One of the main reactions to my post came from cabalamat—the Campaigns Officer of the Pirate Party UK—in which he rather dishonestly decided to equate my personal view with the Libertarian Party policy on this matter.
Pirate Party UK is more libertarian than the Libertarian Party UK, at least on some policy issues, if this post by the Libertarian Party’s leader Chris Mounsey is to be believed.
This is, of course, nonsense: as leader of the Libertarian Party, I do not make policy. Our policies are formulated by the membership of the party—not announced by me as diktats.
This is, of course, something that cabalamat should have known or guessed at—before I pointed it out to him—since he admits that his party works in a similar way.
It’s my personal view; I’m not the leader of PPUK, so I’m not entitled to make _ex cathedra_ announcements on party policy. Nor for that matter is our leader Andrew Robinson; PPUK policies are decided democratically by the membership.
Quite. As it happens, Libertarian Party policy on IP, copyrights and patents has not yet been properly formulated—although it has been the subject of heated discussion on the members' forum. But more of that later.
Another argument that cabalamat put forward was that..
recognising that preventing non-commercial file sharing is in practice unenforceable (except at excessive cost to liberty and wealth), and it is therefore de facto legal
This is an argument that I reject absolutely. Let us put it another way: let us use the conviction rate for reported rapes...
The government estimates that as many as 95% of rapes are never reported to the police at all. Of the rapes that were reported from 2007 to 2008, only 6.5% resulted in a conviction, compared with 34% of criminal cases in general.
Now, we all know that there are certain problems with these statistics but, nonetheless, rape convictions are low.
I think that, from the evidence presented above, we can recognise that preventing rapes is in practice unenforceable (except at excessive cost to liberty and wealth), and it is therefore de facto legal.
Anyone on board with that argument? Anyone?
If something is wrong in principle, then it should not be made de facto legal simply because it is difficult to enforce. Yes, we as a society can decide to what extent we are willing to curtail personal freedom in order to enforce said laws—in the case of personal file-sharing, I would say "not much"—but that does not mean that we should just give up and legalise that activity.
I'd also like to highlight a comment by Graeme Lambert, a supporter of and desirous of being a PPC for the Pirate Party, which is, I think, spectacularly disingenuous.
The Pirate Party do not want to abolish copyright as we want creative artists to receive their fair share.
Well, who could argue with that? We all want that—what we are arguing about is how best to deliver it.
If I buy a CD/DVD, rip it to my computer, create a torrent, upload it to The Pirate Bay, send the link to a few friends and let them download it; that is non-commercial file-sharing.
I am aware of what non-commercial file-sharing is. And we have all made cassettes and CDs for friends. This is, of course, technically illegal, but it has never been worth the expense of pursuing—which is one reason why I maintain that copyright infringement should be a civil crime. With such small scale sharing, it isn't worth the music companies pursuing—if, however, they pass the costs onto the state (the taxpayer) through criminal enforcement, then it becomes possible to clamp down even on this kind of activity.
But this is not, in any case, relevant to what we are discussing—or even what Graeme is discussing. Pirate Bay was not the equivalent of making a mix tape for a couple of your mates—it was a vast commercial operation based on the widespread distribution of music, films and other copyrighted material to anyone who wanted to join the site.
And the point was that Pirate Bay made money out of this: the uploaders didn't, and nor did the downloaders (although they saved money by not having to pay for the material); Pirate Bay did. They provided a facility through which people could obtain copyrighted material, and funded both site and salary costs through membership fees and adverts.
Which is why they were prosecuted. Although they held no files, they provided the means to distribute material illegally—a bit like a criminal "fence".
If I buy a CD/DVD, rip it to my computer, burn it onto another disc and then sell that disc to other people, obviously without giving a percentage of it to the copyright holders, that is commercial file-sharing which should by punished to the full extent of the law as that DOES take money away from the rights holders.
If people can get material for free, then most of the time they will (apart from people like me, who have principles). As such, providing material that should be paid for for free does deprive the artists of revenue.
Yes, I know that not everyone would have bought said material, so not every download is depriving the artist of money. But a good proportion will be.
And let's look at the system of Pirate Bay: were people making money out of it? Yes, the people who ran Pirate Bay were. Would so many thousands of people have signed up to Pirate Bay had the site not hosted such commercially desirable material? I severely doubt it. So, I think that one can argue that Pirate Bay were making money directly out of providing access to copyrighted material—it could be argued, therefore, that Pirate Bay was commercial file-sharing.
Me sharing the media with a couple of friends does not deprive the creative artists of their money, it in fact boosts the chances of them receiving more money through completely free advertising.
Which is why thousands of successful writers, musicians and creative artists have come out in enthusiastic support of the Pirate Party, eh? Oh, wait: they haven't.
