The Pirate Party is more libertarian than the Libertarian Party

Pirate Party UK is more libertarian than the Libertarian Party UK, at least on some policy issues, if this post by the Libertarian Party’s leader Chris Mounsey is to be believed.

In his post, Mounsey criticises the Pirate Party’s stand against unjust copyright and patent laws. But libertarians generally want there to be less government interference in people’s lives, and that’s exactly what copyright and patent laws are –they are artificial monopolies, granted by the state, and imposed by threats of violence (as libertarians are fond of saying). When I say “artificial” I mean that informational goods are non-rivalrous, so if someone copies some information I have, I can still use it, which is different from the situation with physical goods: if someone else uses land to grow crops on, I can’t too, or if they eat an apple, I can’t eat it any more; and property rights grow naturally from the fact that possession of such goods is inherently rivalrous.

Furthermore, copyright and patent laws negate one’s property rights in one’s physical property. For example, if I have a hard disk, it’s my property and I can arrange the patterns of magnetic alignment on it in any way I choose; and if I cannot, because copyright law forbids me, my property right in the hard disk has been reduced.

Or similarly if I own a lathe and a milling machine, and some raw materials, I can make an internal combustion engine or other machine from the raw materials; and if I cannot, because patent laws forbid me, then my property rights have been diminished.

So to the extent that you believe in property rights over real property (i.e. anything tangible), you can’t also believe in property rights in imaginary property (i.e. so-called “intellectual” property).

One of the commenters on the article, Charles Pooter, essentially agrees with me when he says:

You’re on the wrong side of the fence on this one. Copyright is government-created monopoly created for allegedly utilitarian purposes, which now serves no such purpose (if it ever really did).

It merely restricts me in the use of my physical (ie real) property to benefit the owners of “intellectual” (ie fake) property, whilst giving the state another excuse to restrict our freedoms online.

Please read the basic libertarian arguments against copyright before weighing in on the wrong side. In fact, please consider the basic logic about how contracts would work in a free society before proclaiming that they would allow copyright to exist.

Another commentator adds:

In my view, you should be working to make the Libertarian and the Pirate parties cooperate, as they have a lot in common.

I’m not sure how much PPUK and LPUK have in common, but if I had to summarize everything the Pirate Party stands for in a paragraph I’d say something like this:

When you use a computer or other digital electronics, who do you think should control what you can do? (A) yourself, (B) big government, (C) big business. If you answered A, the Pirate Party agrees with you, and we exist to protect your rights from governments and corporations that would usurp them.

I strongly suspect that most people who describe themselves as libertarians, and most LPUK members, would agree with that sentiment. I also think that the Pirate Party’s stance on copyright and patent law directly flows from it.

Mounsey is also guilty of cloudy thinking when he likens copyright law to contract law:

Look, this is a contract law issue. On the back of a CD are the following words:

Unauthorised copying, hiring, lending, public performance and broadcasting of this recording prohibited.

This is a contract. I buy the CD and I can listen to the music, but I shall not copy, broadcast, hire or lend the recording—nor will I indulge in any public broadcast of same. In any case, I have signed up to a contract by buying the CD, and I am bound by that contract—this isn’t a very difficult concept.

Now, one can argue that there should be—as in the US—a “fair use” clause that allows me to copy the CD onto my iPod, or computer, or whatever. But uploading and sharing it—for free—with others? No.

And later he says:

Look, the Pirate Party could come in and abolish IP tomorrow. And then the music companies, etc. could simply resurrect it as a model that works; it wouldn’t be backed by criminal law, but it would be by law of contract, i.e. civil law.

This is simply not true, and it fundamentally misunderstands copyright law. Copyright law, and the regime the RIAA and MPAA want to create, aren’t based on contract law at all. Nor is patent law. If copyright law was based on contract law, then:

– people would be free to record a song that simply sounds like another song (ditto for books, films, etc)

– people would be free to write and distribute software that breaks DRM

– people would be free to use their own resources to manufacture goods that work with other companies’ products, (at the moment they can be restricted by patents)

– BitTorrent trackers like The Pirate Bay would be free to operate

– the music industry wouldn’t be able to interfere between an ISP and their customers, by forcing the ISP to disconnect them, merely because they’ve been accused of file sharing.

