L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 267, April 18, 2004
Sing The Song, Children!
I have been reading the articles and letters in the last few issues of the Libertarian Enterprise, which seem to take the view that Intellectual Property is not property at all, and that stealing it by such means as copying movies and selling them, or using an industrial process which someone else has a patent on without compensating them is not an initiation of force.
I believe that it is. I do not think that initiating force against someone necessarily requires that you use violence, or that they even be aware of the crime. Intellectual property is by right, owned by the creator and/or various people who may have invested in or hired the creator. Any given intellectual property whether it be a movie, or a process for freezing tomatoes has some specific (though often unknown) value for which it can be sold to others. When a movie is illegally copied and sold without compensation to the creators of it, that potential value is being reduced by some amount. To claim that this is not initiation of force, simply because violence was not used against the creators of the movie, or they may not be aware of the crime is absurd. Would you claim that a pick-pocket is not initiating force simply because they do not physically harm the body of the person whose wallet they take, or perhaps only take part of the money in the wallet before putting it back, so that the wallet's owner may remain unaware of the crime against him for some time?
The essence of initiating force against someone is not violence, but trespass against property which is rightfully his. This tresspass does not have to involve violence, nor does it have to involve a tangible object. The boundaries of a person's yard or hunting preserve are an intangible, arbitrary line, yet people are regularily ticketed for trespassing on posted ground. Simply because something is intangible does not mean it is not property, and it does not require socialism of any sort to prosecute those who commit crimes against intangible property.
Dear Mr. Ed/Editor,
In reply to Mr. Stone, the third, regarding his latest missive, here's this:
I think I could not have said it better.
I have been following Mr. Stone's series on intellectual property (IP), and the various rebuttals to it, and would like to take this opportunity to muddy the waters even more.
Mr. Stone is correct in his statement that no one can own a song. It is only a pattern of words and musical tones, and no one has the right to tell another what words or notes they can or can not use. However, this applies to songs in the generic sense. It is when he argues from the generic to the specific that his logic becomes flawed.
Libertarians, believe that everyone owns their own life, and all other rights derive from this. If I own my life, then I also own my physical form. I own the sound of my voice, and how I look. Therefore, I and only I, have any say on how my image and voice are used by myself or anyone else. More importantly, I own all of the choices that I could make about my life, and share ownership of all those choices that involve myself and others. It is this ownership of choices that is at the heart of Libertarianism.
His claim is that the free distribution of the music of Ms. Twain doesn't harm her, but he has unilaterally decided to use her voice and singing technique without her permission. He has imposed his will on her, announcing in effect, that he knows best, and is better qualified to run her life than she is. This is not only a violation of the Zero Aggression Principle (ZAP), but he has limited her range of choices, constraining her to a course of action she may not have wanted to engage in. And isn't having other people make our decisions for us one of those things that Libertarians resent?
When Ms. Twain began to distribute music, it was with the understanding that she and her authorized agents are the only ones that are allowed to distribute a specific instance of a song, one that consists of her voice, her singing techniques, and the musical techniques of her band. She, and her band, own that implementation of a song, but they don't own the generic song. This is a very subtle point that may not seem obvious, but the ownership of a pattern of words isn't possible. It is not the song itself that has value, it is the implementation of that song. If you don't believe me, watch the tryouts for American Idol.
Once Mr. Stone buys an album, he is free to do with it as he wills. If he wants to rip it into mp3, or burn his own mix CD for his own use, or use the CDs for skeet practice, that is his business. If he wants to sell his re-mixes, he can, but only as long as he has bought from Ms. Twain a copy of each song he has sold, or has come to some other licensing arrangement with her.
That doesn't mean that Mr. Stone can't go out hire a band, take voice lessons, (get a sex change if he feels the need for authenticity), and record his (or her) specific implementation of songs that Ms. Twain has already recorded. He is free to cover all of her albums and do whatever he wants with those. I suspect however, that most people will prefer the originals.
Some will at this point ask how the people that write songs are supposed to make a living. The same way they do now. Anyone can write bad poetry set to music, there are very few with the talent of a Mozart. Song writers that can perform, will. Those that can't will hire singers or bands to perform, or will find themselves highly sought after by those that can perform, but can't create.
Will there still be abuses, will people still feel exploited, sure. But as many people have observed, the world isn't fair. Song writers that feel exploited are still free to seek relief within the legal system, but most people can spot a fake, and social pressures will help solve the problem. "Milli-Vanilli" comes to mind.
Let's say I am a "rights" agnostic. That is, as far as I am concerned, there may or may not be such an animal as "natural" rights. Like any good non-dogmatist, I simply don't have enough of the relavent data to take a pro or con position with any degree of certitude on the issue. However, in my understanding "libertarians" believe that they are justified in perpetrating violence on anyone who violates their interpretation of this principle. Would you consider it to be "the initiation of force" if a Muslim attacked you for violating commandments contained within the Koran? I am inclined to think that you would; yet, you would have no problem attacking me if I unwittingly violate one of your libertarian commandments.
Basically, as I see it, you are saying "You can believe or not believethat is your choicebut you had better conform your actions to those allowed by our ontological prejudices or we will attack you." Are you sure this "obey or else" stance is not a form of "the Initiation of Force"? Given the fact that I have the same degree of belief in the "Zero Aggression Principle" as most of you have in the commandments of the Koran or Upanishads, why should I conform myself to your principle above and beyond the "fact" that you will attack me if I do not?