Free Information vs Information Protectionism

Paul Foley
01 Jun 2001 17:26:07 +1200

On Thu, 31 May 2001 17:35:19 +0200, Francois-Rene Rideau wrote:

>> See Bastiat's arguments on private property, rent, and interest;
>> they apply perfectly to the issue of copyright.
> That's begging the question. They would apply perfectly to copyright
> if copyright was property. His arguments against protectionism would

But he goes on at some length making the argument about what *is*
property; this is the argument that I'm saying applies to copyright.
I.e., if you accept his argument for what constitutes property, you
must accept that software is property; and that implies copyright.

> What justifies property, and how is protectionism different?

  Every man enjoys gratis all utilities furnished or produced by
  Nature on condition that he take the pains to avail himself of them,
[e.g., writes software]
  or that he pay with an equivalent service those who render him the
  service of taking pains for him.
[i.e., the software's author]

  In this formula two elements are combined and fused together,
  although they are essentially distinct.

  There are, first, the gifts of Nature: gratuitous raw materials and
  gratuitous forces; these constitute the communal domain.

  In addition, there are the human efforts that go into making these
  materials available, into directing these forces---efforts that are
  exchanged, evaluated, and paid for; these constitute the domain of
  private property.
[i.e., software is property]

  In other words, in our relations with one another, we are not owners
  of the utility of things, but of their value, and value is the
  appraisal made of reciprocal services.

  [...] Does anyone desire to go further yet? As far as to say that a
  man should not be the owner of the pains he himself takes, that, in
  exchange, it is not enough to turn over gratis the help received
  from natural resources, that he must also surrender gratis his own
[i.e., copying his software without payment]
  efforts? But let him take care! This would mean glorifying slavery;
  for, to say that certain men must render services that are not paid
[i.e., having his software copied]
  for means that other men must receive services that they do not pay
[i.e., using unpaid-for copies]
  for, which is certainly slavery. Now, if he says that this
  gratuitous gift must be reciprocal, he is merely quibbling; for,
  either the exchange will be made with a certain degree of justice,
  in which case the services will be in some way or other *evaluated*
  and paid for; or else they will not be evaluated and paid for, and,
  in that case, some will give much and others little, and we are back
  to slavery.

  It is therefore impossible to argue against the idea that services
  exchanged on the basis of value for value constitute legitimate
  property. To explain that this property is legitimate, we do not
  need to have recourse to philosophy or jurisprudence or
  metaphysics. Socialists, economists, egalitarians, believers in
  brotherly love, I defy you one and all to raise even the shadow of
  an objection against the *legitimacy of a voluntary exchange of
  services,* and consequently against property, as I have defined it,
  and as it exists in the natural order of society.

  God put raw materials and the forces of Nature at man's disposal. To
  gain possession of them, either one has to take pains, or one does
  not have to take pains. If no pains are required, no man will
  willingly consent to buy from another man at the cost of effort what
  he can pluck from the hands of Nature without effort. In this case,
  no services, exchange, value, or *property* are possible. If pains
  must be taken, it is incumbent on the one who would receive the
  satisfaction to take them; hence, the satisfaction must go to the
  one who has taken the pains. This is the principle of
  property. Accordingly, if a man takes pains for his own benefit, he
  becomes the owner of all the combined utility created by his pains
  and by Nature. If he takes the pains for the benefit of others, he
  stipulates that he be given in return a utility representing equal
  pains, and the resulting transaction presents us with two efforts,
  two utilities that have changed hands, and two satisfactions.  [...]
  men can never be owners of anything except value, which is based,
  not on the bounty of Nature, but on human services, pains taken,
  risks run, resourcefulness displayed in availing oneself of that
  bounty; [...]

[and so on, and so on:]

>> How can the market decide if you take steps to force the value to zero?
> The value is not forced to zero.
> Proof is people actually buy and sell CDs of free software.

How is that a proof that the value's not zero?  People buy water from
Bastiat's water-seller, too; water which Bastiat claims has no value
ad infinitum.

