IP, copyright, and the real issue

We’re coming up on another copyright war in the next three or four years, and it’s time I start posting on the subject.

Copyright as it presently exists is broken. It is used as a tool of coercion, a weapon,a nd I will be posting regular examples of how it is abused — most egregiously, how it is used to abuse creators.

But it’s not just copyright, but the broader category of Intellectual Property. IP is in no better shape than copyright.

I travel in or follow three intellectual circles that concern themselves with this issue — Objectivists, Austrians, and indie writers (with a few traditionally published ringers in the mix).

Objectivists are generally pro-IP, in the sense of being pro-status quo or wanting the status quo to be the weak starting point for strengthening IP laws even further. I’ve known at least two who hold that IP should be eternal, the public domain eliminated. One even smugly accused me of “theft” for downloading public domain movies. (Yes, really.) This stupidity is in direct contracition with Ayn Rand’s actual position on IP, which is very good — I only take issue with some of the specific applications she suggested; the principles from which she argued were, in my opinion, pretty much spot on.

The Austrians (really Rothbardians, but let us not get into that just now) at the Ludwig von Mises Institute currently hold that IP is a “myth”. It is easy — too easy — to hear this conclusion and dismiss it and everything that lead to it as pure silliness, unworthy of any consideration. (It also does not help that one of the primary advocates of their position is a sneering, prancing jackass, at least in his online interactions.) Without going into detail at this time, I will say that the problems that this position means to address are very real, quite bad, and should be considered a source of shame by IP advocates. And while I (I hope obviously) don’t consider IP a fantasy, I think I see where the idea comes from — it follows logically from Rothbardian anarchism. I’ll explore it in more depth at a later time. But even if you dismiss the anti-IP position as silly, you do not get to dismiss the very real abuses and injustices it means to rectify. You must either own them, and try to rationalize them as moral goods, like Buddy Holly having to beg for the right to record his own music and being refused, or you must offer another way of addressing and correcting them, which I intend to do in time.

Indie writers don’t have any one particular position on the issue, but a few ideas are held by nearly everybody. What we write is ours. DRM (digital rights management) is evil. Traditional publishers are basically a cartel, and evil, or at best morally compromised and indifferent to authors. (Baen is an exception to this, and possibly so is Tor. They’re the only ones, though.)

I think framing the issue as IP is part of the problem. It allows for sociopathic rule manipulation, to the detriment of creators.

And there, I believe, is the real issue, the thing that most needs to be considered and addressed — creators’ rights. When you frame it as copyright or IP, as I shall document in coming weeks, the first thing most creators are required to surrender are the copyright and any and all claims to their ownership in the IP they have created.

The regular public doesn’t care much about IP. But they care very, very much when they learn that creators rights have been violated.