by Rad Geek

Note: Since I earn most of my income from copyright, and hope to make a great deal more to come, I’m not inclined to accept this argument. However, I do accept that intellectual property in its present forms would not survive in the absence of a state to enforce it, and I accept that this raises at least a rebuttable presumption against its legitimacy. I also agree that there are other ways for historical novelists to earn a living that don’t involve calling on the power of the State. On the other hand, with much effort, and at much opportunity cost, I have created a large body of fiction that other people want to read. I don’t accept that this is other than my own property; and, if I feel uncertain about the legitimacy of the legal devices by which my publisher keeps the royalty checks drifting in, I certainly think ill of anyone who dares pirate my work. SIG


The following article was written by Charles Johnson and published on his Rad Geek People’s Daily, February 6th, 2013.

All of the original work on this website is free content. It’s free content because I am against copyright, and indeed all forms of so-called intellectual property. Copying is not theft, and when you reprint, duplicate or imitate you don’t deprive anyone of the work or the ideas that they had. If you like it, or you’re interested by it, or you want to single it out for mockery, you can feature it on your web page, you can print it in your newsletter, you can hang a copy on a bar wall and throw darts at it. If you do any of that, I’d love to hear about what you’re doing, but you don’t need to ask permission. Copy, reprint, translate, make derivative works as you please. If you want to support the work, you can do that. But anyone found copying the content on these pages without permission, will be a real good friend of mine.

* * *

Several years ago, when I first put this website together, I dealt with these issues by means of copylefting notices and policy statements intended to make my writing freely available through a Creative Commons license. If you want to reprint this stuff under a Creative Commons license, you can still do that, all you want.[1] But I don’t care anymore. It’s not enough to try to kludge the legalities of copy-monopolies from within. So-called intellectual property is in fact nothing more than a legally fabricated monopoly, suppressing competition and emulation, constraining creativity, confining culture, science and technology to captive, capitalist-dominated markets, and violently depriving many of the poorest and most marginalized from access to critical resources for education and life-saving medicines. The legal fictions of copyright and patent are despotic attempts to monopolize the human mind; power-psychotic burdens crippling and destroying individual ownership and the progress of grassroots culture and technologies; outrageous constraints on human intelligence and creativity; and a destructive and desperate protectionist scheme for the profit of powerful corporations. This web project is, in spirit and in letter, at war with every aspect of Intellectual Protectionism, in its principles — of monopolizing power, entitlement, social control and economic privilege — and in its operation — through increasingly invasive government policing and legal coercion — and in the disastrous global effects of patent and copyright restrictions.

This machine kills intellectual monopolists.

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16 responses to “Anticopyright

  1. The intellectual debate about IP (intellectual property – copyrights and patents) is a complex one, and people often get hot under the collar (see the post above), but I do think there are practical matters to be considered.

    When a company (such as Apple) spends so much time taking people to court (for example dragging people into Californian courts, bent courts even by American standards, in its efforts to, in the words of one of the lawyers for Samsung “try to claim rights over all rectangular boxes with round corners”, brainwashed jury members claiming Apple “invented” a whole series of things they did not invent, are a sorry sight – as our judges who silence any lawyer who tries to contradict what an Apple lawyer says) something is wrong.

    If a company can not compete on QUALITY and PRICE then that company is in trouble – and all the lawyers (and dodgy courts) in the would will not, in the end, save it.

    As for the drug companies – there argument is that FDA (especially since the changes to the FDA in 1962) make the development of med so expensive that they need long term protection (or it would not be worth their while to spend the money developing life saving drugs).

    Surely the solution is simple – abolish the FDA.

    If a company produced a drug that had terrible side effects it would still be open to being sued (for a fortune). So there is no need for an FDA.

    Sean Gabb’s case is somewhat different – he is an author, an artist.

    Does he not have a right to the story he has written?

    If anyone can create books (especially in the internet age) from the stories he has written WITHOUT PAYING HIM – how does his family live?

    On the other hand the government court system does not “feel” like the correct way to protect authors and other artists.

    I suspect there must be some technical (technological) way of making sure that Sean Gabb (and other artists) are paid – without relying on government copyright law.

    I am just too dumb to work out what it is.

  2. In reality, copyright law has become immpossible to enforce. hence why
    the courts fail to do anything about, it’s become to complex with the advent
    of all the new technologies, Just look at the music and film industries, even
    with their resources they appear to have their hands tied.

