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Why Intellectual Property is the State’s Latest Taser

This Whiskey and Gunpowder posting is reprinted here, and below:

Whiskey & Gunpowder — The Daily Missive of Laissez Faire Books

Gary Gibson, Minneapolis, Minnesota…

Normally on the weekends we turn the floor over to letters from you bar patrons…But today
we thought you’d enjoy this exchange between us and a friend on Google chat. It concerns the escalating Internet war between the state and …well, everybody else.

And of course, the peg upon which the state has hung its case is intellectual property…copyrights, patents and all that jazz…

Read on below…

me: How do you feel about the idea of copyright?

friend: It’s difficult… because I’m a person who makes things I understand that there should be protection against someone stealing one of my illustrations and selling it and profiting off of it and not giving anything back to me… BUT, I dunno it’s a fine line… because as Thomas Jefferson said:

“If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.”

me: That’s what Jeffrey’s been writing about. Copyright — especially with today’s tech — is artificially trying to make a non-scarce good into a scarce one.

friend: I just read that hes an Auburn man… ha! Thats awesome

me: Yes, he’s my newest Best Friend Forever. Ideas are infinitely reproducible. If I copy it, you still have it. It’s not like land, or clothes, or a car.

It’s almost impossible not to break IP laws with the Net. Your only real hope is not to paste anything or link to anything.

friend: But everything I know I stole from someone else according to IP law. All culture, all progress comes from sharing and remixing of ideas.

friend: But that doesn’t mean that all intellectual property is open for anyone to profit off of. My mentor was big on one thing. There is taking and there is stealing. Stealing is ok [because stealing acknowledges the idea is someone else’s property]. Taking is not [i.e. passing it off as your own].

[Ed note: One can plagiarize without violating copyright and violate copyright without plagiarizing.]

me: But what is “Intellectual property”? You profit from the initial bringing to market and from the marketing and delivery of content. Imitators come along and make it better and cheaper. That’s progress. That’s why things get cheaper over time, benefiting us all. Imagine if all the great things at the start of industries were copyrighted.

friend: Forceps were. The idea was stolen and redistributed.

me: Imagine if the tech that made clothes and books easy to reproduce had been copyrighted. Can’t really steal an idea.

That’s our point. You can’t lock ideas up and get the state to back up prosecution of theft. This is being played out in realtime now.

If you really don’t want anyone to have your idea, don’t ever share it.

friend: well, my problem is that you all are only looking at this philosophically, youre not people who make things… again, stealing an idea and making it your own is totally cool… taking someone elses work and presenting it as your own… is wrong and should have repercussions.

me: Ah, but the same technology that makes it possible to plagiarize makes it impossible to get away with it.

People are called out all the time. If you become known as an unoriginal hack, you will lose market share.

If some unoriginal hack just reposted everything Jeffrey wrote as his own work, how long before he was found out?

I daresay it would take a couple days at most.

friend: I wouldn’t say impossible to get away with it… I’d say with the amount of information available you’re more likely to be held accountable, but you also have to take into account the misinformation factor and how quickly and easily misinformation spreads on the Internet.

me: It’s also corrected pretty quickly too.

friend: No way. Look at any music file sharing site and you’ll see that its just not true.

me: I don’t go to those places. Explain.

friend: With so much information available (in this case well use the billions of mp3s available as an ex) it’s literally impossible for all of the file names to be corrected…

You get one “Marvin Gay- Lets Stay Together” and that one bit of misinformation will spread and never ever be corrected… how many Youtube videos have you seen with the wrong artist attached to a song? And Youtube is pretty heavily policed by its own users…

I guess what I’m saying is that the internet is not perfect … it is notorious for spreading misinformation and as we both know… even when that info is corrected, only a small percentage of people will “take” to that corrected info… aka every [expletive] child alive thinking that Marvin Gay wrote “Lets stay together”!

me: Meh. Life is that way. Before the Internet people were even more generally misinformed. People believe all kinds of stupid myths. Cracked.com has made its entire existence about humorously correcting things like this.

It’s not a big enough deal to halt the sharing of information. That’s the stuff on which progress is built.

friend: and they’re wrong half the time too

me: Ha ha. Especially when they contest economic theories I champion. No one’s perfect. We’re not perfect now because of the Internet. But that’s the same argument people used against Wikipedia which is right enough often enough and which keeps getting better.

friend: because its self policed

me: Hell, before the Internet, wrong [expletive] would get into encyclopedias and stay there for decades.

