The real value of Fair Use

From InformationWeek

Fair use exceptions to U.S. copyright laws account for more than $4.5 trillion in annual revenue for the United States, according to a report issued on Wednesday by the Computer and Communications Industry Association.

“Much of the unprecedented economic growth of the past 10 years can actually be credited to the doctrine of fair use, as the Internet itself depends on the ability to use content in a limited and nonlicensed manner,” CCIA president and CEO Ed Black said in a statement. “To stay on the edge of innovation and productivity, we must keep fair use as one of the cornerstones for creativity, innovation, and, as today’s study indicates, an engine for growth for our country.”

By one measure — “value added,” which the report defines as “an industry’s gross output minus its purchased intermediate inputs” — the fair use economy is greater than the copyright economy.

Recent studies indicate that the value added to the U.S. economy by copyright industries amounts to $1.3 trillion, said Black. The value added to the U.S. economy by the fair use amounts to $2.2 trillion.

The fair use economy’s “value added” is thus almost 70% larger than that of the copyright industries…

The report is here.

Later: Alas, it’s not as good as it seems. Nick Carr has a good critical swipe at it:

There’s a little problem, though. Even by the woeful standards of the bespoke research industry, this study is a crock. It’s not just bad; it’s absurd. What the authors have done is to define the “fair-use economy” so broadly that it encompasses any business with even the most tangential relationship to the free use of copyrighted materials. Here’s an example of the tortured logic by which they force-fit vast, multifaceted industries into the “fair use” category: Because “recent advances in processing speed and software functionality are being used to take advantage of the richer multi-media experience now available from the web,” then the entire “computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing industry” qualifies as a “fair-use industry.” As does the entire “audio & video equipment manufacturing” business. And the entire software publishing industry. And the entire telecommunications industry. And – hey, why not? – the entire insurance industry. Stock markets and commodity exchanges? Sure, throw them in, too…

I’ve always thought that a more insightful comparison is between the economic value of the information technology industry and that of the media industry. In terms of size and economic importance the former dwarfs the latter — which is why it’s absurd for legislators to agree to measures that would allow the latter to determine the pace and nature of innovation in computing and networking. Fair Use is no doubt significant in economic terms, but its real importance is cultural. Unless our societies have free exchange of ideas, they’re dead.