  3. Julie near Chicago

    Whether a man creates a work of art (even “‘so-called’ art”) or a computer program or a new drug, HE is the one whose body, time, and effort went into the creation. “His body, time, and effort”: that is, a part of his *life.*

    That is the very essence of the generation of property. The new poem, say, IS his property–even if it exists only in his head, even if it’s never been written down. In the U.S., such works are considered as being under copyright from the moment of their creation, whether or not the copyright is formally registered. (Of course, it’s a whole lot easier to sue for breach of copyright if you did register your poem or painting or whatever.)

    The present laws with regard to copyright and patents are compromises that make some attempt to uphold the moral principle of the right to property while still acknowledging Reality. Perhaps (in fact, most likely) the situation will continue to be unsatisfactory until and unless somebody finds a different way of looking at the problem.

    The utilitarian argument for IP is also true and valid, of course: artists and inventors do need to be able to eat, and if they can’t be somehow paid for the work of creating, they will perforce have to spend time doing something else that the market finds valuable.

    But to my mind the moral argument is the main one, even though practically speaking most people I guess are moved first by the Utilitarian argument. “Giving credit where it’s due” is something we’re all supposed to have learned at our mothers’ knees, for heaven’s sake. That’s just one example of honoring the principle against theft (among other things–it actually implies more than that, of course).

    The copyright law is supposedly written so that certain ideas that seem to occur to humans just because they’re human are not copyrightable. You can’t copyright your idea of drawing a three-sided figure for instance. And basic research, whether in math or physics or chemistry or biology, is not copyrightable. Which is OK–the scientists who do the work are really in the position of being supported by patronage (unfortunately the usual patrons are the taxpayers, with some help from foundations and even business corporations). Furthermore, they’re considered not *inventors* or *creators,* but rather *discoverers.* If Columbus discovered the New World, he still didn’t get to patent the discovery.

    Whence it immediately follows that of COURSE you can’t copyright nor patent the human genome.

    I hope it’s obvious that although I’ve elected to speak in terms of the IP of an individual person, if a company chooses to hire writers or horticulturists and copyright or patent the results of they do, the principle is the same. (The individuals are creating for hire, or, in another way of looking at it, they have a job where they’re guaranteed that all of their output will be purchased, and in return they give up rights to their creations as specified in their employment contracts. But all or most of the resulting property rights are assigned to the employer.)

    Anyway, solving the practical problems of instituting good copyright and patent law is a different issue. The difficulty of doing so oughtn’t to be used as an argument against the very existence of intellectual property. (After all, laws can’t prevent murder either, and murder is going to continue, law or no law. Should we therefore scrap the laws against it?)

    In the end, the problem is that people believe “The Scarcity Theory of Property,” which is just as wrongheaded as the Labor Theory of Value. The origin and moral significance of property have nothing to do with “scarcity” and everything to do with physical agency and the morality of recognizing a man’s right to every iota of his life.

  4. You are making of complex points here Julie.

    And I can see some of it – for example, there is clearly a difference (a moral difference) between Sean writing (creating) a story, and someone pointing out (not creating) some DNA – and saying “this is mine now”.

  5. Impossible to police in the UK as the music business found out.

  6. Well, Sean, I can understand why you want the copyright in your own works, but the precise terms of it are set by statute, and what do you think of the provision that your estate benefits from royalties for 70 years after your death? Surely, the law has delimited copyright excessively. I would say that on a person’s death, he can no longer earn any money.

  7. Julie near Chicago


    So by that argument you don’t believe in the principle of inheritance at all. Why should your son be able to “own” your house for 70 years after you die? Surely you shouldn’t be able to bequeath your house to your son (or whatever heir or heirs you wish). And I point out as an aside that if it were allowed for him to inherit, he could get money every year for 70 years by the renting of it. Naturally, since he can’t inherit your house, neither can his son (your grandson)–

    But wait. That destroys the very meaning of property, which is that its rightful owner has the right of disposition over it. If your house is truly YOURS, you may give it to whom you please WHEN you please. In leaving it to your son you only exercise your final capacity for its disposition. If you’re not allowed to do that then you never had an ultimate right of disposition in the first place–which is to say, you never owned the place, it was never your property, from the very beginning.

    Where there is no right of giving, there is no right of property ownership. Where there is no right of bequeathing there is no right of giving.

    This is just as true of Sean’s book as it is of any other property. If somebody wants to make money by publishing it in the year 3000, then by rights he ought to be paying the book’s owner at that time for the privilege of doing so.

    Now, do I think we can make that stick as a matter of copyright law (or patent law) at the present time? Of course not. But it is the logical implication of the concept of property, for all the problems and ambiguities it raises practically and politically speaking, and we really should keep that in mind as we try to persuade our society that (1) neither the group nor any member of it has any moral right whatsoever to what is not his, and (2) that there is nothing morally illegitimate about being the nth recipient in a long line of recipients of a particular gift–not even when the gift is, effectively, money.

