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Against Monopoly

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Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.





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IPWatchDog Patent Lawyer Sued by Invention Submission Corporation

Patent lawyer Gene Quinn has been sued
by Invention Submission Corporation (dba Invent Help) in the United States Federal District Court for the Northern District of New York. The complaint ... alleges that I have engaged in false and misleading advertising that has cost Invent Help business. They apparently do not like the fact that I have written about invention submission scams and have recounted the many stories that I have heard from inventors who feel they have been taken advantage of by Invent Help.
Quinn is a notorious (but inarticulate and inept) defender of the patent system; see Gene Quinn: Patent Twit of the Week; Koepsell - Quinn "Debate" on Gene Patents; Gene Quinn the Patent Watchdog; Patent Lawyers Who Don't Toe the Line Should Be Punished!. Still, it's sad to see him victimized by someone using an unjust law--these laws are basically types of IP laws, in that they are in effect based on rights in reputations. Reputation rights are not usually classified as IP rights, but they are similarly unjust, and similarly based on the idea that if you "create" "something" "of value," then you should own it--patents cover created inventions, copyright covers created works of art, and a variety of laws (trademark, defamation, misleading advertising) protect rights in one's reputation, which one is said to have "created" as well. Quinn favors people having the right to use the state courts to sue and damage people based on artificial intellectual "rights." And that's what's being done to him now.

[Mises; SK]


Comments

What remedy, then, do you suggest a person should have if e.g. slandered?

Consider this scenario: someone says something nasty and untrue about me and posts it to the internet where a few dozen people will see it.

It's human nature for at least a small percentage of those people to believe it, and for some fraction of them, in turn, to repeat it elsewhere. Multiply those together and add in a time factor and you have a growth rate. An exponential growth rate.

It can thus be shown mathematically that the negative belief about me will spread in a manner similar to a disease, and as long as no effort is made either to "vaccinate" people (by, say, inculcating in them a belief contradictory to the negative one), "quarantine" carriers (by, say, shutting them up), or make "infection" have negative consequences (e.g. monetary damage), then there's an S-shaped curve that eventually saturates with much of the world's population believing the negative assertion (given the "small world network" character of the Internet). Even when the conversion rate is quite low, the "six degrees of separation" effect combined with the occasional "super-spreader" or "Typhoid mary" means the S-curve may be quite steep and the "contagion" may saturate the population of susceptible hosts shockingly fast.

Tort laws such as slander and libel provide a means of "quarantining" carriers and making "infection" injurious enough to the host as to deter spreading it. Without those, that leaves "vaccination".

"Vaccination" has a serious scaling problem. You see, there's only one of me and (hypothetically) a growing number of my detractors. The latter may spread the "infection" in venues I don't even know exist. In the ones I do know exist, I could easily find all of my time taken up with posting "antisense" messages to counteract the hostile ones, given that the number of those posting hostile ones may grow while the number of me remains at one.

Of course this suggests I amplify my counter-message somehow. The most obvious means of doing so is to emulate the enemy and make the message somehow viral. The problem is, "XYZ is a nice guy" isn't viral by its nature; scurrilous and juicy-sounding rumors about XYZ are.

That leaves mechanical amplification. I could employ bots to spam the net, but that's not very nice and could get me in trouble. I could buy up advertising time and web banners to spread my message or do other things. The problem is, aside from questionable methods like spamming, these are all quite expensive. A public figure like a CEO, actress, or politician has their own big PR machine that can put out statements on their behalf to counteract or "spin" hostile statements that get spread regarding them; the lone individual generally does not have access to such means of self-defense against this type of attack.

Single-handedly deterring spreading the "infection" means attacking those that attack me. This has its own set of problems. Non-viral counterattacks lead to the same exponentiation of the work-I-have-to-do if the deterrence is anything short of 100% effective. Viral counterattacks are at least possible, since attack messages are by their nature viral, but the result is an escalating spiral of mutually assured destruction. I end up just as screwed; I just take the initial attacker and maybe a few of his dupes down with me. Maybe that deters someone else doing it to someone else, but given how easy it is to post a nasty remark about someone in a fit of pique without thinking things through, and how easy it is for such a remark to go viral, it's unlikely to be 100% effective.

