music, which was carried out worldwide and on a very large scale. We learn, for example, that in Britain alone about twenty million copies were printed annually. The firms carrying out this business were not large multinationals as today, but family owned companies, such as Ricordi in Milano, which, nevertheless, managed to reach also foreign countries. Apparently these "majors" managed to collude quite efficiently among themselves. The records show that the average script sold in the U.K. for about a fourteen pence. Then piracy arrived, as a consequence of two changes: the development of photolithography, and the spread of "piano mania", which increased the demand for musical scripts by orders of magnitude. Pirated copies were sold at two pence each.

Naturally the "authorized publishers" had a hard time defending their monopoly power against the pirates, enforcement costs were high and the demand for cheap music books was large and hard to monitor. Music publishers reacted by organizing raids on pirate houses aimed at seizing and destroying the pirated copies. This started a systematic and illegal "hit and destroy" private war, which lead, in 1902, to the approval of a new copyright law. The latter, surprise, surprise, made violation of copyrights a matter for the penal code, putting the police in charge of enforcing what, until then, was protected only by the civil code.


But the police campaign did not work either. After a few months, police stations were filled with tons of paper on which various musical pieces were printed. Being unable to bring to court what was a de-facto army of "illegal" music reproducers, the police itself stopped enforcing the copyright law.

The eventual outcome? The fight continued for a while, with "regular" music producers keen on defending their monopoly and restricted sales strategy, and "pirates" printing and distributing cheap music at low prices and very large quantities. Eventually, in 1905, the king of the pirates, James Frederick Willett, was convicted for conspiracy. The very same leader of one of the music publishers associations, and the man who had invented the raids, launched the Francis, Day & Hunter's new sixpenny music series. Expensive sheet music never returned


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