    The right to one’s property, which means the right to its use and disposition, is one dimension of the right to one’s life.

  8. Julie, you sound like a scrounger seeking a parasitical integument in society. Look: intellectual property is not really property – as once a line has been read by a reader, it may be repeated by him easily. Whereas merely viewing or catching sight of a house does not enable you to fully reproduce the house. If I sing you a song, you may learn the song in one sitting, and then you know it too.

    So the fact that “property” is held to exist in intellectual matters is not a common-law or natural right, but something positively created by statute. Something that was not something that could even be a form of property was declared to be so by the state in order to foster creative activity.

    Stainless steel is now largely produced in China – although Sheffield invented it. Once the Chinese found out how to make it, there was nothing to stop them making it. Because knowledge once spread can be put to use by anyone. There is no “property” in this until the state steps in to limit the use of someone else’s knowledge.

    I am not denying Sean Gabb;s right to earn money by publishing books. But I am definitely denying the right of his descendants in 20 generations’ time to be profiting therefrom. Even Sean’s own right to do so is only something created by Parliament, although it has a logic to it, and so unless Parliament creates an eternally inheritable intellectual property, 20 generations of Sean’s descendants will not be benefiting financially from his books.

  9. I should have said “interstice”, not “integument”.

  10. Julie near Chicago

    Interestingly enough, dj, you sound to me like somebody who doesn’t believe in the very concept of property.

    The fact that you don’t grasp it doesn’t make me a “scrounger.”

  11. D.J. Webb – where is the evidence that Julie lives of copyright?

    If you mean that Sean Gabb (who does live off copyright) is a “scrounger” you should say so.

    Is it not more logical to say that someone who lives by selling someone else’s story (without paying them for it) is the real “scrounger”?

    I have had violent arguments with Sean Gabb in the past – but I have never called him a “scrounger”, because he clearly is NOT a “scrounger”.

    • No one has called me a scrounger. No one has attacked me in any sense that I recognise. No one has offended me. Since I offered myself as an example in the copyright argument, I have no reason to complain if anti-copyrighters are less than gushing about my right to make money for the rest of the 21st century.

      Please continue with the debate.

  12. Paul Marks, I did agree that copyright during the author’s lifetime was a logical thing to institute by statute. I specifically denied the right of heirs in AD 3000 – the timeframe specified by Julie – to be drawing royalties from a book published by a distant ancestor in AD 2013. At a certain point, all inventions and cultural works become the common heritage of mankind. Honestly, you would have the original descendants of the first man to invent the wheel 10,000 years ago still levying a fee on all wheelbarrows worldwide.

  13. “Like a scrounger” is similar to calling someone a “scrounger”.

    I still do not see why the insult was directed a Julie rather than Sean.

    Unless the reason is “well Sean’s my mate – so I will attack this women over here instead”. Not exactly an attitude that is going to get someone into the “Fighting Irish” Football team (by the way the story of the Fighting Irish in Indiana versus the KKK, is well worth reading).

    As for the time frame – there you make an interesting point Mr Webb.

    The actual time frame you mentioned was 70 years – the amount of time that Sean’s (not Juile’s) children, and so on, would continue to get money if he kicked the bucket today.

    The point about 70 years does seem a bit arbitrary.

    So, yes, Mr Webb – you have a point.

  14. Intellectual property is the way in which we pay for artist’s and inventor’s labour. Before arguing that we are unwillingly subject to a monopoly, consider what would happen if there was no intellectual property. Once the incentive to invent or create has dried up and hence the supply goes with it, the demand will still be there. Consumers will have money to spend but nothing to spend it on. Where might they put their money? Perhaps we would return to the way of doing things in the Baroque era, when consumers commissioned composers to write music. Thousands may be willing to chip in for a new Jessie J album. But this is ultimately the same, though less efficient, than what we have now. Only now, you only purchase something after its made (and you know you like it), rather than before. Therefore, you must surely consider the potential for collective action amongst individuals. It is like the Ice hockey problem: each individual player would rather not wear a helmet (even though it is less dangerous) as it gives him the competitive edge over the others, but if everyone chooses not to wear a helmet (as they inevitably will), he has no competitive edge and faces greater safety risk. It is therefore within everyone’s interest to impose a regulation of themselves, forcing them to wear a helmet. Of course, as individuals we would rather there was no £10 charge to the Jessie J album, but if everyone didn’t pay there would be no album (free-rider problem), therefore as a group we are willing to impose laws upon ourselves.