Single-handedly "quarantining" attackers would mean illegal methods such as hacking, denial-of-service, etc. aimed at their machines. And they could still spread the "infection", albeit more slowly, via telephone or ordinary conversations.

Aside from having the existing libel and slander laws, and perhaps making them more effective and wieldable by ordinary folk while perhaps making them harder to abuse, the only other viable solution to the "viral hate message" problem seems to be to actually alter human nature itself, so that people will never believe a negative statement about another person without proof, or else will never spread such messages without proof, or both. But that doesn't seem feasible either!

A limited strategy -- "vaccinate" the people currently important to you, whose opinions of you are currently the most capable of impacting your quality of life -- runs aground on the shoals of future's unpredictability. You won't know who among the other billions on the planet might be a potential future employer, lover, or what-have-you and therefore should be "vaccinated" against the "contagion". Unless you plan to live your entire life with everyone being hostile to you except for whichever people you already happen to know, that strategy is like a cure for the disease that still leaves you a quadriplegic or something like that -- still ticking but crippled severely.

Oh, and did I mention that "vaccination" seems not to be 100% effective once something like this does go viral? Worse, it doesn't even seem that if someone is protected once from "infection" they're protected for life. Every time a given person is exposed to the negative message, they have a fresh chance to convert, and if they convert, to become contagious themselves. If they keep receiving counter-propaganda, that chance drops but not to zero, rather than there being a large chance that that chance drops to zero and a small chance that it stays unchanged. So everyone still eventually converts, except maybe yourself, and you're just delaying the inevitable. (And if you're not immune to negative self-belief, it's even worse; probably some suicides are attributable to things like this getting loose where the victim wasn't immune.)

Right now someone can doom you to a slow and nasty destruction of your job, job prospects, and social life with a few words posted online in haste, if you're silly enough to use your real name to post with. Even with libel and slander torts, it's hard for a non-deep-pocketed individual to enforce them against likely-anonymous internet perpetrators.

The whole situation really ought to be fixed, somehow, I think. Ideally, by actually altering human nature in the manner described above, but that does not seem to be feasible, so something else must be done. But what?

You are recommending eliminating the reputational torts. What would you replace them with? How do you propose the above situation be dealt with? Absent some kind of restraint on the behaviors such torts are intended to deter, or some general collapse of communications technology, we're looking at a future where everyone hates everyone and believes various terrible things about everyone.

Did I mention that these things also have a nasty habit of mutating and becoming more virulent? "XYZ is an asshole" can easily mutate into "XYZ is a child-molesting kitten-killing drug-addicted PERVERT" after passing through few thousand susceptible hosts. People often tolerate people that are rumored (or even known) to be assholes; widespread suspicion that someone is e.g. a pedophile though means they lose their job, lose their friends, lose half their family, can't get new ones, and may even lose their freedom if the police end up believing it too and some of these are corrupt enough to trump up some charges, perhaps even thinking as they plant the evidence that they're doing the right thing, getting a dangerous pervert off the streets.

Consider also that of those affected, some will eventually have access to broadcast technologies or the ability to buy ad time in substantial amounts, and many will have the technical know-how to create a spambot or even a computer virus, or to employ unpleasant pranks aimed at the victim. Some of these may even furnish the planted evidence, above -- a disguised link to some kiddie porn plus an anonymous tip ought to suffice in most cases.

