Free Information vs Information Protectionism

Francois-Rene Rideau Francois-Rene Rideau <>
Fri, 25 May 2001 14:47:32 +0200

On Thu, May 24, 2001 at 10:03:51AM -0400, Morris, Mitchell wrote:
>> Yes, you own the act, and can either act it or withhold it,
>> at your sole desire (unless you promise something about it earlier).
>> However, you might not have any ownership on its results.
>> You have the right to benefit from them, but this right is not
>> ownership lest it be exclusive, which, according to natural law,
>> is only the case when physical resources are involved.
> So, you're claiming that you have an a priori natural right to the results
> of my efforts?

Certainly not. But I have the right to make bona fide efforts to benefit
from them. You have the right to make bona fide efforts to prevent me
from benefitting from them without paying you, by using, e.g. secret,
copy protection mechanisms, tight watch of your licensees, etc.
But you cannot ask from the public force that it be used against
the public, yet paid by the public, to ensure you higher profits
for 17 or 90 years. I cannot ask from the public force that it be used
against you to force you to publish your works free for all.

Of course, all the bona fide efforts you will make will only slow down
the eventual universal availability of your software.
That's precisely the point. You'll invest in copy-protection what
you think your idea is worth, and get in return the monopoly of
sales for as long as it lasts, and afterwards, the idea is ipso facto
in the public domain, and you better work more for more dough.

> I'm confused, then, what you can claim that I have natural
> rights over.
You have a natural right to use your resources (including time, work,
proficiencies, property, etc.) in just any way you please, and to use
any result of these resources in a similar way.
Other people must not prevent you from using these resources,
lest they must compensate you accordingly for the damages,
direct, indirect, etc, and be punished if they did it with ill intent.

> Surely I'm the only person who can decide how to dispose of
> things that I create.
Why "only"? What's a "thing"? It's precisely because _physical_ things
can only be disposed by one that one's right to dispose of them
entails exclusivity of that person. There is no such constraint on

> I fail to see why you draw this distinction except that it
> advantages you personally, and is not a necessary concomitant to the
> remainder of your philosophy (at least as much as I've read so far).
I don't think it advantages me personally, except in so far as it makes
for a better world for everyone including me. You can read the many
articles I've collected on this topic:

> You are depriving me of exchange value,
> by duplicating a thing which you had no right to duplicate
> (my premise, which you have not yet invalidated).
Well, at worst, let's agree to disagree on premises,
but there's just no point in arguing about divergent consequences
when premises differ (there would be a point in arguing
about common consequences in such setting).

> By analogy (suspect, as analogies always are), if I (a starving artist)
> create a statue of surpassing beauty which other people would trade food
> with me to get a copy under mutually agreeable terms (no duplication, for
> example), and you (a wealthy industrialist) trade once with me, decide to
> forgo the agreement we had reached,
If I forgo the agreement, you can sue me.
If a spy who did not agree to anything copies the statue, you can't sue him.
Does this limit the efficiency of such agreements? It sure does.
Is it unfair? No it isn't. If you want to copy protect your statue,
you should bear the price of this copy protection: walls, guards,
scanning-prevention, etc. Nobody owes you this protection.
Of course, you may pool up money with other artists to install a museum
inside a bunker. Or whatever.

> Are you claiming that the reason this is an ethical activity
> is because it costs you very little to destroy the exchange value of my
> work?
Destroying value by creating utility is the very principle of progress.
Of course, one isn't allowed to destroy your utility in the process.

> That is, there are a set of activities that are ethical if you're
> "rich enough"? That seems very ... situational.
Of course, there are. Spending 20 million dollars to spend holidays in space
is ethical if these are your 20 million dollars. It isn't if you take these
million dollars from the public through tax money. Hence, only people at
least 20 million dollar rich can ethically spend that much money to spend
holidays in space. Call that situational if you wish. I don't care. Or
maybe you could define "situational" first and then explain why it's bad.

> I claim you owe me because you
> agreed to owe me when we made our mutually-agreeable exchange.
Except that copyrights are not based on such mutual agreement,
but on preventing third parties from copying.
Oh, you may require from your customers that they take steps to prevent
third-party copying. But if you start enforcing such clauses, and
send some in prison, or have them actually pay big fines or large
protection costs, they won't buy from you anymore, and rightly so.
You'll find that no one is willing to buy from you anymore.
And remember: everyone is presumed innocent of breach of contract
until proven guilty, so you'll have to bear the cost of watermarking
and registering your copies; and even then, only the culprit can be
punished, not the recipient of his copies, who haven't agreed to anything,
and can themselves copy at will.

> Can I take that "just reward" to my local greengrocer and
> exchange it for bread and milk?
Yes you can. You can sell him by contract whatever gains you and he
expect from your works. Or you sell them to someone else and give him money,
or you can borrow on it, etc.

> I will post a bookmark here and say that "if you're allowed to define terms
> to mean what you wish, then any reasonable argument is over at that point",
> so I will reserve the right to disagree that "property" means "right to
> benefit from" and not "right to exclude other people from" until I see the
> rest of your argument.
I agree that these are different concepts, and that it must be argued
which is more relevant to which situations. Until we have gone through
such argument, let's agree to disagree about this question.
Until then, I congratulate you for being able to distinguish these concepts
and discuss them rationally, which I know by experience few people can.

Yours freely,

[ François-René ÐVB Rideau | Reflection&Cybernethics | ]
[  TUNES project for a Free Reflective Computing System  |  ]
If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of
exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea,
which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to
himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the
possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it.
Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because
every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me,
receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his
taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should
freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual
instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been
peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like
fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any
point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical
being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then
cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.
	--Thomas Jefferson