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Against Monopoly

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Philosophy of IP

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.





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The young do not see copyright as right

David Pogue ends his latest blog posting, saying "I do know, though, that the TV, movie and record companies' problems have only just begun link here. Right now, the customers who can't even *see* why file sharing might be wrong are still young. But 10, 20, 30 years from now, that crowd will be *everybody*. What will happen then?" His piece is an extended survey of various audiences, using a range of hypothetical situations involving copyright violations, ending with the question, how many in the audience see that practice as wrong. Very few of them do.

I speculate that economics teaching has succeeded in persuading most people that monopoly is wrong and that charging more than the marginal cost for an item is a violation of the free market.

Know hope!!!


Comments

If economics taught you that "charging more than the marginal cost for an item is a violation of the free market" then it didn't teach you what a free market was.

In a free market you can set any price you choose.

Violations of the free market occur when some misguided do-gooders come along, regulate the prices and make stupid rules against charging greater than marginal cost.

Just stick to being against monopoly.

If you want to talk about violation then it would be far more accurate to say that "The mercantile privilege of Copyright is a violation of everyone's intellectual property rights".

Crosbie, I thought that remark might get to someone. All I was and am trying to say is that when the price is above marginal cost, the kids think something is wrong and they are justified in violating copyright. We economists taught them well. Something is wrong--the state has created a monopoly.
If you want to talk about violation then it would be far more accurate to say that "The mercantile privilege of Copyright is a violation of everyone's intellectual property rights".

Crosbie, if I want to copy a book that is copyrighted and the copyright law prevents me from doing so, this is a violation of my right to self-ownership (the right to move my hands in a certain way, such as I would when copying pages--this example is from Tom G. Palmer), and my right to use my tangible property (paper in this case) in a way that doesn't actually violate the copyright holder's rights (which don't include the right to prevent me or anyone else making copies of our own tangible property, in my case a copy of a book I own). Clearly neither my right to self-ownership, nor my right to use my pieces of paper in non-invasive ways are intellectual property rights.

I still don't know what you mean by intellectual property rights. This concept strikes me as incoherent, replete with contradictions, and one that should be left to the advocates of intellectual monopoly. Let them try to square the monopoly formerly known as intellectual property within the circle of natural rights.

I think the main reason, but this is from personal experience, is that it's immediately obvious to anyone that copying is a victimless crime. It's hard to feel like an evil bad guy smoking weed or copying music. It takes a lot of propaganda to reverse common sense, and it hasn't yet broken through to young people.

The real evil is not copying but cooperating with the state to prevent it. Young people are already halfway there, perhaps some propaganda on our part can pull them over the line.

Intellectual property, its intuitive meaning, is intellectual work in somebody's possession. Not a "right to prevent everybody from producing anything similar to X." The latter is a counterintuitive interpretation of the term and frankly doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

Crosbie presumably means that copyright prevents people from using the intellectual work in their possession (their intellectual property) in any way they want. A violation of their (intellectual) property rights.

If you think intellectual property should be treated differently than ordinary property, say, a different manner of handling theft, then it makes sense to devise of a term for it so you can start applying special rules to it. I'm not sure if it should, but the position is at least defensible.

John, I don't think kids incorporate marginal cost in their gut when it comes to figuring out something is wrong. There are many things kids will gladly buy despite a price they know bears no resemblance to manufacturing cost.

Thus, they're quite happy to admit the record label has the right to set whatever price it reckons the market will bear. Consequently they shop around and make or borrow copies from their friends when they can't afford to buy the 'original'. They're even happy to buy pirated copies - as long as they know they're pirated.

The sense of wrong comes when they are told they can't even make copies for themselves - even though they're not attempting to pass them off as originals.

Sure, the artist is missing out on a royalty, but then kids are quickly discovering that this royalty is often non-existent or microscopic.

What's left is the angst from residual cultural programming that publishers somehow deserve monopolies in the marketplace when it comes to easily reproducible works of art.

It's worse in recent years because we now have publishers saying "No. It's not just the marketplace. Our monopoly extends into your home and social networks. We are big brother and we will tell you what you can or can't culturally exchange, how many times you can do so, and at what price".

Cultural totalitarianism on the one hand.

Cultural freedom on the other.

The power of commercial publishers vs the will of the public.

You know where I am. Abolish copyright. Don't just stick a velvet glove on it.

Restore everyone's intellectual property rights.

Bill, I have extensively discussed intellectual property and rights pertaining to it in many previous discussions on this site.

