The Creators

2006-02-09

Adam Thierer as quoted at IPCentral (HT: Samizdata):

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.

Oh my, hide the children! Extreme anti-IP positions! Wacko libertarian-anarchist types!

James DeLong comments further:

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.

But, he went on, in fact many property rights in physical objects, beginning with real estate, are equally abstract. Easements, leaseholds, life tenancies, remainders, mineral rights and usufructs of all kinds, depend on a substantial capacity for abstraction. Moving on to other kinds of property, many of our current possessions are only electric charges on a hard disk.

Don is clearly right. So there is an odd disconnection between the sophisticaton about the abstractions involved in rights in physical property and the relatively concrete thinking underlying the opposition to intellectual property.

So it seems that anyone who advocates for the public domain, who opposes copyright as a monopolistic system imposed by publishers to benefit themselves and not producers (read the early history of copyright, please), or who distrusts the idea of owning an abstraction (like, say, Thomas Jefferson) is clearly subject to what Ayn Rand used to call the concrete-bound mentality -- the native inability or stubborn unwillingness to grasp the existence of anything more abstract than mere physical objects and raw emotions.

Sorry, I'm not buying it, not least because it is craven psychologizing. If anything, it's the "intellectual property" crowd who mistakenly reify ideas and treat abstractions as if they were the equivalent of physical property, thus committing a serious category error.

Copyrights did not effectively exist before the printing press made publishing a lucrative business. Publishers wanted to enforce monopoly rents, but the industry got too big for their little guilds to enforce their cozy gentlemen's agreements, so they got governments to recognize copyrights and help them make more money for themselves (not the poor writers). It was technologically hard to copy books, so copyrights flourished. Now it is technologically easy to copy text, images, music, video, and the like when they are represented in electronic format. Technology has changed the rules, but the old media want to keep control. What they don't recognize is that the genie is out of the bottle. The key is the creators: will they side with the controlling old media or embrace the possibilities of the new technologies, place their works under Creative Commons licenses or (even better) in the public domain, and creatively seek to make money in this brave new world through advertising, patronage, performance, and the offering of unique products, services, and experiences?


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal