When the last bastions of the old media go under, it will not be with a bang but a whimper. It will be a long slide, not a cataclysmic collapse. And for this we have piracy to thank.
This is the saving grace of piracy, that it adjusts our economy to changes made necessary by technology. Despite desperate attempts to stop the hemorrhaging with legal band-aids like the DMCA, ACTA, a number of copyright term extensions, and most recently SOPA and PIPA, the market continues to adjust around them. There already exists a professional class of distributors – “pirates” – which are taking over the markets of the old distributors with increased efficiency and variety. As the old habits of physical distribution become more and more anachronistic, jobs will move from the old distributors to other places where they are more needed. No jobs will be lost at the demise of the intellectual property industry – even in the short term – because piracy will have already adjusted our economy to the new state of affairs.
This is indeed the saving grace of speculators, entrepreneurs, and anyone whose business it is to predict the future: they change the structure of production to reflect changed or changing conditions. They give us soft landings instead of hard crashes. The price rises they appear to cause in fact cause us to save in anticipation of a shortage. Changes in supply and demand will happen with or without speculators and entrepreneurs. The only question is, will they take us by surprise, or will we be prepared?
The proliferation of anti-piracy laws serves only to leave the world economy brittle and ill-prepared for the changes being brought about by advances in technology. If there is mass unemployment resulting from the demise of the intellectual property industry, it will be because they have used the strong arm of government to prevent the necessary adjustments in the economy from occurring beforehand. If their predictions pan out, it will be their fault.
It’s come to my attention that Peter Leeson has a book by the same title as this post. But as that book is about real pirates, I’ll keep the title here.