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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“Almost every young libertarian I come in contact with these days is equally opposed not just to the sort of new copyright protections that the content providers seek, but even to traditional copyright laws and rules that pre-date the 76 Act. And not all of these people are wacko libertarian-anarchist types. Many respected young libertarian minds are turning against copyright. I don’t believe that the best strategy is to ignore them. You guys should engage them in debate and defend your views before this extreme anti-IP position becomes more mainstream.”

Adam Thierer of the Progress and Freedom Foundation (many years ago, he worked at the Adam Smith Institute), quoted here.

21 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • HEY! Anarchists are good people too!
    Like me, for example!

  • James

    I don’t think it’s necessarily restricted to libertarians; as legislation and rules in the name of ‘copyright’ become more and more invasive and restrictive, I’ve found that people of my generation (and even the next generation up) are just dismissive of it altogether because of their apathy towards it.

    We all know that laws and rules which cannot be respected just will not work. This is what is happening here.

    To give an example, PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited) have recently invented a new money-spinner called the Digital DJ License, as a means of extracting more money from DJs (particularly the artistic performance types) for the use of digital media in their performances, despite the fact that they have already purchased the music in the first place and the venues they perform in typically hold the requisite licenses required for public performance.

    The response from the DJing community was, unsurprisingly, hostile and apathetic, particularly considering that a considerable sum of money collected via these licenses will not go to the production artists.

    In this instance, copyright law and regulation has been further exploited to the disadvantage of many people. The result of course, is that there will be people who no longer observe- let alone ‘respect’- the law or regulation where copyright is concerned.

  • Alex

    Will you have an update for Samizdata readers on the ORG event Wednesday?

    I noticed your name on the list and have been looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Cory’s talk in particular. I was dissappointed to see that this post wasn’t it :-S


  • Julian Morrison

    It seems common sense to me. As the utility of tech approaches infinity, all options converge on 2 scenarios: no individual liberty, total individual liberty. Info tech has surged ahead, and so these choices are already visible: absent end-to-end DRM, copyright will die.

  • GF

    As a young libertarian (I don’t need quotes around either word, lucky me, perhaps), I do indeed think that copyright laws are, quite clearly, merely a silly (at best) intervention by the state to give a monopoly on distribution to producers of non-exhaustable cultural artifacts. Why should they have this monopoly, for any length of time? If they want that monopoly, they can use DRM or somesuch technological solution, or (God forbid!) a contract, or whatever else the aggregrate effort of entrepreneurs comes up with. We are skewing the market otherwise.

    And don’t give me that guff about “normal” property being protected the same way, and would I like to get rid of that too? You can clearly see how different that is, in particular because of its non-exhaustability. Maybe we don’t need to state to get involved, but I’m quite sure most people would realise a greater benefit to themselves by not stealing others’ claimed possessions. The same could not be said for “intellectual” “property”, in large part because nothing is stolen. If I sing a song without permission from the copyright holder, aren’t I “stealing”? If I think about it, isn’t that the same? They’re “neurons in my brain”, to paraphrase the author of the linked article.

    I can hardly wait for the day copyright and all the other apparati of “intellectual” “property” “law” go the way of the Corn Laws. To shame that someone calling themselves a libertarian could be in favour of them.

  • Anthony

    One possible explanation derives from a conversation I had with Don Boudreaux, Chair of the George Mason econ department. He commented that many Libertarians seem focused on the concreteness of physical objects, placing great emphasis on one’s ability to possess them in one’s own two hands. They distrust the idea of owning an abstraction.

    I’ve noticed this myself, and I confess I find it a little strange. Why should the work of my mind be counted less than the work of my hand? For example, if I spend a good part of my life writing a novel, and that novel is successful, why shouldn’t I make money from it? Why, on the other hand, should you make money from it? You didn’t sweat over it.

    Now I want to zero in on this curious fear of abstraction through the above example. It is true (or anyway it seems true to me) that all stories have what could be called basic templates. But a concept like “love story” isn’t copyrighted. A very particular story that bears my mark is: the ideas in it, the way they are deployed towards particular effects, the style of it, in short, all that bears the force of my conscious effort. I may have spent countless hours devising fresh ways of doing things. Shouldn’t that be mine to sell, mine to make what money I can from it, and mine to suffer criticism or gain accolades for?

    Surely this is something more than a template, or a set of shared concepts–it’s something that has been elaborated through the artistry of a unique human mind just as certainly as a work of sculpture. Is a novel less real than a work of sculpture?

    Why shouldn’t this apply to other kinds of mental work where something new is made of thoughts and concepts rather than something made of wood and steel?

    And if it can so apply, may I please ask why it matters if my book exists as paper or as file on my computer? Words are abstract. It’s the music, isn’t it, and not it’s container we find interesting? Why, exactly, should my music belong to whoever wants it because of the invention of digital media?
    Isn’t there some sort of confusion here between form and content?

    Let me go further and say that to steal from the work of my mind is worse than stealing my property, because if it matters at all that I am an individual, then what you take from me is perhaps the only thing that is uniquely and truly my own. Must everybody bleed collectively into everybody else? This is the very theft of me, taking from my deepest inner worth without just compensation, and treating my life, my privacy, my very self, as nothing.

    Now I understand how copyright has been abused. Nothing is more ridiculous than region specific DVDs. But I don’t see how the abuse of copyright (largely the practice of large corporations and their overprotective lawyers) justifies cyber-piracy on the very doubtful grounds that intellectual property is abstract.

    The attack on copyright on the basis of “abstraction” is a little like attacking contemporary economics because it isn’t based on the gold standard. It is either deeply ignorant, or it is profoundly dishonest. To put it as bluntly as possible: Cyber-Barons don’t justify cyber-pirates. What is needed is good law.

  • Boris

    The extensions of copyright which are being sought are so restrictive that they should be opposed by any freedom loving individual. I do consider myself a libertarian, but anyone that I’ve explained proposed new totalitarian legislation is appalled by it. Thus far I haven’t found any DRM system on mass media that I couldn’t break in short order and I routinely do this on DVD”s I’ve purchased as I don’t like being forced to endure time-wasting garbage before I get to the part I want to see.

    Copyright as I see it is a certification of authorship which gives the author certain rights, but the user of the material also has certain fair-use rights. I buy books as the cost of books is cheaper than photographing them and reading them on my computer. Also, the consequences of dropping my laptop if I doze off while reading are considerably more serious than if I drop a book. I lend my books to friends and borrow books from them. If I really like a certain author, I will buy my own copies of their books after I’ve returned my borrowed copy. Such a process is not possible with DRM. Books of mine tend to have numerous underlinings and margin notes but digital books don’t seem to allow these features.

    When I was a medical student, I first encountered restrictions in the start of textbooks that I was not allowed to store the material in any form in an “information retrieval system”. It seemed somewhat ridiculous, I thought, after having forked out sometimes hundreds of dollars for a textbook that I was not allowed to remember the contents. Considering that my career as a physician depended on having most of the material from my textbooks readily at hand in my wetware information retrieval system, I was unsure if I was even allowed to read them. As other medical students seemed to be unperturbed by this, I began my career of ignoring what I percieved as ludicrous EULA’s. I’ve always been scrupulous in documenting my sources as I think it is important to give the original author credit for a particular representation of ideas one has utilized.

    Fortunately we have organizations such as the EFF that are standing up for the rights of users of information and working hard to prevent assinine restrictions on computer hardware (the “analog hole” solution put forth by the MPAA is the most egregious attack on the freedom to tinker I have ever seen and is equivalent to demanding that all pen manufacturers manufacture their pens so that they would refuse to write child pornography).

    Progress occurs by taking the results of people who have come before you, combining then in unique ways with maybe a bit of original material, and coming up with something new. When I copy, I always give credit to the original authors. If I happen to rediscover an algorithm which has been patented, I ignore it. I don’t believe in being able to patent algorithms.

    Proposed “improvements” to intellectual property laws around the world are some of the most dangerous ideas that have ever been proposed. If all of the proposed changes are ever enacted as law, then the dark ages will look like a period of rapid intellectual innovation.

