From the Mises blog; archived comments below.
It is obvious to advocates of liberty that modern communications and technology–cell phones, twitter, texting, video, youtube, email, and the Internet–are crucially important in the fight to delegitimize, expose, and fight against the state. Of course the state always works to hijack and corrupt various institutions and aspects of life in order to increase its control and power. As I discuss here, Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe, in his classic paper Banking, Nation States and International Politics: A Sociological Reconstruction of the Present Economic Order, explains how and why the state insidiously arrogates to itself the control of roads, communications, law and justice, healthcare, money, defense, police, finance and banking, and education.
So it is no surprise that they are coming for the Internet next, under the guise of tax law (it’s “unfair” if Amazon doesn’t pay the sales taxes that brick-and-mortar shops are forced to), prohibitions on gambling and child porn, and, of course, copyright and “piracy.” The latter is probably the biggest threat to Internet freedom, as can be seen in this chilling article: The Pirate Bay: “The Battle of Internets is About to Begin”. The Internet must remain free and unregulated. If Internet freedom disappears, we will lose one of our most crucial weapons against the state. And it will have been because of copyright law, the fascist nature of which is becoming increasingly obvious to all libertarians except for the most stubborn pro-IP holdouts.
I used to think IP was bad, but way down on the list of priorities. But since 1995 or so (see my The Four Historical Phases of IP Abolitionism), IP’s abuses have increased and become more visible. IP does not include only patent and copyright and the other classical and modern forms of IP (trademark, trade secret, semiconductor maskwork, etc.). It also includes defamation law/reputation rights, which, like copyright, also censors speech, and one can even view other statist policies as variants of or close cousins to IP law–such as the state’s prohibition on counterfeiting its fiat currency (this is copyright like in that the state claims the right to make these copies but no one else), and even the drug war (the state can produce drugs or authorize people to do so, etc.). So at this point I’d have to put the state’s insidious and increasingly draconian and outrageous IP policies just behind the other obvious state evils: war, income tax, central banking/fiat money, drug war/police state, and government schools.
Update: Revised ‘Net censorship bill requires search engines to block sites, too
For current and impending copyright legislation and treaties, see The Mountain of IP Legislation.
Update/Related post: Where does IP Rank Among the Worst State Laws?
You can’t shoot information with a tank. I really think governments are going to have a hard time controlling information, now that the cat is out of the bag. (now with patent, physical control over how people use invention, that’s a different matter)
When a market commoditizes, the service value of that market becomes more profitable than the control value of that market. This has already happened with content, which is why the copyright cartel is really doomed. I’m sure they are going to lash out and can cause a lot of collateral damage like a person drowning in a pool kicking and grabbing onto everyone around them. But in the end, the government can’t end internet freedom.
The government is also desperately trying to control information about relative transaction costs, and value over time, as in … they are trying to control the monetary system. Notice, they are losing that information battle too.
I’ve been thinking about patents and copyrights. It’s my understanding that the great composers (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart et al.) did not copyright their works. Is the world worse off for it? I don’t think so. In fact, I know that composers regularly stole each others ideas for their own pieces, which, to me, echoes “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” and in my opinion only created more great works. The more I think about the US patent office, the more I believe it has to go, along with all of the other institutions which are stealing our freedoms.
So at this point I’d have to put the state’s insidious and increasingly draconian and outrageous IP policies just behind the other obvious state evils: war, income tax, central banking/fiat money, drug war/police state, and government schools.
In each of the “state evils” you list, I can conjure up my own ideas of where the evil lies, and agree with you in general that each area has evils that should and must be addressed. To some extent, at least, I would agree that IP laws also cause some unnecessary harm.
Yet distinguishing between one thing and another is still important, especially so in the context of liberty. For example, not all wars are evil to the extent that they are waged to preserve individual freedom and survival. To conclude that something even as horendous as war is or is not justified in a given case requires some a priori concept of justice and liberty worth fighting for.
Also, I think you conflate the state and mercantilism in much of your rhetoric concerning the evils of the state. Those evils mostly derive from misappropriation of political means. Collusion between commercial and political interests for power and exclusive privilege does not prove that the underlying principles of self-government, or even the concept of taxes, are necessarily evil. It is when the institutions of society are hijacked for purposes contrary to their original purpose that something that is fundamentally good becomes a device of evil.
The same is true of IP; the principle that one should own what he makes is a valid and good principle of liberty in every context of peaceful human endeavor. The state, in principle, does not enforce IP for its own purposes. If there is evil there, it is derived from the collusion between those seeking rents by capturing political means, and those willing to trade politcal accommodations for political power. This is the evil principle behind the evils impliled in the examples you have identified.
The contrast between evil purpose, and ethical principle in a given social institution is a critical distinction. A failure to make those distinctions does not bode well for the struggle to preserve and expand individual liberty in a free society. Success in making those distinctions makes possible the distinction between a target and collateral damage. This is not an easy task, and takes more care, I fear, than you are willing to give.
such as the state’s prohibition on counterfeiting its fiat currency (this is copyright like in that the state claims the right to make these copies but no one else)
this is not copying, each bank note is unique as it has its own unique number.
Stephan, how do you propose content publishers deal with plagiarism, then? Just roll over and give up? What makes you so sure that a free market in law would unanimously reject all forms of copyright?