Spin This: Copyright Industries Grow at Twice the Rate of US Economy

A new report released today by the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) offers the following big headlines for FY2012:  the copyright industries, for the first time, contributed over $1 trillion to the U.S. economy, accounting for nearly 6.5% of GDP; these industries represent nearly 5% of all private-sector jobs (5.4 million) in the U.S.; these industries grew at an aggregate annual rate of 4.73%, which is more than twice the rate of the U.S. economy (2.1%) overall.

So, what are we to make of these numbers?  Or just as importantly, how will copyright’s antagonists spin this report?  They could try to punch holes in the findings themselves, but that seems unfruitful; numbers this big would have to be grossly inaccurate to suggest that copyright industries aren’t a critically important segment of GDP, as has been attempted in the past.  On the other hand, copyright’s foes could spin this report as “See, we told you internet phenomena like piracy aren’t hurting anyone. Look how good things are, you whiners.” But here’s the bottom line I think we should take away from this report and any pollyanna attempts to rebut or redirect its relevance:  copyright works, don’t break it.

Seriously, the only reason I write about this stuff is that a massively powerful — although not so economically valuable — minority of companies  spend a lot of time, energy, and money trying to reverse, weaken, or obliterate IP laws on a global scale; and if nothing else, I happen to think squandering the economic engine fueled by copyright is a really bad idea unless someone can demonstrate precisely why we should monkey with a trillion-dollars worth of GDP.  So far, for all the academic theorizing and economic divination that claims without any evidence that “copyright stifles innovation,” the record is clear that investment in these industries supports economic health, and that should matter to anyone with a job in any sector.  To put that in perspective, if you’re a truck driver, you are at least 5,000 times more likely to be delivering goods to someone who works in a copyright-supported industry than to someone who works for a company pushing to weaken this legal framework.  It should be understood that the antagonists to which I refer are not all technology companies by any means.  To the contrary, this report includes software and other technologies that rely substantially on copyrights.

This afternoon, the House Judiciary Committee resumes deliberations on an ongoing review of copyright; and while there are reasonable grounds for revising this body of law, the process should, in my opinion, be viewed as requiring surgical revisions with particular attention to more robustly protecting the independent entrepreneur in the digital market.  Beyond that, it is hard to fathom why any American would want to needlessly and recklessly tamper with a system that promotes this kind of economic prosperity.  We have enough real problems.  Copyright isn’t one of them.

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