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Jeff Tucker: Rights Violations in the Name of Private Property

Great Libertarian Standard post by Jeff Tucker:


Rights Violations in the Name of Private Property

by on December 9, 2011 @ 7:09 pm · 0 comments

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[This article is based on a speech I gave at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, December 5, 2011.]

You know that anti-piracy video you sometimes see at the beginning of movies? It explains how you wouldn’t steal a handbag, so neither should you steal a song or movie by an illegal download. Well, it turns out that the guy who wrote the music for that short clip, Melchoir Rietveldt, says that his music is being used illegally. It had been licensed to play at one film festival, not replayed a million times in DVDs distributed all over the world. He is demanding millions in a settlement fee from BREIN, the anti-piracy organization that produced the thing.

Interesting isn’t it? When you have hypocrisy that blatant, criminality this rampant, practices called piracy this pervasive – it reminds you of the interwar Prohibition years – you have to ask yourself if there is something fundamentally wrong with the law and the principles that underlie the law. Yes, people should keep to their contracts. But that’s not what we are talking about here; this case is being treated not as a contract violation but a copyright violation, which is something different. We are dealing with a more fundamental issue. Is it really stealing to reproduce an idea, an image, or an idea? Is it really contrary to morality to copy an idea?

The verdict here is crucially important because ever more of the state’s active intervention against liberty and real property is taking place in the name of intellectual property enforcement. The legislation SOPA could effectively end Internet freedom in the name of enforcing property rights.

If people who believe in liberty do not get this correct – and it no longer possible to stand on the sidelines – we will find ourselves siding with the state, the courts, the thugs, and even the international enforcement arm of the military industrial complex, all in the name of property rights. And that is a very dangerous thing at this point in history, since IP enforcement has become one of the greatest threats to liberty that we face today.

Another case in point to consider here. This week a judge in Nevada, acting in a case brought by the luxury Chanel, ordered the takedown of some 600 websites that he alone was guilty of trafficking in pirated products, that is selling fake Chanel products. There was no extensive research done; the claim of the company was enough. The judge then issued an order that went beyond the parties to the lawsuit itself and ordered the complete de-indexing of such site by GoDaddy, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo and Microsoft. Meanwhile, there is legislation before Congress that would permit similar takedowns of any website regarded as a violator of intellectual property.

Every time one of these cases comes along, I’m reminded a scene from the streets of Washington, D.C. that I saw years ago. Some immigrant families were doing a brisk business in knock-off fashion goods and watches. A new convert to the cause of free enterprise, I stood there in admiration of their entrepreneurial skill. They weren’t ripping anyone off. The good looked very much like the real thing but with a few difference, and the consumer was not defrauded in any way. All buyers knew exactly what they were getting, and they were also aware that they were getting their goods at a tiny fraction of the price they would pay for the real thing at the department store.

I recall thinking: isn’t the market grand!

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