Free Markets, Monopolies, and Copyright

Critics of copyright law sometimes refer to it as a grant of a “monopoly” right to the author, artist, or creator of a copyrighted work. In fact, the use of the term “monopoly” in the copyright context is a misnomer: While a copyright holder retains the exclusive rights over his or her own particular work, the artist must compete in the market with many close substitutes, and thus cannot exert the market control of a genuine monopolist. A related criticism claims that copyright law is antithetical to laissez-faire capitalism. This is also erroneous. Copyright law does not put the government hand on the scale regarding whether the particular works succeed in the competitive marketplace. The principle that everyone should be entitled to the rewards of his or her own creation stands at the very core of property rights. Claims that copyright law is monopolistic are false, and rhetorically irresponsible.

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