This past weekend I directed a Liberty Fund conference on intellectual property. I am fascinated by IP, in particular by the features it has in common with networks and with common-pool resources: incomplete and uncertain property rights. In an environment where it’s either beneficial to have incomplete and uncertain property rights, or where it’s costly to define and enforce property rights and there’s no adaptive institution for dealing with the uncertainty (i.e., no contract renegotiation), how do you solve the incentive/access tradeoff problem in intellectual property?
It is with this lens that I read about Universal Studios threatened lawsuit against the Serenity and Firefly fans they inveighed to engage in viral marketing on their behalf. My favorite part: the Serenity/Firefly fan community has sent Universal an invoice for their marketing services.
The lawsuit threat has been rescinded.
Note the reciprocal nature of the benefit here, as well as the reciprocal nature of the community cohesion: that community cohesion is what makes them good viral marketers, but it also makes them powerful enough that they can’t be bullied by big corporate lawyers.
Glenn Reynolds had a post on this yesterday, with lots of good Slashdot links.
Over at Organizations & Markets, Peter Klein and Nicolai Foss have been talking about tacit knowledge, distinguishing it from explicit knowledge, and asking what the big deal is. Their posts and the comments on them are a good read.
Why should tacit knowledge be any more or less important than explicit knowledge? My sense is that some of the researchers Peter and Nicolai mention emphasize tacit knowledge not because it is superior to explicit knowledge, but because it is so overlooked in social science research, and particularly in economics. Tacit knowledge defies formal modeling, and is a somewhat difficult concept to grasp: to be all Donald Rumsfeld-y about it, it’s stuff that you don’t know that you know. It’s also stuff that you know how to do that you never consciously learned. But that’s one reason why experiments are a valuable social science and policy tool: people can’t articulate their tacit knowledge, researchers can’t know in advance what tacit knowledge to look for or how it will affect outcomes, but when you observe behavior and interactions in controlled environments, tacit knowledge has an opportunity to act upon decision-making.
Here’s one for the “markets in everything” file: you can buy a contract at TradeSports with your prediction of Lance Armstrong’s NY Marathon time. Lance’s time, his training, etc. have been a topic of much discussion in some of the online places I frequent. Now all of us chatterati can put our money where our mouth is.
How cool is that?