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.