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David Friedman on the “Problem” of Piracy

I’m a big fan of David Friedman, and his father, Milton, both of whom helped put me on the anarcho-libertarian path in the 1980s and 1990s (see How I Became A Libertarian). Even though I recoil from Milton’s minarchist deviations, and I disagree with David’s positivism and empiricism. Milton acknowledged the distorting effects of patents, as I’m sure David would, but David cannot seem to bring himself to oppose IP on principled grounds (see David Friedman on Copyright).

[update: David Friedman on Intellectual Property]

In a recent post, MMORG as the Future of Fiction?, David Friedman writes:

Nowadays, a lot of the intellectual property protected by copyright law is in digital form. This raises an obvious problem for enforcing copyright, since digital files are easy to copy and easy to distribute.

One possible solution is technological protection, distributing the content in some form that lets the user use it but not copy it. That solution has a problem, sometimes referred to as the analog hole.

Notice that we only need a “solution” if there is a real “problem,” and the only problem Friedman identifies is “enforcing copyright.” But since copyright is unlibertarian, just like tax or conscription or drug laws are, it’s not a “problem” when the state is unable to enforce it; in fact it’s a good thing. Friedman comes up with bizarre “solutions” to this non-problem, like people writing novels that are distributed and dynamic:

Years ago, thinking about this issue, I tried to dream up a version of a movie that would not be fully revealed, perhaps one where the viewer could see it from different points of view each time he viewed it. It eventually occurred to me that something of that sort already existed, and I was spending a good deal of time watching it. World of Warcraft, as I pointed out in my previous post, is a story as well as a game. Because it is a story that is told by having the viewer participate in it as a character, walking through a mostly predetermined plot, it is not fully revealed in one use. What I want is the experience for myself, not a recording of someone else having it.

So here we have a proposed distortion of culture, literature, and intellectual creation all in the name of enforcing artificial anti-copy-rights. IP law leads to all kind of distortion in other areas of social life: it skews technical and scientific research (Milton Friedman on the Distorting Effect of Patents;  The Forgotten Costs of the Patent System); it distorts other areas of commerce and culture (The Effects of Patent and Copyright on Hollywood MoviesDestructive Creation). Now David Friedman is proposing that the field of literature be contorted, twisted, and distorted to solve a “problem”—people can learn from, copy from, emulate, and compete with information others make public, as if this is a “problem”—by making novels dynamic and POV-oriented.

How about we just give up on the ridiculous, statist, 20th century idea of property-in-ideas, instead, and let people be free to do whatever the hell they want? Let a thousand flowers bloom, and all that?


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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.