A free-market case for copyright reform

Not only is a deep respect for property rights compatible with recognizing that our current copyright system is flawed, but opposition to a bloated copyright system that serves special interests at the expense of the public is in fact the true conservative and libertarian position.

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About the Book

The Constitution gives Congress the power to establish copyright “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” This requires Congress to engage in a delicate balancing act, giving authors enough protection that they will be motivated to create expressive works, but not so much that it hampers innovation and public access to information. Yet over the past half-century Congress has routinely shifted the balance in only one direction—away from access and freedom and toward greater privileges for organized special interests.

Conservatives and libertarians, who are naturally suspicious of big government, should be skeptical of an ever-expanding copyright system. They should also be skeptical of the recent trend toward criminal prosecution of even minor copyright infringements, of the growing use of civil asset forfeiture in copyright enforcement, and of attempts to regulate the Internet and electronics in the name of piracy eradication.

Copyright Unbalanced is not a moral case for or against copyright; it is a pragmatic look at the excesses of the present copyright regime and of proposals to expand it further. It is a call for reform—to roll back the expansions and reinstate the limits that the Constitution’s framers placed on copyright.


Jerry Brito

Senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and director of its Technology Policy Program. He also serves as adjunct professor of law at Mason.

Reihan Salam

Policy advisor at Economics 21, a contributing editor at National Review, a Reuters opinion columnist, and a CNN contributor.

Patrick Ruffini

President of Engage, a digital media firm with clients including Fortune 500 companies, presidential and statewide candidates, technology startups, and issue advocacy campaigns.

David G. Post

Professor of law at the Beasley School of Law at Temple University, where he teaches intellectual property law and the law of cyberspace.

Timothy B. Lee

Adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. He covers technology policy for Ars Technica, with a particular focus on patent and copyright law, privacy, free speech, and open government.

Christina Mulligan

Postdoctoral associate in law and a lecturer in law
at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School.

Eli Dourado

Research fellow in the Technology Policy Program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and a PhD candidate in the Department of Economics at Mason.

Tom W. Bell

Professor at Chapman University School of Law and an adjunct fellow of the Cato Institute.

Table of Contents

1. Why Conservatives and Libertarians Should Be Skeptical of Congress’s Copyright Regime
by Jerry Brito
2. The Internet and Its Enemies
by Reihan Salam & Patrick Ruffini
3. SOPA and the Future of the Internet
by David G. Post
4. How the Criminalization of Copyright Threatens Innovation and the Rule of Law
by Timothy B. Lee
5. Free Expression under the DMCA
by Christina Mulligan
6. The Times, They Are A-Changin': The New Economics of Weak Copyright Enforcement
by Eli Dourado
7. Five Reforms for Copyright
by Tom W. Bell

Praise for Copyright Unbalanced

"Even copyright's most ardent advocates acknowledge that there must be some limits to a person's ability to restrict, or to demand benefits from, other people's use of the works he or she produced. Copyright Unbalanced is a good place to start to sort out where those limits should be."

Tom Palmer, Reason

"Making the intellectual case, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a hub of free-market scholarship, has just released 'Copyright Unbalanced: From Incentive to Excess,' a collection of libertarian and conservative critiques. The book doesn’t oppose copyright per se, but it excoriates the current system’s lengthy terms and expansive enforcement powers."

Virginia Postrel, Bloomberg

"Brito's incisive book tells tale after tale of government kowtowing to copyright holders."

Timothy P. Carney, Washington Examiner

"The chapters are short and tightly written, making the book a quick read, and the authors are leading experts in the field. If you view current copyright law neutrally or favorably and don't understand why some folks are so unhappy about copyright law, read this book. In less than 2 hours, this book will give you plenty to think about."

Eric Goldman, Santa Clara Law

"It's worth noting what the book isn't. It isn't one of those effusive paeans to Internet-enabled free culture, popular circa 2004. Its arguments arise from familiar first principles, that copyright and the means used to enforce it are corrosive of the rule of law, free markets, and innovation."

Jordan Bloom, The American Conservative

"Into the fray jumps this collection of essays, arguing that copyright is hopelessly broken. The libertarian right has grown increasingly skeptical of the institution, arguing that media corporations have perverted the Constitution’s Copyright Clause into a tool used not to 'promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts' but to swell their coffers. Many libertarians see the endless extension of copyright terms, the retroactive granting of such extensions, and the increasing number of instruments that can be copyrighted as crony capitalism. There is certainly a case to be made for copyright reform."

Sonny Bunch, The Weekly Standard