Copying Is Not Theft? How About Forgery? Counterfeiting? Plagiarism?
Part II of II
Go to Part I
The above YouTube video is probably the cleverest, catchiest, and most cogent argument in favor of eliminating I.P. laws I’ve ever seen. As a piece of advertising for a concept it’s hard to top. Bravo!
Now I will destroy it for the second time in six hours.
The argument of “Copying is Not Theft” is that by copying a novel, a song, a movie, the owner is still in possession of the original and therefore by making a copy nobody is doing anything to deprive the owner of the original of anything of value.
Clever. Very clever.
But wrong. Very wrong.
In my article earlier today I made the case that copying is not merely theft, it is Identity Theft.
The basic libertarian principle of liberty starts with self-ownership. Preventing me from owning the sole right to offer copies of things that are part and parcel of my personal identity — preventing me from owning the exclusive right to make copies of what I make as part of my personal identity — is the destruction of my life and liberty … and quite literally could end up killing me.
Now I’m answering those who commented that all my examples of identity theft had the additional element above and beyond mere copying of being fraudulent or enabling additional crimes.
Kyle Bennett (presumably no relation to the fictional Angela Bennett I referred to in the movie The Net) wrote in a comment on my Facebook wall this morning:
All of your examples are of fraud or trespass secondary to the copying. There’s a difference between my selling a copy of “Lady Magdalene’s by J Neil Schulman,” and selling a copy of “Lady Magdalene’s by Kyle Bennett,” or a copy that has different content than the buyer was led to believe it was.
Kyle admits that someone making a copy of “Lady Magdalene’s by J Neil Schulman” and selling a copy of “Lady Magdalene’s by Kyle Bennett” is committing the fraud we call “plagiarism.” Putting your own name on someone else’s work product without their authorization and distributing that mislabeled product as your own is misrepresenting the pedigree and provenance of that product to the end users. It is claiming someone else’s accomplishment as your own. It’s cheating.
So let’s look at the cases where you make copies of something I made and still keep my name on it. That is no longer plagiarism.
It’s now a different form of fraud, which in the art world is called “counterfeiting” and in the world of other commercial products — such as designer clothing or luxury watches — is called “forgery.”
Remember: my first premise here is the libertarian premise of self-ownership. I own my name when it refers back to me, my biographical details, my resume, my accomplishments, the proprietary artifacts I’ve used to generate my reputation, my personal expertise and taste. All of these are elements that when attached to my name make it a personal brand. Someone else using my name — my identity — for things not owned or authorized by me is committing identity theft — and I gave examples of that in yesterday’s article.
But let’s say I write a novel and put my brand — my author’s name on it: J. Neil Schulman. The first claim of authorship of something I write is my byline attached to the writing. In a novel this is on the cover and title page. I write a dedication and acknowledgments, giving the work a purpose and a pedigree. On the copyright page is a claim of ownership — in land terms the posting of a “No Trespassing” sign, to stake out the boundaries of ownership.
Often I will personally affix an additional brand enhancement — my signature. This is called an inscription or an autograph. That takes the particular copy from merely being authentic — authorized by its author — to being an object of memorabilia and gives it additional trade value in the marketplace. If the author is particularly noteworthy then under the right circumstances a personal signature can make an authorized copy many times more valuable than a copy that has merely the original commercial brand authorization.
You see this all the time in designer clothing lines, or perfumes, or celebrity photographs, or luxury watches. All of these products have enhanced market value by affixing a known celebrity brand.
The celebrity brand tells the buyer that the celebrity had personal input into the design, quality control, and manufacturing conditions of the product. The celebrity is risking his reputation if the quality control of the copy fails to meet top standards. This is an argument I made in another of my recent articles — What’s Your Bible? — when I argued:
As a professional writer whose name is his commercial brand, I can no more allow someone else to rewrite me as they like and put my byline on it than the Walt Disney Corporation can allow someone else to publish cartoons of Mickey Mouse buggering Donald Duck.
In a comment in reply to a challenge from a reader, I further wrote:
No true craftsman allows someone else to ruin their work and keep their name on it. A license that allows unlimited rewriting but keeping the original writer’s name on it is an abomination to anyone who gives a damn about the integrity of their work. Deal breaker. … I have contempt for people in any field of human endeavor who don’t care about maintaining the quality of their work product. If that makes me a snob, so be it. I call it having standards.
I have sat next to celebrities at conventions while the star signed personal memorabilia, taking cheaply manufactured objects — photographs of themselves, shirts, objects memorializing their career accomplishments — and charged up to several hundred dollars to sign it for a buyer — with lines around the block for them to do it.
Auction houses and auction websites make markets out of common objects that would be trash except for a celebrity having owned or used or once touched it.
A set of golf clubs or a box of golf balls is worth far more in a pro shop if the brand name “Tiger Woods” is on the label, because by affixing the name of the golf legend the buyer is being told that Tiger Woods had personal input into the quality of the products.
Anyone who copies that box of golf balls with the Tiger Woods label on it — without proper authorization — is committing an act of forgery.
Anyone who copies something I make without my license to make authorized copies is committing Identity Theft against me and some form of fraud against the person to whom they’re providing the copy: either plagiarism if they substitute their own brand or forgery and counterfeiting if they keep my brand name on it.
Sell knock-offs of Tiger Woods label Nike shoes to the wrong person and don’t be surprised if you get capped upside your head, mutha!
I’m going to publish this general statement both here and on Part I:
The questions of how copyrights, trademarks, and patents are currently defined and enforced by States are an entirely separate issue from the arguments I have been making since the 1980’s about property rights in identity and information objects.
For now I would be entirely satisfied if libertarians and anarchists recognized my property rights in the things I create and respected my right to license copies, using no other enforcement mechanism than social preferencing.
If we ever get there, I would only sign a General Submission to Arbitration with an arbiter whose legal code recognized my property rights in name, brand, identity, and information objects I create.
But if libertarian/anti-statist writers and organizations continue to deny property rights in Identity and Personal Brand — both violated by unlicensed copying of created works — the libertarian movement fails to be an effective defender of the right to self ownership — the center of all libertarian thought — and belongs in the dustbin of history along with all other failed forms of socialism that treat the individual as a slave to the wants and needs of their brothers.
Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!