Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

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Intellectual Slavery

James DeLong, my opposition at the Cato conference, has a post at "ipcentral" titled "It's Happening." I thought that the "it" he was referring to was the vanishing of new music creation in the fact of piracy, but it seems he means "a loss of flexibility and interoperability." The fact involved is the involvement of the music industry in the cellphone industry - a fact that has been widely reported. Since cellphones are tightly controlled, this makes it easier for the music companies to generate revenue. Why is this a bad thing? DeLong dismisses the P2P culture's ethics with the quotation "it's our music and we have a right to steal it" but this isn't a quotation from anyone - just a reference to a blog post of his own denouncing Wired magazine. I'm sure there are some who just want something for free - but speaking for myself, and I feel confident the other authors of this blog, and the vast majority of those who have reservations about copyright - I am strongly in favor of artists, musicians and others earning money from their creative activities. At issue is not the right to sell - it is the right to monopolize. In the absence of monopoly, the best business model may be to give some things away for free to generate more demand for those things that can easily be sold. This an important model for open source software which generally gives away the computer code - not out of altruism but in order to generate paid demand for their services. If expensive ringtones brings money to musicians - what is wrong with that? And if the business model is one of giving away free MP3s to generate demand for expensive ringtones - what is wrong with that? There have been some complaints about musicians raising ticket prices in the face of less revenue from recorded music - and to those who complain, I would also say - what is wrong with that? What is wrong with a business model in which the recorded music is given away to generate more demand and higher ticket prices for live performances?

DeLong's complaint about interoperability and flexibility being reduced by the de facto reduction of copyright is misplaced. The fact is that one of the main uses of intellectual property is to prevent interoperability - witness the complaints over the closed iTunes platform. But even if there was some loss in this dimension - surely it would be worth the gain in freedom.

Freedom in many ways is at the heart of the debate. DeLong sees the word free and thinks it means beer. Those of us on the other side mean what the open source software movement means "free as in freedom, not free as in beer." The constant accusations that opponents of copyright - or even proponents of copyright who have reservations about particular methods of enforcement - are in favor of theft does him no credit. I might as well say that he is guilty of theft because he uses the English language - because it was invented by someone else. Intellectual property has more in common with slavery than its absence does with theft. The right being claimed by IP absolutists is the right to control my thoughts because it might have something in common with someone else's thoughts. So DeLong, who apparently believes that I support theft, won't mind if I call him a proponent of "intellectual slavery?"


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