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Don’t copy me! Copyright law fails me once again

October 4, 2010 1 comment

Externalities: They can be positive or negative, but they aren’t transmitted in prices.

We learn about externalities in third year in economics. We may have been introduced to them earlier, but never really to the point of understanding (or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention that day). Basically, there are spill-over effects from actions within markets that may benefit–or harm–players outside of the market. In environmental economics we talk about pollution as a negative externality. But for me, sometimes even just attending class can have unplanned negative effects.

Talking and sharing ideas for our honours theses made me really internalize this economic concept (pun intended). After spending weeks preparing my topic and narrowing my idea, I share it in class, and then lo and behold a week later someone is asking me if their idea conflicts with mine.

“OF COURSE IT DOES! PICK YOUR OWN TOPIC,” was what I was screaming inside, but of course I was polite and said, “As long as you don’t cover x, y, and z they will be different, and it will be fine.”

Well, of course she’s covering x and y, so now all I have left is z. That wasn’t the plan! When I shared my idea I wanted feedback to help me develop it further, not to give it away to someone else.

Unfortunately, you can’t copyright ideas, so I’ll have to live in the Pareto-inefficient world where she gains from my knowledge spill-over with no benefits to me.

Maybe if I tell her about potential Pareto improvements she’ll catch on! 😉

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