– if I found a recording of some music in the street (e.g. someone lost their iPod), I’d be legally free to upload all the music on it onto the internet and distribute it as widely as I wanted to, because I wouldn’t be bound by any contract saying I couldn’t do those things.

And if all this held true, the world would overall be a better place. I have no problem with the music industry (or anyone else) using contract law. It’s the excesses of copyright law I want to get rid of.

I will end this post with one simple question for Chris Mounsey (and anyone else) to answer:

With the internet, people can send vast amounts of information around the world quickly and cheaply. One can also store vast amounts of information on hand-held devices, and within a few years most people will carry around with them multi-terabyte storage devices capable of storing every piece of music ever recorded. In this environment, society must choose between:

(i) recognising that preventing non-commercial file sharing is in practice unenforceable (except at excessive cost to liberty and wealth), and it is therefore de facto legal,

or (ii) in an attempt to prevent unauthorised file sharing, new technology will be crippled so that it can’t copy files very easily; computers will be locked down so they can’t run unauthorised software; the government will spy on all internet connections to catch potential file sharers; individual file sharers will face crippling fines, greater than an average person’s lifetime earnings, and much greater than typical fines for stealing physical property; programmers will be imprisoned for writing software that reads file formats; and entire families will be terrorised by the threat of being cut off from the internet if the music industry just accuses them of illegal file sharing (the music industry will not, of course, be required to prove these allegations, nor will it be punished for wrongful accusations).

Which do you choose?

Oh and if you think the list in (ii) is overly dramatic, all of it has either happened, or is contained in laws now in the pipeline, or has been proposed by the MPAA or RIAA.

Update: choice (i) in the question above has been edited in response to comments by Filthy Smoker.

This entry was posted in blogs, Britain, copyright, digital rights, filesharing, libertarianism, MPAA, politics, RIAA and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to The Pirate Party is more libertarian than the Libertarian Party

  1. Filthy Smoker says:

    (i) says its not enforceable (which does NOT, by the way, make it de facto legal)

    (ii) lists all the ways it can be enforced

    Make your mind up.

    Face it, intellectual property is property and if it isn’t protected you can forget about creativity in the future. Libertarianism is supposed to be a serious political idea not a scrounger’s charter.

    • cabalamat says:

      (which does NOT, by the way, make it de facto legal)

      Wikipedia disagrees with you: De facto is a Latin expression that means “by [the] fact”. In law, it is meant to mean “in practice but not necessarily ordained by law”

      Make your mind up

      That’s a valid point — in (i) I should have added after “unenforceable” something along the lines of “except at disproportionate costs to liberty and wealth”

      intellectual property is property and if it isn’t protected you can forget about creativity in the future

      So am I right in assuming you choose (ii)?

    • Paul Lockett says:

      “Face it, intellectual property is property and if it isn’t protected you can forget about creativity in the future.”

      Why is it? Because somebody has created a term for it which includes the word “property?” Is that all it takes?

      The creativity agrument is at best very weak. We’ve always had creativity, but we’ve not always had state granted monopolies over it, so the former clearly isn’t completely dependent on the latter.

      “Libertarianism is supposed to be a serious political idea not a scrounger’s charter.”

      Or a vehicle for ad hominem.

    • I am a libertarian.

      I also recognise intellectual property.

      If I write a novel then no one else has any right to copy it, abridge it, adapt it, translate it, or even read it. It is my intellectual property, and should be protected from theft as much as my material property.

      If I sell someone my novel or a printed copy of it, then it becomes the purchaser’s material and intellectual property.

      NB This doesn’t prevent any original or copy I retain from remaining my property also. Property is not bound by similarity.

      However, being a libertarian I neither seek nor require my queen or government to unjustly suspend the people’s natural liberty to make copies in order that I can be granted a monopoly in the making of copies. Indeed, as one of the aforesaid people I would demand that all state granted monopolies be abolished in order to restore my liberty as well as that of my fellow men.

      Hence, in being a libertarian I am necessarily a copyright abolitionist.