  • michael farris

    I’m very much in favor of copyright laws that

    a) are for a fixed period of time (for example x number of years, life of the author, whichever comes last)
    b) primarily benefit the originator of the content and not it’s handlers
    c) has fair fair-use clauses

    I’m against current copyright laws which is characterized by none of these.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I think Anthony asks some very good questions. It seems to me that we need to revisit contractual law so that persons who sweat over intellectual activity that might be of great value can profit from that. It is all a bit too glib to say that non-exhaustable things like ideas and songs should be copyiable without consent of the creator, since I cannot help but suspect that this is just a rationalisation of stealing the fruits of people’s hard work. Sure, theft is now a lot easier due to computer technology but that does not make it right.

    In fact, given the growing importance of non-tangible assets in today’s modern economy, it becomes more, not less important to figure out some sort of free-market solution to the issue of IP.

  • Free the information! Information wants to be free!

  • gravid

    I am all for copyright law to protect the works of producers such as musi

  • I don’t think that the opinions of young libertarians (an insignificantly small group) will really matter one way or another. From what I’ve seen most young people in general don’t know anything about copyright laws, don’t care, and wouldn’t obey them anyway.

  • Julian Morrison

    Ken Hagler: small groups aren’t necessarily insignificant, if they’re actively spreading catchy ideas.

    Anyone else here notice how much more airtime libertarian memes are getting? Even if only in the form of denials. Better than “what’s a libertarian, is that a country?”

  • Midwesterner

    So let me see if I got this right. You guys (GF, Guido Fawkes, etc) want free newspapers, free novels, free software, free movies, free text books, free music, ….

    And the creators are supposed to ‘share’ it with you. Whether they like it or not.

    There’s a name for you guys. You’re called free loaders.

    Sounds to me like Kelo for the intellect. ‘It’s for the Public Good!’

    The problem with our present laws is not that they recognize personal intellectual property. It’s that they don’t! Several commentors have referred to the absurd IP protections being granted. Their failure is not overprotecting IP, it’s trampling other’s IP.

    I agree with what Anthony & Michael Farris said. And I would add to Michael’s list, if prior use (prior art) can be demonstrated and no IP protection was requested, then it’s public domain. Seems obvious, but ….

  • Julian Morrison

    Midwesterner: that’s just an emotive rant. So they lack a non-coercive business plan? That’s THEIR problem.

    BTW, take a long, hard look at web comics. Go to one of the big aggregators, like “the webcomic list”. There are literally thousands, ranging in quality from high art to stick-man scrawl. Some are hidden behind paid subscription walls, but the vast majority are simply public webpages, free for the price of looking. That’s a good example of human creative nature without a “distribution industry” or any serious use of copyright. The artists get other kicks out of it than money, and their creativity certainly hasn’t dried up!

  • Midwesterner

    Julian, you’re not clear. Who lacks the non-coercive business plan? Are you referring to users who take and use a creator’s product while ignoring his/her terms?

    It appears most people’s concern is that the distribution system has hijacked the creative process/product. So you cite an example where the creators get nothing and the distributors get all of the income. How’s that an improvement?

    I fail to share your belief that collectivizing the products of the creative industries and placing the product in a commons for the public good is going to somehow be either, a – compatible with the principle of private property and ownership, or b – in any way preserving, much less increasing, the rate of creative research and art.

  • Midwesterner

    One more thing,

    “The artists get other kicks out of it than money”

    I’ve heard lots of people tell me I should do something they want just because it makes me feel good. Warm fuzzies and all that.

    I haven’t met many of them on Samizdata, though.

  • asokoloski

    I am one of those young libertarians you talk about. I do not believe that the government should grant monopolistic privileges of any kind.

    The amount of work that goes into producing something doesn’t matter at all. If I invent a machine that you could point at a house and it produces another house exactly like it from raw materials, would you claim that any house produced belongs to the builder of the original house? Or support protectionist policies to prevent my machine from being used, when it could help house millions of poor people?

    There are many ways to make money off of art that do not involve coercion. Fans will often voluntarily buy directly from you to support your work, even if they could get a copy — I’ve done it before. If you think you’re not making enough money doing whatever art you do, get another job. The simple truth is that while producing art is hard, art doesn’t really have that much value for most people, compared to physical goods. Copyrights distort the market for all kinds of art, encouraging people to produce art when their talents would be better used elsewhere.

