L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 265, April 4, 2004
Boycott Verizon Communications!
Law Versus Reality
Special to TLE
This is by far the longest I've ever expounded on a single topic. I wasn't intending to, honestly. Unfortunately, as I get e-mail critical of my assertions, I find that it's necessary to delve into additional detail.
My basic thesis is that from a moral and practical perspective, it is impossible for a single individual to have sole ownership of known, public information. I've argued that information shares none of property's unique characteristics, therefore information cannot be treated as identical to property.
Specifically, all physical property have the characteristics of: having at least four dimensions (height, breadth, width, movement through time), are unique, and have a one-to-one relationship of property to owner. Information does not have dimensions, are not unique (multiple identical copies exist), and have a one-to-many relationship to those who know the information.
Information isn't property. Furthermore, information can be categorized into three types: unknown, known, and secret. Unknown information can be discovered, and once discovered, kept secret. While it is secret, the possessor of that information is the only individual capable of acting on it, so for all intents and purposes, he is its owner. However, if another individual should discover the same information or the first individual tell him or her, then the information is no longer secret. It cannot be made secret again short of killing the other individual who knows it.
Known information can be acted on by anyone in possession of it. Certainly those who posses the information can make agreements to not circulate it, but an agreement won't prevent circulation any more than a law will prevent a crime. An agreement or contract simply provides recourse to the partners in the event that the information is disclosed by one of them.
Once information is known by more than one person, the cat is literally out of the bag and will never be forced back into it.
Furthermore, from the perspective of the Zero Aggression Principle, there is no initiation of force for two individuals who know the same information to use that information to their advantage. The ZAP states:
Let's posit an example from a near-real-world scenario. First a single given in order to separate this scenario from real life: there exists a free society in which individuals self-govern guided by the Zero Aggression Principle. There is no external government, simply millions of free individuals doing whatever they wish short of initiating force.
Into this free society comes an extremely talented vocalist: we'll call her Shania Twain (shaniatwain.com). In 2003, Shania released a CD titled "Up!" featuring a title track of the same name.
I purchased a copy of the CD from a local retailer. I own the CD and its contents. I took the CD home and put it in the computer that I own. I used software to rip tracks from the CD and store them on the hard drive as MP3 files.
Without government to define this as an immoral activity, at no point during this process has force been initiated against Shania. I own the disk, the computer, the software, and the storage. What I do with my property is my business.
Furthermore, let's imagine that my computer is connected to the Internet, that I pay for the connection, and that I own a Kazaa file-sharing client. I then take the stored MP3 that I ownwhich resides on my hardware and using my software and Internet connectivity, I make the MP3 available for free public download.
I own all items in this chain of events. How can it possibly be an initiation of force against anyone for me to dispose of my property as I see fit?
Simple answer: it's NOT.
Remember, we're not dealing with a society in which government arbitrarily grants monopoly "ownership" to ideas and information. We're dealing with a society in which different individuals with different philosophies, religions, and ways of life have agreed that the only thing they'll not do is initiate force.
It is not an initiation of force to dispose of property you own the way you see fit.
Let's move this back into our world, in which government not only initiates force against every American every minute of the day, but makes laws that require Americans to initiate force against each other.
The real world is obviously technologically similar to the one I posited in my scenariothough in fact, technology in a free society will advance far more rapidly precisely because individuals in possession of the same information will compete in the free market. The same way computer, videotape, CD, DVD, cell phones and other technologies have advanced in absence of meaningful government intrusion, so will every other technologyfrom energy production to spaceflight.
However, back in today's burgeoning police state, I can still buy "Up!" rip tracks from it, and make them available free of charge on the Internet.
This being the case, how can government actually maintain the ability to grant monopoly "ownership" to information? Or more specifically, how can government actually enforce Shania's copyright to her song, "Up!" when millions of individuals worldwide are trading it with their friends?
