Thursday, July 10, 2003

Why Steal Music But Not Food?

That's the question asked by junior Volokh Conspirator Tyler Cowen, referring to the fact that people who would never steal food see nothing wrong with downloading music in violation of copyright laws. Among the answers offered by Cowen are the nature of anonymity, a physicalist notion of property, a resentment of record companies, and a hatred of the record industry's business model. Co-conspirator Orin Kerr adds a further answer here, pointing to social norms.

Oddly enough, no one mentions the reason that comes first to my mind: People have an intuition that the price of something should reflect its marginal cost. The marginal cost of appropriating a piece of intellectual property is zero, or practically zero. Thus, people don't often feel guilty about downloading their favorite pop song when they know that no additional cost has been inflicted on the record company. (The record company may have lost the chance to make additional profits, but that is only on the assumption that the person would have actually bought the song if downloading had been unavailable.)

UPDATE: Pseudonymous Volokh conspirator Philippe de Croy now offers an additional explanation: The non-rivalrous nature of intellectual property. I think this is right. (It's probably neither here nor there to cite Boldrin's and Levine's famous paper of last year in which they argue that intellectual property actually is characterized by a tiny amount of rivalrousness.)


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