Free Information vs Information Protectionism

Francois-Rene Rideau Francois-Rene Rideau <>
Thu, 31 May 2001 17:35:19 +0200

>: Paul Foley, 2001-05-28

>> If you use another definition of value, then you should state it.
> The definition used by Bastiat in Economic Harmonies, to which you
> provided pointers earlier, is fine.

> 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
also apply to copyright if copyright was protectionism. So the question is:
what's the difference between property and protectionism?
What justifies property, and how is protectionism different?
I suggest that we forget about information for a while,
and tackle these more fundamental questions;
once we're possibly done with these questions, we can come back
to see how our respective answers apply to information.

> 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.
Plus you are still begging the question without going to the fundamentals.
Where is force, and when is it justified?
How can you identify property?

That's funny, because I sometimes go to the conferences organized by
H. Lepage and B. Lemennicier (great french economists in Paris --
not for long since H. Lepage is moving to Brussels), and the one on
tuesday was about game-theoretic justifications of the need (or not)
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.

>> Value unilaterally decided, and imposed by force,
>> whether public or private force, is but racket.
> My point precisely!  The important word here being "force", not
> "unilateral" [...]
I contend that the word unilateral is quite important.
Market value is an equilibrium of multilateral subjective values.
Force is legitimate in retaliation to aggression.
If you unilaterally start using it, you're wrong,
whereas you might be justified using it to defending yourself
or to retaliate against an aggressor.
It might be a freeer world where people needn't bear a gun, but
it cannot be a free world to begin with where people can't bear a gun.

>> 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,
> All _results_ are owned.  But some of what you're calling "result"
> isn't a result at all, just a preexisting condition that perhaps was
> never noticed.  E.g., in your "trade with India" example, the products
> being traded are not a result of the trade (though they are owned).
> Nor is the route to India, or the existence of shipping, etc.
The same argument applies to copyrighted works, then.
The physical copy is a result, but the abstract bit pattern
is a platonic idea that always existed immanently and was just discovered.
The route to India didn't exist anymore than such or such algorithm,
or than the bit pattern that identifies some copyrighted work.
If you can own a bit pattern, why couldn't you own the RSA algorithm,
or the route to India?

>>> 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.
> Yes.  But you've been arguing that you can do neither -- that you can
> just copy mine.
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. Similarly with patents, etc. You can try open a new route,
just like I can exploit a new medium for copyrighted works; it's still
trade with India.

> by writing some code, I save you from having to write it yourself,
Only if that code doesn't exist yet.
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.
I sure will pay whoever copies it for me whatever the copy service is worth.

> Value isn't in physical things.
And value isn't what we try to maximize. Utility is.
Value is proportional to available human work.
Progress consists in decreasing value, not increasing it.

>>> 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?
Yes, copying is easier much than authoring. Nobody denies it.

Yours freely,

[ François-René ÐVB Rideau | Reflection&Cybernethics | ]
[  TUNES project for a Free Reflective Computing System  |  ]
There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion
that because a man or a corporation has made a profit out of the public for a
number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of
guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing
circumstances and contrary public interest. This strange doctrine is not
supported by statute nor common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have
any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or
turned back, for their private benefit. That is all.
	-- Robert A. Heinlein ("Life-Line")