Can Prices Be Owned?

20 November 2006 at 10:45 am 5 comments

| Peter Klein |

Harold Mulherin, my former colleague Jeff Netter, and James Overdahl taught us that prices are property. That is, the information embodied in price quotations on financial markets does not pre-exist, but must be created by entrepreneurial activity, through the creation of organized financial exchanges. Financial exchanges are firms, and their assets are defined and governed by a complex set of contractual relations. (Like any firms, exchanges can expand, contract, reorganize, and try to acquire their rivals.)

But can an individual price — the number itself, not a trading institution — be owned? David Levine reports that a website posted some Best Buy Thanksgiving Day sale prices, and was subsequently served by Best Buy with a copyright infringement notice, demanding that the page be removed on the grounds that the prices were protected by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (a truly odious piece of legislation).

More reason to be against intellectual property.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Institutions, Theory of the Firm.

Another Journal Jere(h)miad We Always Suspected It …

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. C. Grammich  |  20 November 2006 at 10:55 am

    My ignorance on this topic is nearly complete, so I should probably refrain from commenting, but . . . what boundary, if any, do Mulherin, Netter, and Overdahl draw on copyright for “information . . . created by entrepreneurial activity”? Or is the presence or lack of such a boundary the whole point of your post?

    My interest isn’t purely academic. I work on a decennial enumeration of religious bodies (see, for example, http://glenmary.org/grc/RCMS_2000/release.htm). My impression was that while the book and electronic file in which this data are subject to copyright, the numbers themselves are not. For example, there is no copyright on the fact that, in 2000, this work found 376 Catholics in Blount County, Alabama, even though that fact is known only because of entrepreneurial activity (namely mine–among other things, I had responsibility for counting Catholics in 2000 . . .).

  • 2. Stephan Kinsella  |  20 November 2006 at 11:19 am

    My personal view is obvious here–prices are not scarce resources, but just facts, or information about facts; they of course are not property. (See my Against Intellectual Property article for elaboration.)

    As to what the law actually is … I think it would be governed by cases like the Feist case, which said there is no copyright in mere collections of data, like a map… since it’s not original. It’s just facts. The Court said that the old idea of “sweat of the brow” is not enough. Just because you put work into assembling the information does not mean it’s original. This is why Congress tried to pass a database rights act a few years back, but never did.

  • 3. Stephan Kinsella  |  20 November 2006 at 11:21 am

    for more on Feist see the Wikipedia entry.

  • 4. C. Grammich  |  20 November 2006 at 11:50 am

    Interesting. Thanks for the links. Regarding collection of data on religious congregations and adherence by county, the more the merrier, methinks. Those of us who do such work generally don’t do it for the money (even if we are sometimes paid). So more efficient parties would be always welcome in the field . . .

  • […] also Peter Klein’s post Can Prices be Owned?, where I made the following comment: My personal view is obvious here–prices are not scarce […]

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