Copyright in a frictionless world: Toward a rhetoric of responsibility


  • Brendan Scott



In this paper, the author reviews the history and application of copyright and concludes that, although promoted as being in the interests of authors, it is designed in such a way as to be primarily a right which benefits distributors and publishers. The author identifies a number of difficulties faced by distributors and publishers in enforcing their rights in an age where the various sources of "friction" which once limited infringement are being constantly reduced. In particular, in the emerging frictionless world the typical targets of the holder of a copyright monopoly (distributors pirating for profit) are being overtaken by a new breed of target (individuals with a cost reduction motive) and it is uneconomical for a holder of a copyright monopoly to pursue this new breed. The author argues that recent extensions to copyright monopolies add little to the illegality of the infringing acts nor any stigma to the performance of those acts. Instead, they exacerbate one of the main causes of infringement - consumer cynicism as to the benefits to society of the copyright monopoly. The author argues further that, rather than driving further cynicism through more expansive rhetoric relating to rights, holders of a copyright monopoly should instead seek to mollify consumer sentiment and encourage compliance by emphasizing a rhetoric of responsibility in the exercise of those rights. The author proposes three possible principles of responsibility that copyright monopoly holders might evaluate and endorse.




How to Cite

Scott, B. (2001). Copyright in a frictionless world: Toward a rhetoric of responsibility. First Monday, 6(9).