One person's use of a digital asset does not impede or detract from another person's use of the same. Once on a server, a digital asset can be consumed by many users simultaneously; the cost of adding one or dozens more users of the asset is close to zero.
Such is not the case for analog objects. If I am reading a copy of a book, someone else cannot read the same copy. If a film studio does a wide film release in many theaters, it must make many copies to play in those many theaters. In contrast, once created, digital materials can be shared at essentially no incremental cost, creating significant economies of scale.
The economic consequences of this technical characteristic are enormous. Generally, goods that are non-rivalrous in consumption will not be efficiently produced and distributed via free markets. Moreover, from the perspective of producers, the fact that such goods are very easy to copy means that any market model of production and preservation must include provisions to prevent unauthorized (and unremunerated) reproduction.
- See Dotan Oliar, “Making Sense of the Intellectual Property Clause: Promotion of Progress as a Limitation on Congress’s Intellectual Property Power,” 94 Georgetown L.J. 1771 (2006).
- Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age, at 15.