Besides, can you prove any of this? Sure, sometimes, artist might get a boost from your "free advertising". On the other hand, your friends might have heard the songs on the radio, and bought them because of that. You cannot prove that your sharing of that music was the only way in which your friends would have heard it.
In any case, if you are only distributing the music to your friends, then why not make a CD and give it to them physically? Or even zip up the MP3s and put it on a private server for their own personal download?
Putting that material on a public forum for anyone to download is not the same, is it now?
Quiet apart from anything else, even if you give the artist free advertising, it's going to mean fuck all if your friends just download all the music for free from the fucking Pirate Bay, eh?
I know some bands who have relatively small fan bases compared to big name bands who will give away a few songs to be shared – this is what I would personally encourage amongst all creative artists.
Yes, fine. Plenty of artists give away some of their music—my brother is one such—but that is their choice.
It is their music and it is for them to choose whether they give it away for free: if you, Graeme, upload it to Pirate Bay, then you are taking that choice away from the artist.
In other words, you are imposing your morals on someone else—and depriving them of a living into the bargain.
The current plan amongst the Pirate Party for copyright reform is not to abolish it but simply to shorten it. The lengths discussed are 5 years or 10 years plus the option to extend for a further 5 years.
Yes, yes: all of these things can be discussed. But if the Pirate Party recognises the need for copyright, then it should also recognise that it should be up to the rights-holder—and not the Pirate Party—what the terms of the rights are.
I personally like the idea put forward by a member in that in order for the copyright to be extended for that 5 years, the copyright holder would have to pay a percentage, say 5%, of the profit made during that first 5/10 years.
To whom? The government? Or Noddy and Big Ears? The Pirate Party? Who the hell reaps this largesse for doing precisely fuck all?
If the media is selling well, that wouldn’t be a problem for the holders, but if it’s not selling, then it would simply be made freely available to the public domain as the copyright would be expired.
Well, fair enough: and this is what currently happens. Only—and I think that most people would agree—the copyright periods are way too long.
Question for discussion
The question is simply this: does Intellectual Property exist?
Put aside any notion of current copyright or patent law: just ignore it for the moment. Most of us agree that these things—which are only constructs of law—need some kind of reform; but if there is no such thing as Intellectual Property, then there is no justification for copyright or patents anyway.
If Intellectual Property does exist, then we need to discuss how the state might protect it. This is not a dastardly libertarian arguing for more state interference: as a minarchist libertarian, I believe that the state has a role to play in protecting property rights through law and, if they exist, naturally the state should thus protect Intellectual Property rights through law.
Can one assert ownership of the product of one's mind? For an example that is close to home for any blogger, I have come across several sites who were scraping the feeds from The Kitchen; they were posting my writing in full and without attribution or permission; those sites existed, through adverts, to make money from my writing.
If you don't believe in Intellectual Property, then you will say that I should have no recourse or justification to stop this; if you do believe in Intellectual Property, then you will approve my actions of asking them to cease and desist.
So, please, give your opinion in the comments; as I said, do not discuss copyright or patent law (discussion of these may follow depending on the outcome of The Question)—please concentrate only on the issue of whether or not Intellectual Property, as a concept, actually exists or not.
UPDATE: a couple of points of clarification, as raised by comments so far.
- This is not about supporting eeevil corporations; this is about an individual's right to their property.
- I gave, as an example, whether or not I "own" the writing on this blog (other than my other contributors efforts, of course).
- If I own the writing, then it should be—as with my other property—protected in law.
Having talked this through with the wife, there is another aspect to this, which you might care to consider. If I make a wooden rocking horse, for sale, I will calculate the time and material that I put into it, and a profit, and that is what I will sell it for. I cannot sell that rocking horse again so, when you buy it, you will bear the full cost of my making of that horse, and the profit that I expect to gain.
Now, let us look at some (reasonable) costs of producing, professionally, just one copy of an album:
- Studio time: £10,000
- Producer's fee: £5,000
- Mastering: £3,000
- CD printing: £10
- Design: £5,000
- Sleeve printing: £500
- Wages for four piece band (median wage): £100,000
- Sundries: £5,000
- Total Cost: £128,510
- Reasonable profit (100%): 128,510
- Total Return needed: £257,020
So, the rocking horse model obviously does not happen with a CD—otherwise, that CD would cost you over £250,000. The business models are completely different. In effect, the vendor is taking the total cost, looking at what the market will bear, and slicing that cost into a certain number of units—only one of which you possess.
If you want to own the whole object, then you should be paying the whole £257,020, not a tenner. No?
UPDATE 2: the wife has concluded that intellectual property does not exist and that is why we have copyright (reproduced, with permission, here).