Copyright Porn Trolls, Wasting Taxi Medallions, and the Propriety of 'Property'
15 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2014
Date Written: November 18, 2014
What happens when the government creates privileges that have powers rivaling those that the common law accords to property? Recent events in two seemingly unrelated areas suggest a troubling answer to that question. First, in copyright, porn trolls have sued thousands of John Does for allegedly participating in illegal file sharing. These suits evidently seek not judicial vindication but merely the defendants' identities, which the plaintiffs then use to reap settlement payments from guilty and innocent alike. Second, taxi drivers in cities across the world have launched legal, political, and physical attacks against Uber and other networked transportation services, accusing their new competitors of stealing customers and destroying the value of taxi medallions. Both conflicts arise from the same basic problem: copyrights and taxi medallions more resemble privileges than property. They not only lack property's natural, customary, and common law roots; they also suffer from fuzzy and ill-defended boundaries. These deficiencies make it economically inefficient to protect copyrights and taxi medallions with remedies equal to or greater than those that protect property. Liability for damages should suffice. These and other insights follow when we analyze copyrights and taxi medallions as statutory privileges and reserve "property" for other, more deserving subjects.
Keywords: copyright, property, troll, taxi medallion, file sharing
JEL Classification: K00, K11
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation