Copying Is Not Theft? How About Identity Theft?
Part I of II
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.
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.
Remember the scene in the movie The Net where Sandra Bullock’s character, Angela Bennett, arrives home to find her house empty and a real-estate agent selling it? The real-estate agent has a copy of the deed to the house with a copy of Angela’s signature on it. Hey, those are just copies — Angela still has the originals … somewhere. She wasn’t deprived of anything by the act of making copies, was she?
Let’s say you graduate from medical school and get a diploma, with additional certifications so that you’re entitled to put “MD, FACS” after your name. Now, anyone copying those diplomas and certifications hasn’t deprived you of anything if they perform surgery in your name and a few patients die in the O.R. right?
Or for my last example — and you gotta love this one — you’re a scientist working at a lab that stores various viruses — weaponized anthrax, as an example — that if released could kill millions of people. Hey, you still have all your original security passes, ID’s, and clearances if someone clones your biometric data and uses it to go grab some anthrax and drop it into the Lake Mead reservoir, right?
Come on, Neil, now you’re just being arch, argumentative, and ridiculous. Get to the point — copying a book, or a song, or a movie.
I never left the point. It’s exactly the same subject.
I spend five years of my life writing a novel — go through eight drafts before I finally have it right. That’s a major investment of blood, sweat, toil, and tears.
I put it up for sale on my website as a PDF file, or on Amazon.com as a Kindle file, or get it accepted for sale through iTunes for reading on the Apple iPad.
The next thing I know, all these versions of my novel are free Torrent downloads for which I don’t get anything in return.
Oh, Neil, you still have your original. Copying Is Not Theft. By making a copy I haven’t deprived you of anything.
Except, why should anyone making a rational economic calculation pay me for something they can get for free? So people get the benefits of my five years of blood, sweat, toil, and tears, and my checking account doesn’t have money in it to pay for doctor’s visits and prescriptions needed to treat my Type-II Diabetes.
Or, I spend four years of my life and a half million bucks of my family’s dough — including fourteen cuts in an editing bay — making a movie. Then I put it up for sale on Amazon.com as a Video on Demand. Someone with software to get by any copy protection Amazon.com has takes my movie and presses it into DVD’s for sale in kiosks in Hong Kong … and, once again, as a Torrent.
Now before I even get the chance to sell my movie for commercial distribution — which might get me back the cash, talent, and time invested in making this movie so I can afford to make another one — people are getting the benefit of my blood, sweat, toil, tears, and cash … and I am prevented from self-financing my next movie.
If I invent, compose, or craft something original, it’s part of me. It’s part of my identity.
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.
Think about it. Please. None of this is theoretical for me. This is how I make my living. This is how I survive … or not.
I’m going to publish this general statement both here and on Part II:
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.
Go to Part II
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!