Right now the only restraint on all of the above is that if the "infection" hits, say, Bill Gates, and Bill Gates buys a few billion bucks of ad time including a Superbowl ad to propagate the "infection" further, Bill Gates will get taken to the cleaners under current libel laws. So Bill Gates may get "infected" but he won't be any more dangerous than any other infectee; perhaps less since his own behavior is more in the public spotlight. Remove libel and slander laws and that restraint disappears; any "infection" will eventually spread to someone with deep pockets, and once it does, they'll have nothing to stop them from using their considerable means to vastly accelerate its spread. Saturation of much of the Western world's population with the viral message can then be expected within weeks, if not mere hours, and that's effectively the end of the victim's livelihood and much else that makes life worth living. Unless they live in (or go join) a remote monastery or something their final, miserable few months will be spent wandering the streets, destitute, while people throw rocks at them and jeer, before starvation mercifully puts and end to their suffering.

@Zerbulous: Nobody sues the religious for slandering reality, with their tales of almighty, wrathful, and vicious god(s). The only real cure to spreading falsehood and ignorance is a consistent requirement for objective evidence and empirical study. Until you have that, and instill it in all people, no slander or libel laws will ever be enforceable or effective. As you point out, the money-centric nature of communications, that broadcast monopolies have amplified, makes the situation of evaluating subjective statements in an objective context even worse. So the call should be to get rid of broadcast monopolies, and the general influence of money on perception over truth. No system that involves *paying lawyers* will be any help. Threatening individuals over free expressions of their personal opinions should never be considered a solution for anything.

Plagiarism, mis-attributions, and similar frauds are separate concerns.

Because this is an SK post... Can the Libertarians here answer something for me real quick? If the state is the source of all monopoly, yet government enforced contract law is OK, how can Apple and AT&T collude against the American public with contract forms of market monopoly, as they are right now with the iPhone and iPad? If you think private contract monopoly is OK, and Democratically managed natural monopolies are not, I suspect you are more liberal-corporatist than human-libertarian.

Fred: "Because this is an SK post... Can the Libertarians here answer something for me real quick? If the state is the source of all monopoly, yet government enforced contract law is OK, how can Apple and AT&T collude against the American public with contract forms of market monopoly, as they are right now with the iPhone and iPad? If you think private contract monopoly is OK, and Democratically managed natural monopolies are not, I suspect you are more liberal-corporatist than human-libertarian."

Any true monopoly is a state one, yes. But the state should be gone. It is itslef a monopoly. It has no right to monopolize or get in the business of contract enforcement. However, it does run the justice system now. Given this there is no problem wtih two firms agreeing to whatever they want. That's their right--no matter waht is doing the contract enforcement. The problem is AT&T and Apple have distorted market power due to state favoritism, regulations that harm small competitors and erect barriers to competition, and IP law. If the state not do these things the companies would have less ability to monopolize. But they would hvae the rihgt to try, so long as their means were peaceful. In short, A and B on a free market have a perfect right to collude on prices, engage in price fixing, predatory price cutting, attempts at monopolization, charging high or low prices. Yo ucan do whatever you want.

Zerbulous writes:

What remedy, then, do you suggest a person should have if e.g. slandered? Consider this scenario: someone says something nasty and untrue about me and posts it to the internet where a few dozen people will see it.

It's human nature for at least a small percentage of those people to believe it, and for some fraction of them, in turn, to repeat it elsewhere. Multiply those together and add in a time factor and you have a growth rate. An exponential growth rate.

The remedy is for the person slandered (you in this case) to rebut the slander. Even if some people believe a slander posted on the internet, the number of such people will not grow exponentially beyond a certain, probably very low level, because of the negative feedback loop caused by their doubters and naysayers, as well as you and your defenders.

Libel and slander laws have no place in a free society because no one owns his reputation, which is a subjective opinion held by others. Opinions cannot be owned either, just as other types of ideas cannot be owned.

Fred says:

Nobody sues the religious for slandering reality, with their tales of almighty, wrathful, and vicious god(s). The only real cure to spreading falsehood and ignorance is a consistent requirement for objective evidence and empirical study.