      And let’s not forget that liberty is inalienable and cannot be surrendered through contract. It takes the enactment of a privilege such as copyright to alienate individuals from their liberty. Just as we cannot sell ourselves into slavery so we cannot surrender our liberty to make copies.

    • cabalamat says:

      intellectual property is property and if it isn’t protected you can forget about creativity in the future

      The Pirate Party doesn’t want to abolish copyright, and all the evidence suggests that music would thrive without it. But let’s run with your argument. Preserving obsolete business models based on scarcity of copies means destroying many of our liberties. So are you saying that we should sell our historic liberties, which our forefathers paid for in blood, for a few jingles??? Piss-poor libertarian you are then.

  2. ChrisM says:

    “Face it, intellectual property is property”.

    In that case why does it require the “intellectual” modifier? We don’t have “car” property and “food” property, “electronics” property etc.

    • There is both matter and energy in the universe and we work them into useful objects, i.e. art and technology. In everything there is both a material and informational component. The material aspect of objects that we produce we call material works, and the informational aspect we call intellectual works. We apprehend matter with our bodies and information with our senses. We also control the movement of, and access to, material and intellectual works through physical means (as opposed to supernatural means such as ‘spooky action at a distance’). It is from the individual’s natural ability to physically possess themselves and other objects that we derive the right to privacy and consequently the notion of property (objects possessed within our private domain).

      In the 18th century the privileges of copyright and patent were granted to authors and registrants of novel designs. These are monopolies applying to intellectual works and augment people’s natural intellectual property rights with unnatural ones – also known as ‘legally granted rights’ or ‘legal rights’ or these days, simply ‘rights’.

      Thus those who would retain their 18th century monopolies like to call them ‘rights’ rather than privileges, precisely to conflate them with natural rights.

      You have a natural right to prevent a burglar stealing your bread as much as your diary or a copy of it, but only a privilege to prevent people printing copies of the carol you sung at xmas.

      Thus, the monopolists prefer ‘intellectual property right’ to ‘intellectual work privilege’, and simply contract the former to ‘intellectual property’ – so you don’t question whether the missing ‘right’ is a natural right or an unnatural, legally granted right (estd. by Queen Anne in 1710).

      Unfortunately, instead of simply being against state granted monopolies some people also use the corrupt term ‘intellectual property’ in place of ‘state granted monopolies’ and so declare themselves to be against ‘intellectual property’. This then means they are also against the natural right people have to their intellectual property, i.e. against its removal or copying by burglars.

  3. Filthy Smoker says:

    So are you saying that we should sell our historic liberties, which our forefathers paid for in blood, for a few jingles???

    Because that’s what was going through their heads at the Somme, wasn’t it? “Got to make sure future generations can sell knocked off DVDs.”

    “all the evidence suggests that music would thrive without it”

    Really? Where is it then?

    • cabalamat says:

      “Got to make sure future generations can sell knocked off DVDs.”

      Don’t be silly. I meant rights such as right to a fair trial before a jury of one’s peers; presumption of innocence; right to privacy and security of communications; and a democratically elected government, rather than a self-serving oligarchy. This are all rights that the evil MPAA and RIAA want to destroy.

      As to the evidence that music would continue OK without copyrights, it is of two sorts. (1) music did fine before copyright applied to it, and (2) music is doing fine now despite (or maybe because of) filesharing — or at least, musicians are doing fine, the recording industry isn’t.

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  5. cabalamat,

    “Pirate Party UK is more libertarian than the Libertarian Party UK, at least on some policy issues, if this post by the Libertarian Party’s leader Chris Mounsey is to be believed.”

    First, I object to you using my real name: I thought that I had made this clear on a number of occasions.

    Second, and most important, I really object to you trying to pass off my personal views as LPUK policy.

    It is incredibly dishonest and shows, I think, that the Pirate Party are willing to lie and cheat in order to advance themselves. It seems that the only difference between the current bunch of theiving politicians and the Pirate Party is that the latter want to legalise theft.

    Wait! Is the post above posted under the authority of the Pirate Party, or is it just your personal view…?

