Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When an item is copied, the original tends to lose value — except when it doesn't.

Driving the news: The biggest fight in the music industry this week is undoubtedly Taylor Swift vs. Scooter Braun, the manager of longtime Swift foe Kanye West. Braun bought Big Machine, Swift's former record label, for what is said to be over $300 million, much to the megastar's displeasure.

  • In the midst of the resulting pop-culture chaos, Alex Boubia, a Bulgarian Taylor Swift fan, put up a petition asking Swift to re-record her first 6 albums; he has almost 200,000 signatures.
  • It's not clear whether Swift is contractually allowed to re-record her early albums, or whether she would want to do so even if she could. But the economic intuition is clear: Given the choice, Swift's fans would prefer to stream new recordings where she owned the masters. By doing so, they would channel the Taylor Swift income stream away from Big Machine and toward Swift herself, enriching Swift at the expense of Braun.
  • Swift might be able to buy her master recordings from Braun, the outcome that would likely make her fans happiest. The negotiations would take place in the context of two implicit threats. First, she might be able to re-record the old albums; second, she could refuse permission to allow music on those albums to be used in movies, commercials and other lucrative contexts.

Be smart: If the masters have more value in Swift's hands than in Braun's, that's a more likely outcome than any attempt to devalue them.

Between the lines: Art has always had a strange relationship with copying. The most reproduced artworks tend to also be the most valuable — think Monet's water lilies or Warhol's Marilyns. If the artist makes many such works, that's often good for the per-piece value, even as mechanical reproductions are generally worthless. Broadly, the objects (which can be bought and sold) are worth much more than the copyright (which generally remains with the artist).

  • Copying art objects is generally taboo in the art world, but it tends not to have a negative effect on the value of the originals. Photographer William Eggleston reprinted some of his early photographs in 2012, without any deleterious effect on value of the earlier, smaller versions. And when Wade Guyton started making dozens of copies of one of his paintings going up for auction at Christie's, the original sold for $3.5 million, above its high estimate.
  • Even counterfeit goods don't always harm the owners of intellectual property. Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana is famous for refusing to prosecute counterfeiters, because they think counterfeits ultimately increase the desirability of the brand.

Generic drugs are meant to be indistinguishable from the originals, bringing prices down. A new book by Katherine Eban, however, argues that there are important differences between generics and originals; some hospitals actively avoid prescribing certain generics.

The bottom line: One glance at the price of an iPhone should be enough to prove that copies don't always mean that prices come down. In fact, they often serve to ratify the value of the original.

Go deeper: Almost everything in the digital economy is a copy. MIT professors Seth Benzell and Erik Brynjolfsson examine some of the implications in their paper "Digital Abundance and Scarce Genius: Implications for Wages, Interest Rates, and Growth."

Editor's note: This post was corrected to reflect that the estimated price Braun bought Big Machine for is over $300 million (not a definitive $300 million).

Go deeper

Deadly Hurricane Zeta pummels Alabama after Louisiana landfall

A satellite image of Hurricane Zeta. Photo: National Hurricane Center/NOAA

Hurricane Zeta has killed at least one person after a downed power line electrocuted a 55-year-old in Louisiana as the storm moved into Alabama overnight.

What's happening: After "battering southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi," it began lashing Alabama late Wednesday, per the National Hurricane Center.

Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases

Catholics go through containment protocols including body-temperature measurement and hands-sanitisation before entering the Saint Christopher Parish Church, Taipei City, Taiwan, in July. Photo: Ceng Shou Yi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Taiwan on Thursday marked no locally transmitted coronavirus cases for 200 days, as the island of 23 million people's total number of infections reported stands at 550 and the COVID-19 death toll at seven.

Why it matters: Nowhere else in the world has reached such a milestone. While COVID-19 cases surge across the U.S. and Europe, Taiwan's last locally transmitted case was on April 12. Experts credit tightly regulated travel, early border closure, "rigorous contact tracing, technology-enforced quarantine and universal mask wearing," along with the island state's previous experience with the SARS virus, per Bloomberg.

Go deeper: As Taiwan's profile rises, so does risk of conflict with China

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: Biden ahead in Wisconsin, Michigan as cases surge in the Midwest.
  2. Health: Fauci says U.S. may not return to normal until 2022 — Trump's testing czar: Surge "is real" and not just caused by more tests Some coronavirus survivors have "autoantibodies."
  3. Business: Consumer confidence sinking Testing is a windfall.
  4. World: Europe faces "stronger and deadlier" wave France imposes lockdown Germany to close bars and restaurants for a month.
  5. Sports: Boston Marathon delayed MLB to investigate Dodgers player who joined celebration after positive COVID test.