Sunday, May 22, 2011

Get Equipped with Gridlock

Capcom ran into the tragedy of the anticommons recently, when it cited the loss of permission to use voice acting clips and intellectual property as the main reason it won't be releasing Mega Man Legends as a retro download on the Playstation 3.

The tragedy of the anticommons is the idea that fragmented property rights prevent products and services from being sold, making everyone worse off. This is a textbook example.

But there's more at fault here then the burden of gathering permission slips from a whole population of tiny properties. There is the large transaction cost of all legal work and the chilling effect of bad lawsuits. Capcom's Vice President Christian Svensson said the fear of litigation is a major factor in the decision.

So who's really to blame here? Is it copyright laws and the property rights that are restricting Capcom from releasing their own game again on a new platform, or is the cumbersome, expensive legal system?

I'm willing to blame the slow wheels of justice here. If the transaction costs were lower, that is, if getting the rights to those little patches of intellectual property was a smooth and simple procedure, then Capcom would have no trouble navigating those waters. The solution to bad side effects from copyright laws is not to throw out copyright. It is to revise the way we deal with copyright.


  1. Sounds a little like sloppy lawyering too.

  2. Mystery Science Theater 3000 has similar issues in releasing old episodes (not to mention all the bad directors who didn't realize to what they were agreeing all those years ago).

  3. I wasn't aware of that, MST3K is a perfect example of this issue.