Forget the legal aspectsfor purposes of this part of the thought problem, government doesn't exist. Forget the moral aspectsfor purposes of this part of the thought problem, my notion that she can't own known, public information that she's intentionally performed and sold to millions of individuals doesn't exist. Nor does the argument that she is owed money any time anyone comes into possession of her song, even via free download on the Internet.
All of that is irrelevant to this simple, practical fact:
Shania has sold MILLIONS of CDs with her songs on them. How can she control their disposition?
She CAN'T. It's not possible. She'd need to pay an army of people to do nothing but run around and check up on what her customers are doing with the CDs.
More importantly, Shania can't enforce her copyright without a 100% police state and monitoring of the actions of every individual IN THE WORLD.
The logical end result of sole ownership of information is simple: a world police state.
If you think this alarmist, consider what government must do in order to secure Shania's "right" to sole ownership of her songs. Remember government's problem:
Given all this, how will government stop MP3s from being transmitted from one person to another, thereby securing Shania's "right" to sole ownership of her publicly-performed song?
A police state, pure and simple. 100% monitoring of every individual's use of the technology, checking it against government-approved activities versus illegal ones.
There's simply no alternative. Otherwise the teenaged kid three houses down is liable to transfer his MP3 from his Palm computer to his girlfriend's via the infrared interface. We'll need to have armed Federal Marshals patrolling our houses to ensure that MP3s don't get beamed from one handheld to another.
Or perhaps we should simply regulate away infrared technology entirely? Of course, this would make it impossible for doctors to beam patient information from their handhelds to clinic computers, thereby saving hundreds of man-hours in record-keeping that could be used helping the sick ...
The nonexistent "right" to sole "ownership" of public information requires a police state to enforce, pure and simple.
This problem becomes even more acute as technology moves toward computers specifically intended as "peripherals" to the human mind.
There is work presently being undertaken that will allow human beings to control computers with their mindand by extension, allow those computers to interact directly with the human brain.
One of the problems we face as homo sapiens is the limitations of our brain processing. According to current theory, memory is composed of a pathway literally burned into the brain. Consequently, no one's memories every actually disappear: what happens when you "forget" something is that your mind's indexing system has lost the location of the memory.
One of the coming triumphs of technology will be a computer capable of augmenting your brain's indexing system so that you never "forget" anything ever again. In fact, you'll be able to recall every memory you ever had, up to and including your first thoughts prior to birth. It will essentially allow every individual to have an eidetic memory, able to recall them in perfect clarity, up to and including physical sights, sensations, and emotions of the experience.
A spin-off technology will be the ability to RECORD our memories in computerized format.
Certainly at present, this technology is in its infancy. Very recently, for example, there was breakthrough research allowing a human being to control a three-dimensional, computer-generated humanoid animation with no physical connection to the computer generating it.
Nevertheless, this technology is coming. Much like cloning, it will be here much sooner than we think. It is very specifically to what both the use of tools and human communication have been building since the first cave man painted on walls.
If it's possible to store memories the way sounds are stored as a bitstream, then it will be possible to exchange them. Imagine, for a moment, attending Shania's "Up!" concert tour, going home and recording the experience to your computer, and then making that recording available on Kazaa.
In order for Shania Twain to have sole ownership of her song irregardless of medium, she must logically own the stored memories of her song in your brain. When the technology exists to record your memories and distribute them to others, government must rule that you do not have ownership of your memories.
Monopoly "ownership" of the use of ideas is ultimately mind control. If you believe that an individual has no right to use information that he or she has morally acquired, then you must also support that individual not owning parts of his or her own body.
Monopoly "ownership" of thoughts and ideas is a socialist concept, pure and simple. Modern technology makes it impossible for government to enforce it without a police state, and continuing advances in technology will only throw this fact into sharp relief.
If one supports government enforcing patents and copyrights, then the line between "necessary laws to protect the inventor/artist" and "police state" is thin, indeed.
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