I’m saying, don’t sweat wrong attributions too much. They will happen. The world is better off if we don’t make it the police state’s job to correct them.

friend: I guess what I’m saying is that, I believe copyright laws and Internet censorship should be treated as separate beasts… not mutually exclusive but dealt with separately and probably on a case by case basis, like the internet is just the medium

me: Ah, but the state is using “intellectual property” as a backdoor to censorship. Like Jeffrey says, IP is just the convenient taser. They understand that the Internet is a threat to their legitimacy.

friend: It’s not a threat to their legitimacy. Their unwillingness to evolve and adapt is a threat to their legitimacy.

me: The spreading of anti-state ideas has taken off thanks to the Net. What if the future is a stateless society?

How do you adapt to extinction? Not willingly I’d imagine.

The crusty monopolists at the head of the recording industries are the same kind of people who seek political power and figure the world needs it and them. They aren’t going to wither away quietly and leave the rest of us alone.

friend: gary, sometimes talking to you is like talking to a stoner grad student who’s read too much Nietzsche

me: My philosophical stance is based on no coercion. Ever. I believe in purely mutual exchange with no state involvement. It’s market anarchy or agorism. So I look at it from that perspective. I think what’s developing in the digital world now with Creative Commons is the non-coerced, non-political way to handle this.

The answer is to let people figure it out for themselves with each other, given what the technology makes inevitable.

friend: Yes, I like that actually.

And that’s pretty much where we both left it, good patrons. And now we go to this quote (that we hope falls under “fair use” laws thanks to the legal magic of quotation marks and proper attributions)…

From Sheldon Richman in his article “Patent Nonsense”:

“In practical terms, when one acquires a copyright or a patent, what one really acquires is the power to ask the government stop other people from doing harmless things with their own property. IP is thus inconsistent with the right to property.

“An IP advocate might challenge the proposition that two or more people can use the “same” idea at the same time by noting that the originator’s economic return from exploiting the idea will likely be smaller if unauthorized imitators are free to enter the market. That is true, but this confuses property with economic value. In traditional property-rights theory, one owns objects not economic values. If someone’s otherwise unobjectionable activities lower the market value of my property, my rights have not been violated.

“This objection exposes what is at stake in IP: monopoly power granted by the state. In fact, patents originated as royal grants of privilege, while copyright originated in the power to censor. This in itself doesn’t prove these practices clash with liberty, but their pedigrees are indeed tainted.

“Property rights arose to grapple with natural scarcity; ‘intellectual property’ rights were invented to create scarcity where it does not naturally exist.”

And we finish on an ominous note. From the Atlantic Wire concerning the attacks by Anonymous:

“…yesterday’s events were both good and bad news for those hoping Congress will keep its mitts off the Internet. First, the shutdown inadvertently proved that the U.S. government already has all the power it needs to take down its copyright villains, even those that aren’t based in the United States. No SOPA or PIPA required.

“Of course, no government is ever satisfied with ‘just enough’ power, which is why opponents lashed out at the regime that already exists. But rather than forcing Congress to back off, the shutdown of government and corporate websites is likely to anger and re-energize those anti-piracy zealots who think the web needs to be brought under control. Instead of surrendering in fear or even taking a more measured approach, they are more likely to double down on new legislation and harsher penalties meant to corral those who thumb their nose at the government. That in turn will lead Anonymous, LulzSec, or some other group (perhaps one with even more nefarious intentions) to raise the stakes even higher, causing more chaos and keeping the cycle going.

In other words, there can be no grand compromise. In the end, we get neither air-tight copyright enforcement nor an “anything goes” digital freedom, but instead see an escalation of ‘scorched-web’ tactics and a never-ending war where more and more people lose.”

Oh my.

We surely have some “interesting times” ahead. January 18 may turn out to be the Archiducke Ferdinand event we’ve been expecting. And here we were looking at Iran!

The U.S. vaporized an American citizen in another country. It’s held people without charge for years at a time. It’s codified all this into law. But that codification is just the icing, not the cake.

The federal police have just raided homes on the other side of the planet in order to arrest non-U.S. citizens in a foreign country.

The kid gloves are off. And nowhere is out of reach. If the state wants you, it will get you, no matter where you are.

That’s why we’re sticking it out here for now. We figure the fight’s gone global.

But we’re not terribly worried. It will sort itself out. Our bets are on liberty, the free markets and progress. The state may do a great deal of harm as it senses its demise, but ultimately it will lose. Lord, haste the day.

In the meantime, those who bet on progress now are likely to come out the other side of this very well off. So make sure to keep tuning into these pages as we ride this out…

…But be sure to click here to make sure your wealth is set to increase as the innovation curve goes vertical.


Gary Gibson
Managing editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder

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To the extent possible under law, Stephan Kinsella has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to C4SIF. This work is published from: United States. In the event the CC0 license is unenforceable a  Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License is hereby granted.