[This article is based on a speech I gave at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, December 5, 2011.]
You know that anti-piracy video you sometimes see at the beginning of movies? It explains how you wouldn’t steal a handbag, so neither should you steal a song or movie by an illegal download. Well, it turns out that the guy who wrote the music for that short clip, Melchoir Rietveldt, says that his music is being used illegally. It had been licensed to play at one film festival, not replayed a million times in DVDs distributed all over the world. He is demanding millions in a settlement fee from BREIN, the anti-piracy organization that produced the thing.
Interesting isn’t it? When you have hypocrisy that blatant, criminality this rampant, practices called piracy this pervasive – it reminds you of the interwar Prohibition years – you have to ask yourself if there is something fundamentally wrong with the law and the principles that underlie the law. Yes, people should keep to their contracts. But that’s not what we are talking about here; this case is being treated not as a contract violation but a copyright violation, which is something different. We are dealing with a more fundamental issue. Is it really stealing to reproduce an idea, an image, or an idea? Is it really contrary to morality to copy an idea?
The verdict here is crucially important because ever more of the state’s active intervention against liberty and real property is taking place in the name of intellectual property enforcement. The legislation SOPA could effectively end Internet freedom in the name of enforcing property rights.
If people who believe in liberty do not get this correct – and it no longer possible to stand on the sidelines – we will find ourselves siding with the state, the courts, the thugs, and even the international enforcement arm of the military industrial complex, all in the name of property rights. And that is a very dangerous thing at this point in history, since IP enforcement has become one of the greatest threats to liberty that we face today.
For several decades, immigration has been the main source of economic growth in Alabama. Same with foreign investment and the people it brings in. Major swaths of the state would be sunk without both.
Immigration has brought not only economic growth but a much-needed cultural shift in the state. We now have ever more museums, schools, houses of worship of many varieties, and our theaters, movie houses, and orchestras are actually enjoying support. Alabama now has highly skilled hands that can do a variety of tasks that were impossible to get done before, from complex engineering to intricate tile work in public spaces. Of course the agriculture issue is gigantic: nearly all the workers were undocumented and now they are gone. Then there’s the food issue: without immigration, Alabama would be mostly burgers and chicken fingers. All of these industries, to one extent or another, rely on workers with sketchy documentation.
So what do the politicians do? This year, they whipped up an crazy xenophobic frenzy and passed a massive crackdown that led to a cruel mass exodus from the state. And they did this in the middle of a recession. Absolutely ghastly. And now the inevitable has happened: there is no one to fill these jobs. Industries are under serious strain. Businesses are going bust. Unemployment, which is already higher than the national average, is going up. There are no workers to do what the immigrants did because the necessary skills and work ethic just isn’t present in the native population (as any Alabama resident could have told you).
The latest solution: put the prisoners to work to fill the missing jobs.
One of the reasons why IP-abolitionists oppose “intellectual property” is because IP monopolies in effect boil down to a restriction on existent ownership rights. To this charge, a common retort heard even from libertarians, is that all property rights are not absolute (i.e. “you can’t shoot your gun wherever you choose”, “the right to swing your fist ends by my nose”, etc.) and so too IP laws can morally and thus justly restrict people from using certain configurations or arrangements of their already owned property.
It occurred to me that this is a mere semantic quibble. If we substitute the word “to” for the word “with”, we no longer have an equivalence between IP and those examples. For argument’s sake, we can even agree with the gist of those examples and suppose that an owner may not always have the right to do certain actions with his property but this wouldn’t contradict a fundamental right to do certain actions to his property, which is more precisely what anti-IP arguers hold.
This retort focuses solely on the restrictionist view in that it’s [morally] just to have laws that restrict existent property rights. But those examples are a flawed comparison to begin with; we would never hold that property rights to a gun would allow the violation of another persons’ property.
This is because ownership isn’t a bundle of certain permissible actions or rights, but rather the totality of a “negative” quality– a restriction upon others from violating the owner’s right to control. In any given context, violations of property rights is what determines the impermissibility for any given action, not a deficiency in the ownership rights of the hypothetical gun or swinging-fist.
Nice post from Austrian economist (and fellow Rush fanatic) Steve Horwitz, on the Coordination Problem blog:
With a new study out today that provides evidence that those who approach their lives with a spirit of gratitude (when it’s deserved of course) to others score higher across a whole number of measures of well-being, it’s worth taking a moment for some “social gratitude.”
In a world of pepper-spraying cops, genital-groping TSA agents, and a debt-to-GDP ratio that’s topped 100 percent, it’s sometimes hard to find the good, but despite the ankle weights the state keeps attaching to us, humanity keeps running, moving ever upward.
In the long view, life expectancy continues to rise as do literacy rates. Slavery is in long-run retreat and illegal in every country, and despite the apparent desire of US politicians of both parties to declare war on every small country in the mid-east, deaths from war continue to fall and violence in general continues its decline. Every day the news is full of new secular miracles, from 3-D printers that can produce the head for Jeff Dunham’s new dummy to medical procedures that save lives that would have been lost even as recently as a few years ago. The average American household continues to be able to afford fantastic toys that the rich of a generation ago could not have imagined, and poor Americans today are more likely to own basic necessities (not to mention “toys”) than was the average American household a generation ago.
And perhaps most important: a diminishing percentage of humanity lives on less than $1 per day, and global income inequality is falling as well.
Even as freedom retreats in some quarters, the freedoms we have left continue to improve the lot of humanity in ways our ancestors could only dream of. The sad part is that we continue to weight and shackle ourselves in ways that are slowing that progress from what it could have been. We do so because too many are too skeptical about the benefits of freedom and those with power (or who want it) are all too willing to take advantage of that skepticism to serve their own interests, both political and corporate.
As we pause to recognize all we are grateful for today, let’s also re-commit ourselves to the task at hand, which is to understand the degree to which free people under the right institutions can maximize the degree of social cooperation, peace, and prosperity made possible by the progressive extension of the division of labor and exchange. And let’s further re-commit ourselves to taking what we’ve learned and spreading it to the four corners of the Earth so that the cornucopia so many enjoy in the West can be the reality not just for every American, but for all of humanity.