Black Market Guitar Picking

The absurdities associated with copyright enforcement in the 21st century seem to be endless. The NYT had an article on another one this morning. Apparently publishers of sheet music are up in arms over guitar tablature sites. These are sites where guitarists pass along tips to each other on how to play particular songs. (I know nothing about guitar playing, so I welcome clarification.) The sheet music publishers argue that these sites, which are accessible at no charge, are a violation of their copyright for the sheet music and should be shut down.

This is the best copyright enforcement story I�ve heard since the publishers of the Harry Potter series went after sites in which people exchanged their own Harry Potter stories � a great use of the state�s police power. (Anyone know how this one was resolved in the courts?)

What's missing in the NYT coverage of these stories is any input from economists. These problems arise because the state is granting a monopoly with copyrights, which sharply restricts the distribution of the product and its derivatives. Economists expect that when the state imposes such an artificial barrier, that people will seek to find ways around it. Excluding any economic analysis of the problems associated with copyrights is comparable to reporting on sugar quotas or textile tariffs without any mention of the cost.

Copyrights may have been an efficient mechanism to support creative and artistic work in the middle ages, but they don�t work very well in the Internet Age. There should be a policy debate on alternatives (here�s mine), as we push the entertainment and publishing industries into the 21st century.

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