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Freedom of Choice to Enslave · Friday April 03, 2009 by Crosbie Fitch

I occasionally encounter people who’ve latched on to constructing an argument in favour of copyright on the basis that it gives people ‘a greater choice of business model’ when it comes to making money from their art. As if this is self-evidently the best of all possible worlds as it maximises individual choice – and freedom of choice is what it’s all about.

It’s not all about choice!

Fundamentally, it’s all about liberty.

Until recently copyright only effectively constrained commercial printers, thus its suspension of the public’s liberty was not generally noticed – the public had little opportunity to print copies, and so rarely encountered a prohibition against such a liberty.

The ‘free choice’ advocates have this strange notion that ‘choice’ and the ‘freedom to choose’ ethically supercedes ‘liberty’, e.g. “I should have the freedom of choice as to whether to keep slaves. Those who believe they can farm economically without them are free to choose to do so today, but don’t repeal the law and take away my choice to use them.”

So when it comes to copyright, they effectively say “I should have the freedom of choice as to whether I suspend the public’s liberty to share and build upon my published work. Don’t abolish copyright and deny me that choice”. They believe they have a fundamental right to choose whether or not to utilise copyright, and that therefore copyright should remain on the statute books, policed and rigorously enforced.

There is no ethical basis to ‘freedom of choice’. It is an ethically vacuous concept that just happens to have the word ‘freedom’ in it. One might as well propose that ‘freedom to beat my wife’ was intrinsically laudable on the same basis, i.e. “Beating my wife is my choice, and I should have the freedom to make that choice”.

Rather than choice, the ethical basis of liberty is about the minimal/natural constraint of everyone’s freedom in order to protect everyone’s freedom. Indeed, that ‘protected freedom’ is what we call liberty. There is no room in liberty for beating wives or granting monopolies.

As I said, copyright was a monopoly that only effectively constrained commercial printers (at those printers’ general consent). Unfortunately, copyright law is written to apply to all, i.e. individuals as well as printing corporations. And today we are all printers – human beings and immortal corporation alike.

In ignoring copyright, the people are asserting their natural right to liberty – that they’ve always had. So there is no argument as to whether one should be able to continue to use copyright to suspend that right. Ethically, one cannot. Practically, one cannot. The unnnatural and unethical privilege is being ignored and rendered ineffective before our eyes. This is not something to rectify with a good counter-argument (or by educating the masses with draconian prosecutions of random individuals).

The only dicussions concerning copyright that remain useful are ‘Business models that work without copyright’ and ‘Protecting the public from unethical litigation, cultural spite, and privacy invasion, by abolishing copyright sooner rather than later’.

Make the right choice: Do not accept the enslavement of your fellow man, nor any imposition upon his liberty, as reward for the publication of your art.



 

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