We Need More People in Government Like This

A blog reader sent a message to her congressman, Tim Walz, complaining about SOPA, the bill that aims to protect intellectual property rights online that has sent many internet folks into a tizzy.

Here is the response she got from Congressman Walz:

…SOPA approaches the problem as a criminal matter when in fact, study upon study shows that online piracy is best dealt with as an economic matter. Instead of using the Justice department as a sledgehammer amongst the delicate weeds of the internet, corporations must embrace the free market and adapt their business models to compete in a new reality. The ability to adapt and compete is the cornerstone of capitalism, we should promote this rather than rushing to insert ourselves in the market in ways that could severe disrupt internet commerce and progress.

Now, I don’t 100 percent agree with this answer, but I love the spirit of it – especially coming from a Democrat!  That last sentence sounds like the argument you would get over faculty lunch in the University of Chicago department of economics.

I almost always believe in free markets as the solution to problems, but this one is tricky.  There are not a whole lot of things that I think governments are particularly good at doing, but protecting property rights is at or near the top of that list.  As Greg Mankiw so aptly writes on his blog:

The anti-SOPA crowd argues that this is a matter of basic liberty. But it’s not. In a free society, you don’t have the freedom to steal your neighbor’s property. And that should include intellectual property. Moreover, it is the function of the state to enforce those rights. We don’t leave it up to civil litigation to protect property rights (although that is part of the solution). We give the state substantial powers to stop theft. Just as owners of tangible personal property have good cause to call for a police force and a system of criminal courts, owners of intellectual property have good cause to ask the state to stop those who would infringe on their rights.

Still, my hat goes off to Congressman Walz.  I hope that he will keep the answer he gave on SOPA in his top drawer; with just a minor reworking he could use the last sentence of his response for many other constituent inquiries.


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  1. michelle says:

    Question: Instead of looking at all of this as theft, why can’t we look at it as marketing?
    A friend gave me a song that he bought. I had never heard this band before. I liked it so, I looked them up on You Tube. I love the band so much I then went to amazon and bought the album. Had the friend not given me the song I would have never known they even existed. That is minimally one less album they would have sold. Since I love the band I will continue to buy their other albums and, I have already been to one of their concerts. They are back in town in March for which I will be attending.
    I also have a similar example with software. I wanted some photo editing software. It is ridiculously expensive. I got on line to find out how the thing worked. I managed to find a free copy of it to try it out. Now that I see it is software I will use, I am saving my money to buy the thing. There is NO WAY I would have plunked down $900 + on something I wasn’t sure would even work for me.
    Why do we have to be so petty and greedy these days?

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  2. Craig says:

    “The anti-SOPA crowd argues that this is a matter of basic liberty. But it’s not.”

    There’s absolutely an element of basic liberty. Most of the anti-SOPA crowd isn’t against the bill because it would hurt their ability to pirate IP. We’re against it because it would hurt our ability to do legitimate things on the internet.

    Our tolerance for taking out innocent people to catch the guilty should be very low.

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  3. john king says:

    We already have laws against theft and laws that define copywrite protections etc. This new law does nothing to advance the conceptof private property, it merely lightens the burden of self protection from the movie & music crowd. It also throws in protections for them not granted under current law that would stifle innovation and even criminalize innocent behavior. While it does not constitute strict prior restraint, it creates an atmosphere that will mimic it for the benefit of these industries.

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  4. Consumer says:

    “In a free society, you don’t have the freedom to steal your neighbor’s property. And that should include intellectual property.” – I am going to pick on the word SHOULD here. That word implies an opinion that Mr. Mankiw has rather than a fact.

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  5. Eric M. Jones says:

    “…but I love the spirit of it – especially coming from a Democrat!..”

    So you freely admit your bias?….That pretty much disqualifies you from having an objective view.

    You should be ashamed, but I expected it…coming from a Republican.

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  6. Consumer says:

    Here is a translation of Mr. Walz’s response:
    It is now the 21st century and it is time to move on. The copyright law in its current form served its purpose but today’s reality is different. With or without SOPA people will continue to copy proiducts of art and science simply because they can. If a businesses want to survive in this reality, they’d better adapt istead of pushing for band aid laws that will simply prolong the agony.

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  7. Rishi Arora says:

    Greg Mankiw is equating intellectual property with physical property. That doesn’t seem reasonable, given that its much easier to prove, for example who a house belongs to, than to prove who came up with the idea of a plot for a movie first. So, for the latter, we should resort to a court trial where evidence can be produced and fairly examined to determine the property rights. SOPA advocates bypassing the litigation. Also, anti-SOPA folks aren’t against the spirit of the law. They are against the way the law is written, which would give broad authority to the state to block specific internet traffic based solely on a complaint. That’s what threatens freedom.

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  8. Neil (SM) says:

    There’s nothing apt about Mankiw’s excerpt. The intellectual property SOPA attempts to protect has a fundamental difference from tangible property: it is an infinite good. The theft analogy breaks down in comparison.

    Also, it misses another important point: due process. We protect our tangible property with courts and police that investigate alleged crimes, and place the burden on the prosecutors to prove that the accused committed the crime in question. The current and proposed laws are written in such a way that they allow the accusers to completely bypass all of that.

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