2007-12-31

At a party when some bore says that compact fluorescent lamps use more energy across their lifetime than incandescent lamps. I wasn't going to argue with someone with such a startling lack of economic thinking, but the view seems surprisingly widespread.

Let's start simply. After purchase the fluorescent uses 8W, the incandescent uses 60W. The fluorescent lasts longer than the incandescent. So the fluorescent uses less energy after purchase.

Prior to purchase the more complex fluorescent is going to use more energy to manufacture, but how much more? Well, energy isn't a free resource, so in a free market the energy used to create the good is included in the price of the good. So, the fluorescent uses less than $3 in energy, the incandescent less than $0.10. So the fluorescent has to save $2.90 across its operating life to make up for the additional energy taken to create it, which it does.

That leaves us with two externalities. Pollution generated during the manufacture of the fluorescent and pollution generated by the disposal of the fluorescent. My guess, for which I have no proof, is that the costs to the community of these two externalities do not differ by 30x between the incandescent and the fluorescent, which is what it would take to change the superiority of the fluorescent.

Updated: spelling corrected

It had to happen and it finally has. RIAA are suing an individual for copying a track from a CD they bought to a PC. The legal uncertainty which allows this to happen is the downside of the fair use approach to copyright legislation, which lists principles of when the reproduction of works is allowed without a license.

What we have in Australia is fair dealing, a black letter law where each exemption from obtaining a copyright license is clearly defined. Making one copy of a CD track to place on your MP3 player is one of the actions listed.

Anyone who has used iTunes will notice the drafting error -- "one copy". iTunes makes two copies -- one is stored on the computer and one is stored on the iPod. Everyone who uses iTunes to copy CD tracks are breaching copyright. You need to rip the track directly to the MP3 player, something iTunes does not allow.

All of this is particularly ironic, since iTunes works the way it does to limit unauthorised music copying. If you use your iPod like a USB disk to copy tracks from your friends iPods then iTunes deletes those tracks when you reconnect the iPod back at home.

The Australian Copyright Act is also deficient because it fails to acknowledge that many CDs are shared property -- belonging to a household rather than to an individual. If a mother and daughter both rip the same CD then one of them has broken the law. Makes you wonder about the private life of politicans, who use the words "family friendly" but can't imagine how their legislation might translate to actions within the home (are we expected to put stickers on CDs saying "E ripped this -- hands off"?).

I think the small reforms to the Copyright Act concerning MP3 players were designed to prevent a community backlash when an organisation like MIPI prosecutes some unfortunate individual. Unfortunately, these two drafting errors leave the MIPIs of this world plenty of scope to generate embarrasment for politicans and ruin for individuals.

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Glen Turner

July 2017

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