“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
When children play with Legos, violence sometimes ensues.
“He knocked down my tower!”
“Only because she built it to look exactly like the one I made, and that’s not fair. I made mine first!”
All the parents I’ve ever met handle this situation by pointing out to the aggressor that it is perfectly acceptable for other kids to build things that mimic his own creations; in fact, he should feel honored!
But let’s visit a household wherein the parents are strict advocates and respecters of intellectual property. In this house, children are punished for copying their siblings. Any new Lego ideas, whether actually built or not, are immediately filed with the parent, and every time Lego building takes place, the children must first check the files to make sure they aren’t about to build something that someone else had already thought of and filed. No imitation is allowed in this household.
This is, of course, an absurd environment, and the main source of learning for children, imitation, is being crushed while some of the most beastly childlike tendencies — spite and anger at others’ success and an overwhelmingly selfish desire for all the attention — are nurtured. This is also the environment faced by all inventors, entrepreneurs, creators and businesses in any legal structure that enforces IP laws.
Let’s fast-forward a few decades. The IP-conscious parent gets a call from their grown-up child complaining about how he designed and built a beautiful garden, but the neighbor loved it so much he put in an identical twin next door. The good parent would immediately sympathize with the victimized child and come over with some shovels and firearms and help his son destroy the thieving neighbors’ copycat garden, and demand some payment from the neighbor at gunpoint, to boot.
This is only fair, of course, because this gardening son built the garden for profit, not just pleasure. It was so grand that he planned to sell tickets to people who wished to walk through and enjoy its splendor. How could he do so when the neighbor’s identical garden could be walked through for free?
It seems easy to spot the ridiculous and childish nature of anti-copying arguments in these examples, but there is no significant difference in the real world of IP law. Ideas, unlike physical goods, are not scarce. The neighbor can build his garden without so much as a single fern being removed from the other.
Garden design is an idea. Some argue that it’s not the idea of garden itself that’s being stolen, but the value it could produce. Even in the case of physical goods, no one has a right to a certain market value. If I steal your car, your property rights are violated. If a manufacturer designs a slew of new cars that make yours far less valued in the market, your rights are not violated, because you never had a right to a given resale value.
Many people argue that the real need for IP law arises when we’re talking about companies making multibillion dollar investments in R&D, not merely five-figure gardens. What incentive is there to pursue such costly innovations with no promise of reward for the effort? There are several problems with this analysis. First, even with current IP laws, there is no guarantee of profit. How many billions of R&D dollars are spent on projects that end up yielding no return? Consumers are fickle, and IP doesn’t guarantee they’ll like your product, no matter how much you spend on research.
Second, the massive R&D sticker price is somewhat deceiving. Drug companies, for example, are not spending billions of dollars of the CEO’s money. Instead, they are spending billions of dollars of shareholder money. Most shareholders have shares amounting to thousands, and they have portfolios with money spread across many companies and industries. Even if a $1 billion R&D project is fruitless, the losses are actually not that acute.
But let’s say they are. Let’s pretend a single individual had a great idea and they could devote their entire life and livelihood to developing it. Surely, without the security of IP law, they would have no incentive to do so, right? How do you explain a fashion designer whose every energy goes into designs that can be immediately copied in the IP-free fashion industry? How do you explain football coaches who spend years developing and perfecting new schemes and plays only to have the best of them immediately adopted by inferior coaches across the league?
Do you think the NFL would be more dynamic and innovative if coaches could copyright their plays? What if no one were allowed to use the cover 2 defense except its creator? The spread offense? The I formation?
Thankfully, no such IP laws exist in football. Do you think we’re suffering a lack of innovation for it? Are there innovative coaches sitting on the sidelines with amazingly innovative plays, failing to use them for fear they won’t reap enough reward in a copycat league?
IP law is not necessary to incentivize innovation. There are no guarantees of success or uniqueness in the market, yet entrepreneurs and investors put significant resources into innovation every day, apparently willing to hazard the risk. IP law stifles, rather than encourages, innovation.
Not only is IP unnecessary, it is a holdover from our nursery days before we learned that it’s not OK to be possessive little tyrants who demand no one copy their babbling noises, Lego towers and Crayon scribbles. IP laws are childish and bring out the kind of nasty and immature backbiting that parents work so hard to correct in their kids. Let’s grow up and quit trying to hold back the beauty and dynamism of a world where ideas are free.