    DK

    • cabalamat says:

      Devil’s Kitchen: First, I object to you using my real name: I thought that I had made this clear on a number of occasions.

      You may have made it clear to other people; you certainly haven’t made it clear to me. But now you have told me, out of courtesy I won’t in future use your real name when commenting on articles you write on your blog.

      I do find it surprising however that you don’t want your name mentioned, given that you’re the leader of a UK political party — surely you want all the publicity you can get?

      Second, and most important, I really object to you trying to pass off my personal views as LPUK policy

      You’re the leader of LPUK. I’m assuming that anything you say in public on political matters is likely (although of course not certain) to be the viewpoint of LPUK’s leadership and many of LPUK’s members, and may well make it to LPUK’s manifesto for the general election.

      If your views aren’t LPUK policy, perhaps you’d be good enough to tell me what is LPUK policy on copyright law?

      It seems that the only difference between the current bunch of theiving politicians and the Pirate Party is that the latter want to legalise theft.

      Copyright ingringement isn’t theft, as I’m sure you well know. In fact, non-commercial copyright infringement (the type PPUK want to legalise) isn’t even a crime — it’s a civil offence.

      Is the post above posted under the authority of the Pirate Party, or is it just your personal view…?

      It’s my personal view; I’m not the leader of PPUK, so I’m not entitled to make _ex cathedra_ announcements on party policy. Nor for that matter is our leader Andrew Robinson; PPUK policies are decided democratically by the membership.

      Having said that:

      – the PPUK executive were aware of my post and what its broad contents would be, before I posted it.

      – I’m reasonably certain they agree with the sentiments I expressed, and that the vast majority of PPUK members would also agree.

      In general, most of what I say on my blog regarding copyright and digital rights issues is likely to be not a million miles away from PPUK policy. PPUK chooses not to have polices on the whole range of political issues, so anything I say on non-pirate issues is just my personal opinion and has no particular bearing on PPUK policy.

      • “It’s my personal view; I’m not the leader of PPUK, so I’m not entitled to make _ex cathedra_ announcements on party policy. Nor for that matter is our leader Andrew Robinson; PPUK policies are decided democratically by the membership.”

        Yes, and this is precisely our position. Your party leader does not make policy: nor does ours.

        To be honest, I don’t believe that we have finalised any position on copyright, etc. simply because our membership has a number of mixed views—it’s part of being a libertarian party. I shall, however, get onto our Policy Director to try to formulate one as soon as possible.

        You know my view: that I broadly believe that there is such a thing as intellectual property, and that therefore there should be laws surrounding it—although not necessarily the ones we currently have—as there are for other types of property.

        It is about separation of roles, as is the issue of using my real name: Devil’s Kitchen is not really me, just a subset. Oh, and I don’t want to lose my job—that would be another reason.

        DK

  6. Graeme Lambert says:

    The Pirate Party do not want to abolish copyright as we want creative artists to receive their fair share.

    If I buy a CD/DVD, rip it to my computer, create a torrent, upload it to The Pirate Bay, send the link to a few friends and let them download it; that is non-commercial file-sharing.

    If I buy a CD/DVD, rip it to my computer, burn it onto another disc and then sell that disc to other people, obviously without giving a percentage of it to the copyright holders, that is commercial file-sharing which should by punished to the full extent of the law as that DOES take money away from the rights holders.

    Me sharing the media with a couple of friends does not deprive the creative artists of their money, it infact boosts the chances of them receiving more money through completely free advertising. I know some bands who have relatively small fan bases compared to big name bands who will give away a few songs to be shared – this is what I would personally encourage amongst all creative artists.

    The current plan amongst the Pirate Party for copyright reform is not to abolish it but simply to shorten it. The lengths discussed are 5 years or 10 years plus the option to extend for a further 5 years. I personally like the idea put forward by a member in that in order for the copyright to be extended for that 5 years, the copyright holder would have to pay a percentage, say 5%, of the profit made during that first 5/10 years. If the media is selling well, that wouldn’t be a problem for the holders, but if it’s not selling, then it would simply be made freely available to the public domain as the copyright would be expired.

    I would like to end this comment in joining with cabalamat in asking for the Libertarian party’s views on copyright and patent laws.

