Free Information vs Information Protectionism

Francois-Rene Rideau Francois-Rene Rideau <>
Mon, 28 May 2001 11:40:24 +0200

>: Paul Foley

>> 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.
> In case it's not obvious by now: my whole position revolves around the
> assignment of (potential) value.
If you use the classical definition of value as "whatever other people
are ready to pay for it", then it's a circular definition. Once they
are free to copy, they won't pay anything for the right to copy
(although they may pay for the actual opportunity to hold a copy).
If you install tariffs, rackets, patent fees, etc., you'll still
see some people willing to pay them. That doesn't mean these
legal or paralegal taxes are justified.

If you use another definition of value, then you should state it.
In particular, if you use for it the classical definition of utility
as "anything that brings satisfaction, comfort, ease, etc.",
then I support the view that one owns a priori the marginal utility of
one's marginal work, but that doesn't include far-reaching utilities
that others may draw from it.

> Copying a floppy is of very little value.
Indeed. That's why I don't expect floppy copiers to take away much value
from anyone. That's why any value extracted by a monopoly that wouldn't
be extracted from the public in a free market is monopoly rent, with
the usual induced inefficiencies as studied by any author of political
economy about legal monopolies.

> The data you're copying may be of high value.
It's not up to you, or anyone to decide that.
Let the market decide, i.e. every potential buyer.
Value unilaterally decided, and imposed by force,
whether public or private force, is but racket.

[The rest of your comments are begging the question.
Not that it's bad. Stating one's position is good.
Just that it deserves no counter-argument,
since it contains no argument in itself.]

>> 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?
> They aren't owed a monopoly on "trade with India"; that's an "idea",
> which I've already dismissed any claim to (and, in any case,
> individual Indians are free to trade with whomever they wish).
So you admit that there are abstract results that cannot be owned.
Now there remains for you to draw a line somewhere
between results that can be owned and results that cannot,
and justify why you drew that line there, and not elsewhere.
Be sure not to make it an ad-hoc argument for "data".

> But for anyone else to trade with India, they'll either have to buy space
> on the existing ship, or build or buy their own ship.
Sure. Just like to use the software, I'll have to buy an existing copy,
or somehow make my own.

>>> From a normative point of view, IP infringes on the liberty of other
>> people.
> All property rights infringe on the liberty of other people to some
> degree. Disallowing those rights is a greater infringement.
That's quite wrong, according to the classical liberal point of view.
Liberty being the ability to do whatever one pleases
inside one's own property. Unless you have some kind of "common", "shared",
or "public" property, you thus cannot infringe on anyone else's liberty.
That's also why classical liberals are opposed to any kind of collective

>>> From a utilitarian point of view, IP isn't efficient.
> I'd claim just the opposite -- copyright is the most efficient means
> to get software, etc., created; it allows the cost to be spread out
> over all users, etc.  The value must be returned to the one whose
> effort created it, and you can't achieve that without copyright.
There are other ways to spread the cost over users,
that doesn't prevent incremental creation of utility by third parties.
The principle of copyright, like of all protectionist monopolies,
is in forbidding people to create utility; hence most of the arguments
in also apply there.
About value and utility, see, for instance:

>>: Kyle Lahnakoski
>> May you clarify the distinction between "idea" and data.
> Data, in this sense, is a physical, tangible thing -- patterns of
> magnetism on the surface of a disk or tape, electrical impulses inside
> a computer, etc.; an idea given form, if you will.
Well, I'll tell you: when I copy a floppy,
I obtain a different disk, with different atoms,
and different electromagnetic wave functions.
Any "thing" that'd be the "same" between the two disks
is already in a different plane than the physical plane.

> 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?
That's the typical protectionist argument!
"foreign FOO is too cheap, so it should be forbidden,
or the national FOO industry will suffer."
"trading with India is all too easy, so it should be forbidden,
otherwise our innovative investors will suffer."
"imitating a technique is all too easy, so it should be forbidden,
or the inventor will suffer."
And now "copying data is too cheap, so it should be forbidden,
or the original publishing industry will suffer."

Yours freely,

[ François-René ÐVB Rideau | Reflection&Cybernethics | ]
[  TUNES project for a Free Reflective Computing System  |  ]
An apple every eight hours will keep three doctors away.