> for government, and during the dinner afterwards, we had quite an
> interesting and enlightening discussion on the justifications
> behind IP in particular and property in general. I will certainly
> write about the arguments raised during this discussion on this list.

Please do.

> So what? Once that it's known that the Company of Indies trades with India,
> you cannot invent trade with India anymore; you can but copy the Company
> of Indies.

I've already stated that I don't consider "trade with India" a
"result", so this is a straw man.  Note: you can't "copy" the company
without expending equivalent effort -- you can't just wave a magic
wand and make your own company (complete with ships, etc.), spring up
out of thin air.  If you could, the value of the original company
would be zero.  Now you're going to think I'm talking about ease again...

>> by writing some code, I save you from having to write it yourself,
> Only if that code doesn't exist yet.

Well, it wouldn't exist before I wrote it.  If it did, I wouldn't be
writing it.

> If it already exists and I can get a copy of it,
> there's no service you're doing for me at levying license money from it.

You're completely missing the point.  I'm not doing a service *by
charging you for it*, any more than Bastiat's water carrier is doing a
service *by charging for* collecting water -- *collecting the water*
is the service, not the charge; writing the software (thus saving you
from having to write it) is the service, not the charge.  Just as with
the water carrier, you're paying in exchange for not having to do the
work yourself.

> I sure will pay whoever copies it for me whatever the copy service is worth.

The water carrier travels 1km to the well to get water and lugs it 1km
back again to sell it.  Someone siphons off his container (which is
not stealing; the water has no value, after all), and proceeds to give
the water away for nothing.  The water carrier no longer gets paid.
Do you seriously think he's going to continue trudging back and forth
to the well every day under these conditions?  Duh!

>> Value isn't in physical things.
> And value isn't what we try to maximize. Utility is.

>From the "consumer" point of view, maybe; from the "producer" point of
view, you want to maximize value.  Or, put another way, they're facets
of the same thing -- the greater the relative utility of a thing
(effectively what Bastiat calls "onerous utility"), the more work you
would save by using that thing rather than having to do it yourself,
the greater the value.

> Value is proportional to available human work.
> Progress consists in decreasing value, not increasing it.

Progress tends to decrease value.  That's not at all the same thing as
you're claiming (p->q is not the same as q->p).

  There are people in whose eyes property appears only in the form of
  a plot of land or a sack of coins. Provided only that the land's
  sacrosanct boundaries are not moved and that pockets are not
  literally picked, they are quite content. But is there not also
  property in men's labor, in their faculties, in their ideas---in
  a word, is there not property in services? When I throw a service
  into the social scale, is it not my right that it remain there,
  suspended, if I may so express myself, until, according to the laws
  of its own natural equivalence, it can be met and counterbalanced by
  another *service* that someone is willing to tender me in
  exchange? By common consent we have instituted forces of law and
  order to protect property, so understood. Where are we, then, if
  these very forces take it upon themselves to upset this natural
  balance, under the socialistic pretext that freedom begets monopoly,
  that *laissez faire* is hateful and merciless? When things
  reach such a pass, theft by an individual may be rare and severely
  dealt with, but plunder is organized, legalized, and
  systematized. Reformers, be of good cheer; your work is not yet
  done; only try to understand what it really is.

>>>> You know that saying about an infinite number of monkeys banging on
>>>> typewriters eventually producing the complete works of Shakespeare? [...]
>>> So you justify forbiddance because of easiness?
>>> Just because it's good and easy, it should be prohibited?
>> I do?  I never said a word about ease, did I?
> Ok, so if your final argument isn't
> "copying is forbidden because it's too easy",
> what was the point of your monkey theorem?

The point was that what each person (note: they're people, not
monkeys) produces is *not* the same as what Shakespeare produced.
This implies that there's something more involved in the text they do
produce than just the "idea" of the story (which they all share).
Perhaps this "something more" is what copyright can validly apply to.

I'm sure the above forms some sort of argument in this debate, but I'm not
sure whether it's for or against.
                                                         -- Boris Schaefer
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