In other words, the only real cure is to change human nature? Unfortunately, that does not seem feasible. Even if it could be done (e.g. a chemical agent discovered that, if introduced into the water supply, would give people Asperger's Syndrome safely, i.e. without any side effects), would it be at all ethical to force such a thing upon people? Yet if you did not, many would choose not to be altered.

Now, perhaps enough would that a person could limit their relationships to such people without narrowing their options too badly. But perhaps not.

Bill says:

The remedy is for the person slandered to rebut the slander.

The problem with that was already outlined: the ordinary person lacks the means to effectively rebut an exponentially-growing chorus of hostile voices. I have seen it happen repeatedly in my years online: someone pisses off someone else (without necessarily doing anything wrong; some people react badly simply to someone saying something online that they happen not to agree with), that someone else starts repeatedly posting vicious insults about the victim, the victim spends more and more time countering each vicious lie with a statement to the effect that it is a lie, the attacker simply keeps repeating their lies, perhaps also recruiting other people to help spread them, and regardless, sooner or later some other people decide to believe the lies rather than the truth and some of these start adding their own voices. Before long, an unorganized, ad-hoc smear campaign is born, and the victim is hard pressed to outshout a mob.

It gets worse: a lot of online comment systems, news servers, and similarly enforce daily quotas on posts by one person (e.g. Google Groups seems to limit one to 15 a day), so as soon as one using such a system has two attackers one is screwed. If the attackers both expend their quotas on attack posts, the victim can rebut only one-half of these and must let the others go by unchallenged. The net result is that the bulk of the posts made will be in favor of the attackers, creating a false impression of an overwhelming consensus in favor of their position and against the victim's. That impression, misleading though it may be, will be highly influential, and then it will spiral out of control. The system's equilibrium is everyone but the victim believing the victim is an awful person. Game over.

Add to that that a sysadmin will eventually be converted to the dark side. Once that happens, he will likely rule the victim's repeated protestations of innocence as spam and ban him (while conveniently ignoring the even-more-oft-repeated attack posts). Once the admin joins the other team, you're sunk, since now the playing field itself becomes an agent of the enemy rather than neutral.

So before long the victim's enemies have the home-field advantage, numbers on their side, AND have effectively muzzled the victim.

This leads into a similar objection to Stephan's proposal of getting rid of government. That will lead to a world dominated by bullies. In this world who will stand up for victims, minorities, the poor, &c? Who will ensure that there is fair and non-discriminatory access to the infrastructure and whatever other things constitute natural monopolies? The notion of private enforcement is particularly chilling -- that means gangs, warlords, protection rackets. The world Stephan would create bears a disturbing resemblance to the Chicago streets during the Roaring Twenties, if not to present-day Somalia.

Aside from those examples, we do have one more example of enforcement by mercenaries rather than by accountable public servants: the behavior of Blackwater in Iraq. Would you really want to live in a world where the individual, if not especially wealthy, is as powerless as a pre-Civil-War slave, and disputes are settled by Blackwater-style organizations of uniformed thugs that are bought and paid for by those wealthy elites?

Zerbulous: what you describe here we already have with the state which is the mightiest wealthiest violent elitist force that controls everything else using gangs of bureaucrats and policemen. If you have trouble imagining a private police read up on the San Francisco Patrol Special Police http://www.independent.org/pdf/working_papers/74_privatepolicing.pdf

Fred McTaker: "...consistent requirement for objective evidence and empirical study..." if you refer to positivism, that has two problems: first, positivism itself does not meet its own standards, second, Kurt Goedel.

The state is clearly superior to the gangs of 1920s Chicago, for the vast majority of people, given a choice between the two types of regime.

Particularly, everyone gets a vote, which is more influence (however little more) than when the only influence one has is through money or the use of force.

I hope that Mr. Quinn emerges victorious in this action. His exposure of exploitive and unethical practices is one reason why he makes a significant and valuable contribution to the patent law blogosphere.

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