    Saying that the government should force people to value your art by how much work you put into it is an expression of Marx’s labor theory of value. You may complain that you’re entitled to more than good feelings for producing a work of art, but really, you are entitled to nothing more than people are willing to pay. And you are definitely not entitled to a monopoly.

  • Midwesterner


    Your cases are so collectivist, they’re beyond absurd. You seem to be challenging the concept of private property in its entirety.

    Here’s one hunk of nonsense.

    “Saying that the government should force people to value your art by how much work you put into it is an expression of Marx’s labor theory of value.”

    I don’t want people forced to value my art AT ALL. How much work I put into it is an utterly irrelevant introduction of yours.

    I’ll type slowly and use small words. If you don’t value it, DON’T STEAL IT.

    “art doesn’t really have that much value for most people”


    You are just one more collectivist trying to assign value to other people’s property so you can redistribute it (to yourself) according to how much you decide it’s ‘worth’.

    As for your case with the replicator cannon you plan to point at houses, I doubt you could invent a reason to eat ,much less a replicator machine. Let’s assume that, really, you bought it. I’ve designed and built houses. I can tell you better than your denial will accept, designing houses well is very difficult, and done poorly, is disastrous for the owner.

    You try pointing your machine at my house and you’ll get it handed back to you in several pieces. You want to replicate houses? Design/build or buy rights to one yourself. Replicate as many copies as you want.

    But if I sell one of my houses with terms that the buyer may not replicate it? … Have you ever heard of contract law? This is why I say you have no concept of property.

    “You may complain that you’re entitled to more than good feelings for producing a work of art, but really, you are entitled to nothing more than people are willing to pay.”

    Finally you got something right. But you forgot the flip side. You are entitled to no more than I’m willing to sell.

    If you want, make it or buy it. Don’t try telling me it’s worthless but you want it anyway.

  • asokoloski

    I don’t appreciate insults. You should realize that they do nothing to further your argument, and probably make you seem juvenile to other readers.

    In any case, the main hole in your argument is that you are considering information as a scarce resource, when it is in fact infinitely reproduceable. Property rights apply when only one person can use an object at one time. Information can be used simultaneously by many people just as well as by one person.

    I found this webpage, which sums up my position. Read it, but only if you really want to.

  • Midwesterner


    I started to read your link. He starts by trashing the history of Intellectual Property as originally having been granted by monarchs and such. Since the exact same history applies to real and personal property, his attack is pure hypocritical sophistry.

    So I read his ethical argument. This was also pure sophistry. He says

    “To enforce copyright laws and the like is to prevent people from making peaceful use of the information they possess.”

    I notice the use of the word ‘possess’, not own. Is possession now 9/10s of the law? I possess the rental car. Shall I ignore the contract under which I acquired it? Why should I be bothered to respect the original owners stipulations?

    He asks,

    “If you have acquired the information legitimately (say, by buying a book), then on what grounds can you be prevented from using it, reproducing it, trading it?”

    Kind of ignores the question of what you have actually bought, doesn’t he?

    Let me explain this as simply as I can. You people seem to need it. Follow closely now.

    I have a secret.

    I am entitled to that secret.

    I may share that secret if I choose, but on my own terms.

    My terms stipulate certain things about compensation and redistribution.

    People who agree to those terms enter into contracts with me.

    They may not abrogate the terms they agreed to with me by granting unapproved privileges to third, etc, parties.

    You want to know my secret for free, so you violate the terms under which I released it.

    It appears to be your intention to deny the validity of all contracts between people.

    IP protection encourages people to share their beneficial secrets. Information Commons encourages secrecy. Even if you forget the moral arguments, which is going to better for the ‘public good’?

    I’ll repeat this again, ad infinitum if necessary.

    If you want one, then make one or buy one.

    If you don’t think it’s worth anything, don’t use it!

    You seem to think that ‘Hey Jude’ is just a bunch of notes anybody could have arranged. Why didn’t you?

    You seem to think ‘Stopping by the Woods …’ was just a bunch of letters somebody discovered. Why didn’t you?

    You seem to think sculpture is in all rocks just waiting for anybody with a chisel to uncover. What sculpture have you uncovered?

    If your own product is any good, why do you need mine?