An intellectual work comprises the words on a sheet of paper, as opposed to a mere sheet of paper. Both may be property. A sheet of paper is material property. A poem is intellectual property.

Apart from the practical issues arising from differences in tangibility, an individual's rights to both forms of property are the same.

Copyright is not a right but a mercantile privilege purportedly created for the benefit of publishers, and subtly to establish control over printing presses (the state cares not who is notionally in control, only that such control is subject). The cultural interests of the public were added as the original motivation a long time later when the history books could be rewritten.

Copyright suspends the individual's right to manufacture copies or derivatives of their own intellectual property unless they have obtained licence from the copyright holder who has been granted this privilege in their place. The copyright holder of a work is initially the manufacturer of the 'original', but such copyright can be transferred, e.g. to a publisher.

Without copyright, purchasers of intellectual property enjoy the restoration of their natural right to manufacture copies or derivatives (and sell them in a free market without royalty). In this way mankind is free once again to engage in a richly evolving cultural exchange.

Nevertheless, this restoration of rights does not weaken respect for intellectual property, but strengthens it. There is still no right to copy someone else's private intellectual property.

(Kid, you clearly understand me correctly)

Intellectual property, its intuitive meaning, is intellectual work in somebody's possession. Not a "right to prevent everybody from producing anything similar to X." The latter is a counterintuitive interpretation of the term and frankly doesn't make any sense whatsoever. Crosbie presumably means that copyright prevents people from using the intellectual work in their possession (their intellectual property) in any way they want. A violation of their (intellectual) property rights.

If you think intellectual property should be treated differently than ordinary property, say, a different manner of handling theft, then it makes sense to devise of a term for it so you can start applying special rules to it. I'm not sure if it should, but the position is at least defensible.

What if Smith breaks into Jones's house and steals his "intellectual property," say a book manuscript he has written, or "nonintellectual [?] property"? Does the fact that he possesses it give him ownership to the property? You have begged the first questions here, namely what constitutes ownership and what is its relationship to property?

My definition is not counterintuitive at all, indeed it goes to the heart of ownership and property, and shows why intellectual property, conceived as a monopoly grant from the state, is inconsistent with natural rights and justice.

I don't think "intellectual property" should be treated differently fron "nonintellectual property," because there is no difference between the two categories qua property; and the same rules of natural law and ownership apply in each case.

Crosbie, words are not property, they are the part of the common linguistic pool of mankind. You can't own a word, nay even possess one. You can only experience a word, as I am right now in a way by typing each word on my keyboard. But I don't own them any more than I own anyone else's thoughts. Of course what you mean is words written in an order and with a meaning that you have composed by mixing your labor with paper using a writing instrument or computer. You can own a poem you write in the sense of owning a copy of it. But your copy doesn't give you ownership of my copy of a poem you write, nor does it give you ownership of it if I magically compose the same poem afterwards. Since you can't in principle prevent anyone else from having it or owning it, the way you could with tangible property, which can be fenced off from the rest of the world (remember, even if you keep your poem under lock and key and show it to no one, someone else could still theoretically reproduce it), we are forced to conclude that there is no such thing as "intellectual property" other than the conventional meaning of "IP" as a monopoly granted by the State. Thus, the distinction between intellectual or intangible property, on the one hand, and nonintellectual or tangible property, on the other, is a distinction without a difference, as Mr. Will would say.
Bill, words are private property when they are private, and public property when they have been legitimately published. Even a binary digit can be private property (e.g. as in "have cancer/don't have cancer"). Such IP may have high personal value.

Original creative works can not only be personally valuable private intellectual property, but can be publicly valuable, e.g. a love poem.

I suggest that such property should be purchased from its owner rather than stolen or forcibly confiscated (even if culturally valuable to the public). Moreover, the owner has the right to decide whether to offer their work for sale in a free market or not.

The key issue of our time is not whether such intellectual property deserves recognition and protection by the state (for like all natural rights, it will be vigorously protected by the individual in any case), but whether people's intellectual property right to communicate or create any intellectual work they fancy based upon their legitimate experience and collection should be partially suspended to create a monopoly for printers.

I think we agree that such a monopoly is unnatural and should be abolished.

However, simply because this privilege of monopoly has been misdescribed as a right should not taint the legitimacy of our natural intellectual property rights. Nor should the abolition of the publishers' mercantile privilege remove the state's protection of its citizens' newly restored right.

As to your peculiar notion that ownership of IP can be conferred by dint of similarity, this is obviously preposterous and gets us in to the next class of nefarious monopoly: patents. However, inventions remain properly described as intellectual property, and they still deserve the state's protection against theft or illegitimate copying.

