Free Information vs Information Protectionism

Francois-Rene Rideau Francois-Rene Rideau <>
Mon, 28 May 2001 02:35:36 +0200

On Sun, May 27, 2001 at 06:54:46PM +1200, Paul Foley wrote:
>> I'm thus happy to see you drop your previous argument above.
> What previous argument?  Are you confusing me with the person you were
> replying to (Mitchell Morris)?
Oops. Sorry. Shouldn't be writing messages too late at night. Mea culpa.

>>> Do I own the result of my own labours?
>> Depending on what you call "the result", yes or no.
>> You certainly do not own all the consequences of your labours.
>> If you build a knife, that is latter used by someone else to
>> win a cooking competition, or to kill his wife, you don't own this result.
> I'm not responsible for other people's behaviour; of course not!  But
> I presume you'll allow that I owned the knife, until I sold to the guy
> who killed his wife?  If I build a gun and it fires a bullet through
> the fence and kills my next door neighbour, am I still not responsible?
You sure is. So the whole question is to draw the limits
of what you own in the "results" of your labour.
I'll argue that you only immediately own
the marginal result of your marginal labour.
Whose marginal labour is copying a floppy? The one who copies.
Hence, unless specified in some previous contract, the copy is his.
Oh, BTW, if someone duplicates your gun and fires the copy
at either his wife or a wanted dead-or-alive bandit,
you're not responsible, so you will neither go to jail nor get the bounty.

>>> Any code I might write is surely that;
>> Depending on what you call "result", it is or it isn't.
> Do you admit that some "labour" has occurred?  The only result is that 
> pattern of bits in the computer!
Yes, but if I somehow get ahold of a copy and duplicate it
with my own computer on my own disk with electricty I paid for,
the new copy is mine, because it was the product of my labour.

Similarly, when some company first launches ship to trade with India,
one particular result is that some goods are exchanged, at a profit;
another more general is that trade happens between Europe and India,
that didn't exist before.
Does the company of Indies own the more general result,
or only the particular one? Why?

>> In any case, I dispute it is something you can legitimately claim
>> to own in an exclusive way.
> Do you have a reason?

I certainly do have a reason.
Many, actually, although they are but facets of a same whole.

>From a normative point of view, IP infringes on the liberty of other people.
>From a utilitarian point of view, IP isn't efficient.

> [Or can I come and kill you and then claim to the court "I dispute
> that life is something you can legitimately claim to own"?
>From a normative point of view, it's wrong.
>From a utilitarian point of view, that'll get you in trouble.

Let's consider a copyright as a pool of individual copyrights:
for each individual X, the right for X to copy information I.
I contend that for each X, this right naturally belongs to X,
and that to give it to "the author of I" is thus theft.

Note that right is different from opportunity.
I have the right to jump on the moon, to marry a princess,
to run naked at the north pole, or to copy your chair exactly;
I may lack the opportunity to do any of these, though.
I haven't got the right to rape an alaskan, to kill president Bush,
to defraud a taliban, or to piss in your hat, even though
I may lack the opportunity to do any of these, either.

>> Note that if you root copyrights in natural property, then you shouldn't
>> be claiming a lapse of 70 or 90 years after the death of the author or
>> anything. You should be claiming eternal copyrights, just like Gustave
>> de Molinari or Ayn Rand claimed them.
> I'm not claiming any 70 or 90 years after the death of the author in
> the first place!
I didn't claim YOU or anyone arguing in here in particular did.
However, this is the law in some countries, including US and France (afaik),
so that people who argue for copyrights should be aware of it,
and be ready to compare what exists to the logical end of their arguments;
especially so if conservative arguments are used.
(It is remarkable that although this is probably the main psychological
argument that leads to defend copyright, as I originally did long ago,
it is such a seldom invoked argument. That said, socialists have done a lot,
in France at least, to give a bad name to the conservative argument.)

> [Nor is anyone else: how long does the copyright
> last on, say, music, today?
The difference is one between individual and collective works.
For collective works, it is 90 years after original publication
(was 50 then 70, has been increased in the US, and I think France too,
thanks to Mickey Mouse).

> But I think it's no more unnatural than you claiming 0 years
> after the creation of the work]
Quantities in natural laws generally appear as 0, 1, or infinity.
Since there is no scale for a one here, there remains 0 or infinity.
Real tenants of natural property should claim infinity,
as do Bastiat, Molinari, Ayn Rand, and more.
Real tenants of freedom to copy, etc, should claim 0.
As for any other length, whatever it be, it would have to be justified,
even as a gross approximation, by some argument of whatever kind.

> Note that copyright isn't a patent on the idea -- someone else can
> independently implement code that does the same thing.
Never in other legal, moral, or economic discussions that I know of,
but for IP, has "independently" been used in either side of an argument.
How isn't it an ad-hoc way to defend copyrights when patents are in peril?

> [If the people you keep quoting (Locke, Bastiat, and
> Jefferson) were alive today, do you think they'd agree with you about
> stealing software?]
If you asked them quickly, using the word "stealing", they'd as quickly
disapprove. But if you had a discussion with them, who knows? Anyway,
I don't approve a priori what these people say because I respect them;
on the contrary, I respect them because I approve a posteriorin
(a lot of) what these people say. When they say something that
(a posteriori) I don't agree with, it doesn't make me respect about it.

There wasn't anything by Locke relevant to copyrights that I remember of
in the two (anti)political treatises written by him that I read.

I suppose Jefferson had some ideas about copyright,
but relevant to IP, I only know of this text about Patents:

As for, Bastiat, he didn't write much on the topic,
but indeed, he was once asked to talk about Intellectual Property,
and (from the name "property"?) had the reaction to defend it as property,
although with some interesting double-edged arguments,
that led him to assert that since IP was property,
it would be eternal, hereditarily transmissible, etc.
(which position was latter vehemently defended by Ayn Rand),
whereas if it had been protectionism, it should have been fought.
See my comments on Bastiat's discourse, if you can read french:
Maybe the only economic text of Bastiat that I've read
where I have a deep a posteriori disagreement with him
(he had many where I had a priori disagreement, and he convinced me;
he also had private correspondance about religion where I disagree).

> You don't have to agree with me; you can be wrong if you want.
> (setq reply-to
>   (concatenate 'string "Paul Foley " "<mycroft" '(#\@) ">"))

[ François-René ÐVB Rideau | Reflection&Cybernethics | ]
[  TUNES project for a Free Reflective Computing System  |  ]
May your desire to be correct overcome your desire to have been correct
(which you were not, anyway).		-- Faré