Fanning the Fair Use Flames

The nation needs stronger intellectual property laws. Or they're fine as is. Depends who you ask, and where they work.

Two studies released this week to coincide with World Intellectual Property Day offer conflicting views on the impact of IP laws on the economy. One says the fair use exemption to IP protection supports major industries while another says stricter IP laws will stimulate the economy. The government also plans to hire 15 assistant U.S. attorneys to enforce intellectual property, and earlier this month the Government Accountability Office called into question the piracy statistics often cited by advocates of stricter laws.

Industries that rely on "fair use" -- which, for example, allows for using book excerpts for a review or quoting a published study in a news report -- accounted for $4.7 trillion in revenues in 2007, according to a study released yesterday (pdf) by the Computer & Communications Industry Association, a tech industry trade association whose members include Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Oracle and Yahoo.

On the other hand, a study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that industries that rely heavily on intellectual property are also in need of protection. Using Census figures, the study analyzed 27 industries, fifteen of which were considered IP-intensive. Of the total $5.4 trillion in revenues from all the industries in 2007, roughly half came from the IP ones. The author also found that those IP industries accounted for 65 percent of employment between 2000 to 2007 and their workers had higher salaries. As a result, the author argued, IP laws and enforcement need strengthening to ensure the continued success of those companies and the economy.

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Niraj Chokshi is a former staff editor at TheAtlantic.com, where he wrote about technology. He is currently freelancing and can be reached through his personal website, NirajC.com. More

Niraj previously reported on the business of the nation's largest law firms for The Recorder, a San Francisco legal newspaper. He has also been published in The Hartford Courant, The Seattle Times and The Age, in Melbourne, Australia. He's also a longtime programmer and sometimes website designer.

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