Like copyright, patents should also be abolished. One engineer should not be subject to prosecution for reinvention, nor reproduction of a device they have legitimately purchased (whether or not they have improved it).

You lost me on the public/private distinction. On this side of the pond, public property generally means tangible property controlled by the State, such as most roads and highways, bridges, government buildings (court houses and such), public lands, etc. As Murray Rothbard pointed out in his great book Power and Market (the best book on the economics of government a k a "public finance" ever written IMO), public property is actually owned by no one, which is why it's generally poorly maintained and often treated as a commons, i.e. a cesspool, unlike private property, which has an owner, who has an economic incentive to maintain it and invest in it. Private property has a title with an owner's name on it, at least in theory, unlike state-controlled property. What does it mean for the public to own something? Can I go down to the courthouse and remove my aliquot share of courthouse property?, to borrow an example from Rothbard in an essay in Libertarian Review (as I recall).

I maintain that words are not property in any form, although written words can be instantiated in private property, such as a book, computer, etc. Then they become part of the private property, but only these specific marks or digits in particular instantiations, which have specific property titles owned by specific owners. There is no such thing as a form or expresion of a word that makes it public property; publishing words in a book, etc. doesn't make them public property. A book, after all, is private property (save for books in public libraries, and as a libertarian I maintain these should be privatized post haste), so why should the words in a book be public property?

To bring up a point made by Stephan Kinsella at the Liberty and Power blog in March 2006, no one owns the value of his property. Value is a subjective thing determined by the market--if Smith sells his house for money, he owns the money he receives; but until then he owns a house that has a market value, but hasn't realized it until the sale, so doesn't own it.

I suggest that such property should be purchased from its owner rather than stolen or forcibly confiscated (even if culturally valuable to the public). Moreover, the owner has the right to decide whether to offer their work for sale in a free market or not.

I agree that property should be purchased from its owner, but, this means e.g. buying a manuscript from an author(s), for example, which publishers do every day. When the manuscript is turned into a book, copies of which are then sold, the author has no right to control what buyers of it do with their copies. The author does not own all the expressions of his work embodied in tangible form, i.e. books. He owns only his own personal copies.

Printers (or publishers/distributors) are not the main beneficiaries of the copyright monopoly, as you seem to suggest. Authors (musicians, etc.) benefit too, probably even more. And of course the RIAA, MPAA, lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians do as well. They'd have to find other work and sources of income in a free market. In a free market, authors, musicians, etc. would still earn money, but without the benefit of the copyright monopoly.

There is no such thing as natural intellectual property rights. I don't see why the court and cop monopoly known as the State should protect authors' rights. Why can't private law enforcement agencies do this? (See Rothbard.)

I don't know what you mean by claiming I prescribe (if I may get Buckleyite for a second) that "ownership of IP can be conferred by dint of similarity." Inventions are not intellectual property, any more than books are. I am against stealing someone's invention, if this means stealing his tangible property. But I am not against someone's recreating an invention using his own tangible property, which can include a copy of an invention made by someone else.

Most of the anti-copyright stuff here I agree with. But I'm not sure about this "privatize everything posthaste" stuff. That way lies ruin for the poor, and the replacement of (relatively) trustworthy police and similar services with hired thugs and goons of various sorts. Do you want your city's policing turned over to the likes of Blackwater? For that matter, have you ever seen Robocop III? :P
Beeswax, you're reversing reality. I didn't say "privatize everything," I said public libraries. I don't want to privatize the DEA--I want it abolished. There would be no private replacement for government anti-drug fascism.

Blackwater, no matter how dodgy it might be, would be a definite improvement over the NYC cops (guess you've never been here, but I've had horrible first-hand experience with them, and yes they are worse than Blackwater).

It is a sad irony that the poor are used in defense of government. If you think anarchy would bring ruin to the poor, what do you think, exactly, that government has been doing?
It is a sad irony that the poor are used in defense of government. If you think anarchy would bring ruin to the poor, what do you think, exactly, that government has been doing?

Kid, this is the Libertarian Quote of the Year for 2007! You rock!

It comes in with barely an hour to spare.

David Pogue has now posted his choice of the most interesting responses to his column link here. They reinforce two points he made in his initial article, that the young do not see much wrong with violating copyright and that the law is unclear and confusing as to what is lawful and what not. The RIAA and MPAA can talk themselves blue in the face trying to narrow the definition of what is lawful, but the mendacity with which they do so and the lack of clear logic in their criteria goes a long way to undermining their case.

Read them and take heart.


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