Monday 27 September 2010

Copyright lessons from (American) football

Last week, Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman, guest bloggers on the New York Times's Freakonomics blog, posted this interesting piece about what football (of the American variety) can teach us about the correlation between copyright protection and innovation. Though focused on copyright, their point can be made easily about any form of intellectual property protection. The question at heart is whether such IP protections are truly the catalyst for innovation.

As a child, I was taught "necessity is the mother of invention." Do you have a need that isn't being met? Create the solution! In law school, that lesson refocuses. Copyright protections (and patents) encourage creations; no one would create new ideas if they could be copied by others with no compensation. Right?

I must admit, as a bigger fan of soccer/football than of American football, I was not aware of just how much innovation has occured on the football field over the years. The Freakonomics post includes fascinating examples of innovations that would be valuable in the long run if copyrightable, but are still highly advantageous in the short term - winning now, this season - despite the fact that other teams are sure to copy the innovations later.

As the debate rages on in the U.S. whether copyright law should be extended to cover fashion designs, the argument that companies, designers, sports teams, must "innovate or die" in a highly competitive environment, regardless of IP protection, carries quite a bit of weight. I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't still ensure that innovations are able to be protected by IP rights for the benefit of the creator. We should. But perhaps the view that IP protection is required to spur design innovation needs rethinking.

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