  7. “If I buy a CD/DVD, rip it to my computer, create a torrent, upload it to The Pirate Bay, send the link to a few friends and let them download it; that is non-commercial file-sharing.”

    But that isn’t what Pirate Bay did, is it? It wasn’t the equivalent of making a cassette for a couple of mates, was it? No. It was an entire commercial operation based on people providing downloads to anyone who wanted to join up.

    “If I buy a CD/DVD, rip it to my computer, burn it onto another disc and then sell that disc to other people, obviously without giving a percentage of it to the copyright holders, that is commercial file-sharing which should by punished to the full extent of the law as that DOES take money away from the rights holders.”

    *sigh*

    If people can get a product for free, rather than paying for it, then the majority of them will do so. Yes, I know the argument about how many of them wouldn’t buy the record if they had to pay and so you aren’t depriving the artist of all of those potential sales—but you are depriving them of some.

    “Me sharing the media with a couple of friends does not deprive the creative artists of their money, it infact boosts the chances of them receiving more money through completely free advertising.”

    This being the case, I imagine that you have thousands of creative artists on board with your project…?

    “I know some bands who have relatively small fan bases compared to big name bands who will give away a few songs to be shared – this is what I would personally encourage amongst all creative artists.”

    Sure. And if the artists choose to give away their songs, then that is absolutely right. But that isn’t what we are talking about here, are we? We are talking Pirate Bay—hundreds of thousands of downloads, by thousands of members, all paying fuck all to the artists who created that material.

    DK

  8. Gandhi says:

    Cabalamat: I’m pleased to see you making the argument on an individual rights basis, very libertarian! IP is an interesting argument for libertarians, especially IT types because we are in the information industry and we don’t like the idea that others can simply copy our hard work for free; nonetheless… The rights argument against IP is strong, but people seem more convinced by the consequentialist arguments: these are increasingly strong given the state of the pharmaceutical/biomedical industries in particular. There is real urgency now to end pharmaceutical patents, since they are leading to horrible effects in the healthcare industry, drug companies are pushing treatments which advantage them regardless of benefit to patients. It is perfectly clear that innovation would continue (and I dare say with less bias) without patents. Ever given to Cancer Research UK? There you go. As far as music is concerned, music producers should just improve their copy protection and stop lobbying governments to do their work for them. I’m sorry to have to tell you that if they really try hard enough they probably can stop you from copying, regardless of law/contract, but they won’t bother while they still have arseholes like Peter Mandelson making threats on their behalf.

    • Those who understand information technology are those who most easily recognise how ridiculous the notion is that people should not enjoy their natural liberty to make copies of the intellectual works in their possession without permission from the holder of an 18th century privilege intended for the Stationer’s guild.

      You can’t have been in IT for very long…

  9. John Watsion says:

    The pirate party is no more than a one policy party who will never get off the ground. The libertarian party gives every individual the complete freedom to do what they want in ALL areas as long you don’t Steal, force or enslave any one else. I think there is a debate in the libertarian party what can be defined as property. The pirate party will allow people the right to take property from each other, and still control peoples life’s in all other area which is just another form of socialism. Any one considering voting the pirate party why don’t you vote for the SSP instead.

    note: You are also responsible for protecting your own property, it is not the sates responsibility to look after you. So the only difference under the libertarian government it will be upto the copyright holder to go after you and not government. Government should stay out of peoples lifes in all areas.

    • cabalamat says:

      John Watsion: The pirate party is no more than a one policy party

      Not really true, as we have more than one policy. What is true is that we concentrate on a small range of issues: reforming coyright and patent law, ending essessive surveillance and enabling privacy, and making sure everyone has real freedom of speech and the ability to take part in our shared culture.

      who will never get off the ground

      The Pirate Party Movement was founded 4 years ago and already has 2 MEPs. How many Libertarian MEPs are there?

      So the only difference under the libertarian government it will be upto the copyright holder to go after you and not government. Government should stay out of peoples lifes in all areas.

      Er, copyright was invented by government and is enforced by government. You cannot simultaneously be in favour of copyright and of the government getting out of people’s lives — the two positions are contradictory..

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