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Falkvinge: The Copyright Monopoly Stands In Direct Opposition To Property Rights

Yet another great piece by Rick Falkvinge:


The Copyright Monopoly Stands In Direct Opposition To Property Rights


A lot of today’s bad policy stems from the misconception that the copyright monopoly is related to property rights, an illusion peddled by the copyright industry’s own powerful lobby. The idea that the copyright monopoly would be a property right doesn’t just lack factual basis, but it is 180 degrees and one hundred per cent wrong, factually wrong. The copyright monopoly stands in direct opposition to property rights.

The copyright monopoly is a governmentally-sanctioned private monopoly. No liberal, socialist, green, capitalist, or conservative can defend those constructions from their ideology; this construction only fits corporativist and protectionist ideologies.

Allow us to illustrate with a tangible example: assume that we buy a copy of a chair. We say “a copy”, as it is automatically made from a master in the form of a digital blueprint in some sort of plant; colloquially, we’ve bought “a chair” at IKEA. We own this copy of the chair, we have our receipt here in hand. This physical object, in all its aspects, is our property. We are allowed to do a number of things with this copy of the chair:

  • We can take the chair apart, and use pieces of it for new projects that we make in our workshop.
  • We can look at the underlying pattern to examine how the chair is built, make an identical copy, and sell it.
  • We can put out our chair on the porch and use it there, and we can charge our neighbors to use it if we like.

All of this is typical for property. These are typical actions we can all take with our property without anybody raising an eyebrow. (To counter a common but false objection to this point: while there are some monopolistic protections possible for chairs, the overwhelming majority of chairs don’t come with patent or design patent monopolies, and the everyday chair is perfectly legal to reproduce using your own parts and labor, as is the normal case with property.)

In contrast, assume that we buy a copy of a movie. We say “a copy” as the disc with the movie is automatically made from a master in the form of a digital blueprint in some sort of plant; colloquially, We’ve bought “a movie” at the gas station. We own this copy of the movie, we have our receipt here. This physical object, in all its aspects, is our property. Yet, we are notlegally allowed to do certain things with this copy of the movie:

  • We are not legally allowed to remix the movie that we own and use parts of it for new projects.
  • We are not legally allowed to examine the underlying bitpattern and make an identical copy on a different storage medium which is the property of somebody else, nor are we allowed to sell a copy we have produced with our own property and labor.
  • We may not use our movie on the porch, and may not charge our neighbors to use it.

Somebody’s monopoly overrides our property rights and makes it illegal to use our legal property and exercise our normal property rights using our own work and labor.

The copyright monopoly is a governmentally-sanctioned private monopoly on certain forms of duplication and performance. It doesn’t just stand in opposition to property rights, but to free trade as well.

(Some people would argue that even property as such is a governmentally-sanctioned private monopoly, in order to downplay the fact that the copyright monopoly stands in opposition to property rights, but that would not be what we mean by “property” and “monopoly” as concepts. If I own an umbrella, I control that umbrella. If I have a monopoly on umbrellas, I get to control everybody else’s umbrella too, and get to call on the government to have that enforced.)

It is quite possible to argue for the copyright monopoly from a purely utilitarian, protectionist, or mercantilist perspective, but not from a “property is good” perspective: you will end up in the exact opposite conclusion. By extension, since we know that property rights are good for trade, we also deduce that the copyright monopoly is bad for trade and competition. This comes as no surprise, seeing how the copyright industry has been fighting tooth and nail against the more-efficient industries that would otherwise already have replaced them.

Update: I posted this in the comments:

Stephan Kinsella

“An idea cannot, by its nature, be property. This is fundamental.”

This is correct. It is literally impossible to set up a property right in nonscarce things like patterns of information, knowledge, or ideas. Laws and enforceable rights always use physical force (e.g., of the state’s goons) against scarce resources owned by other people–against their material property. A copyright “owner” can use the grant of this monopoly privilege to have the state use its goons to threaten physical force against an “infringer”–against his body (threats of imprisonment) and/or his money or other property. That is why IP rights like patent and copyright are disguised takings of property rights, redistribution of wealth from previous property owners to the IP holders: and I believe the best way to legally classify these rights is that patent and copyright should be viewed as negative servitudes over the body and/or other property of those affected by the IP right. In essence, the IP holder is given a “veto” right over how other people are permitted to use their own bodies and other owned resources. The IP holder in effect becomes a co-owner of others’ bodies and property. There is nothing inherently wrong with such an easement, if it is voluntarily negotiated by contract. But in the case of IP, there is no agreement by the person who is now burdened by the IP negative servitude; the state simply grants this right to the IP holder.

For more on this, see http://c4sif.org/2011/11/why-intellectual-property-is-not-genuine-property-adam-smith-forum-moscow/ and http://blog.mises.org/17398/intellectual-property-rights-as-negative-servitudes/

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Sabrina Thomspon January 4, 2013, 12:19 am

    Hello I recently found this site. I am against copyright law and I am glad to see others agree. Copyright law limits creativity. I started a petition on whitehouse.gov to limit copyright. I wish I could completely get rid of copyright but I doubt enough would sign it. I don’t know many people against copyright. I try to obey the copyright laws even though I don’t like them ,but I read more on copyright and found that I broke copyright as a kid trying to have fun not knowing things like “fan fiction” and making funny videos using movie clips can be illegal. Copyright is to strict and makes things crimes needlessly. I have a link to my petition if anyone intrested. http://wh.gov/UIW2
    please share. I need 150 signatures before publically viewable. It would be nice to at least prevent copyright law from lasting longer than an author lives and get rid the the monopoly on derivative works.
    I someone knows enough people to get a petition going to completely get rid of copyright law than I would be for that.

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.