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A Pirate's Code - 21st Century Edition · Monday April 27, 2009 by Crosbie Fitch

A moral code for those engaged in the PIRACY of intellectual works, in accord with the philosophy of natural rights as expounded by such 18th century luminaries as Thomas Paine (Father of the American Revolution):

  1. Spread mankind’s good works of art and knowledge to the four corners of the world.
  2. Create and publish your own work, enjoy and share each other’s, use it, build upon it, thrive and prosper.
  3. Pay others to do good work as you would be paid to do yours.
  4. Restore everyone’s liberty – accept no surrender, deny privilege.
  5. Guard our apprehension of the truth against those who would impair it.
  6. Respect each other’s privacy – abet no burglary, remedy theft.
  7. Protect life, for all, as equals.

Toward the understanding of this modern pirate code

The seven exhortations of this pirate’s code ascend in precedence.

For example, if burglary is necessary to save life, it deserves warrant, but if considered only to ascertain the truth of a wagered outcome, one may do nought but persuade its possessor to divulge.

Most relevant to this code and the moment of our times is the cultural repression and persecution of the people. This arises from the venal surrender of the people’s liberty through its derogation by 18th century privileges of monopoly such as copyright and patent. The exploitation of these anachronistic privileges by merchants so favoured by the state, especially publishing and industrial corporations, now have them enforcing and prosecuting them against the public to preclude even individual acts of cultural expression competing with them in their mass production of copies and devices.

Monopolies are and have always been a mistake (see Boldrin & Levine). They favour one merchant at the expense of the many1 (mercantile privilege at the expense of individual liberty), and so are diametrically in opposition to a fair and free market – a market in which people are free to exchange their labour and property without unnatural constraint.

The misguided apologists for such monopolies claim them to be socially beneficial in encouraging the creation and distribution of art and knowledge (to promote the progress of science and useful arts). So, at least the aspirations are agreed. However, the key difference in principle is whether the people’s liberty should be sacrificed to this end (despite scant evidence it provides the means). The modern pirate agrees that his liberty should not be so sacrificed, that his natural right to liberty is inalienable. It can neither be surrendered by himself as citizen, nor his government he empowers to protect it. There is no contract, nor law that can take it away, and nothing so offensive as the allegation that the people voluntarily and democratically surrendered their liberty in a social contract.

Cultural and technological liberty is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. It is preceded by 19th and 20th century natural rights issues of equality (racial, religious and sexual discrimination), life (genocide, execution, torture) and liberty (slavery, segregation, temperance). Today, in our age of information technology and instantaneous diffusion, individuals are struggling for the liberty to share and build upon our cultural and technological heritage. The public as pirate is struggling against the anachronistic monopolies of copyright and patent, against the yoke of corporations who have amassed these privileges into effective subjugation of the people.

We must therefore restore law to respect and protect the individual’s natural rights. This was the mission and intention of Thomas Paine and other founding fathers of the United States, and directed the writing of the US constitution.

Not being natural rights, and so neither recognised nor sanctioned by the constitution, both copyright and patent should be abolished, to be replaced by law that properly secures authors’ and inventors’ exclusive right to their writings and discoveries. The government should be strictly limited in this and should not use it as an excuse to assume unconstitutional power to grant transferable monopolies such that these may benefit the corporations that covet them (and the legislators who enjoy the latter’s lobbying). Other nations/jurisdictions should also confine their legislation to the protection of natural rights rather than the granting of monopolies.

It should also be noted that the loss of monopoly, whether through being rendered ineffective by piracy or legislation, does not warrant compensation, so there is no justification for any levy or tax to that end, nor even as a separate means of bypassing the marketplace for the government to procure art and knowledge on the people’s behalf. A free market, as should have existed for the last three centuries, is sufficient and proper.

1. Spread mankind’s good works of art and knowledge to the four corners of the world

Our mission as an emancipated collective is to promote the progress of science and useful arts by shedding light on the world around us, and ourselves as human beings.

2. Create and publish your own work, enjoy and share each other’s, use it, build upon it, thrive and prosper

Our individual mission as free men is to contribute our own light, to recast the light of others, and thus to be free to stand upon the shoulders of others who have contributed theirs before us, so that we may cast a brighter light further into the shadows.

3. Pay others to do good work as you would be paid to do yours

There is no taint or stigma in commerce, in exchanging our goods or labour, nor in accepting reward for our art, nor in rewarding others. Indeed, to thrive and prosper through our creative talents is an achievement to be proud of, and just as we should have the liberty to exchange our labour, to seek reward for our creativity and insight, so we should respect that liberty and aspiration in others. Cultural liberty is not about creating a non-commercial ghetto, but about being emancipated to share and build upon all human culture, whether for love or money. It is time to end the so called ‘permission culture’.

So make no mistake concerning commerce, there’s nothing inherently wrong in being a merchant. The wrong is in privileging merchants with our liberty, for then pejoratives of pirates and piracy are the inevitable result as those named as such assert their natural liberty. As Richard Stallman puts it: “Free as in free speech, not as in free beer”.

4. Restore everyone’s liberty – accept no surrender, deny privilege

We are impelled to work toward abolishing the unethical privileges of copyright and patent. In the interim we neutralise the privileges we have through copyleft licenses, or otherwise relinquish them. This is not a mercenary pursuit of cheap promotion, but a philanthropic manumission of our fellows. Similarly, we do not accept even the voluntary surrender of others’ liberty as a reward for the publication of our work. The monopolies of copyright and patent, being properly recognised as unnatural and unethical privileges, must be rejected as intolerable to the members of an egalitarian and emancipated civilisation.

5. Guard our apprehension of the truth against those who would impair it

The natural right to liberty is delimited by the natural right to truth. Cultural liberty does not encompass the freedom to present another’s work as one’s own, nor to modify another’s work and present it as theirs. Consequently, the author’s derivative right is to accuracy in attribution (whether explicit or implicit), not to attribution per se. Credit is a matter of respect, not an obligation to be jealously prosecuted.

6. Respect each other’s privacy – abet no burglary, remedy theft

Privacy is also under threat in this time, as its invasion by the state (and the corporations that lobby it) is considered necessary for the policing of citizens’ communications, to detect infringement of monopolies. Consequently bogeyman excuses are co-opted to obtain sanction for this unethical abrogation of a natural right even more fundamental than liberty.

An individual’s private domain is thus out of bounds to those who would restore and assert their cultural liberty. Invasion (burglary) and violation (theft) of an individual’s privacy remain as acts to be abhorred, whether their material or intellectual work is removed or communicated as a result (irrespective of authorship). However, we may of course invite others into our homes, and confide our secrets to them, even make them privy to our private works, but we can only rely upon their respect for us to constrain them to discretion. We cannot bind them to silence with the law, nor can they alienate themselves from their liberty. Thus they cannot surrender their freedom of speech in a non-disclosure agreement (though they may make silence a condition of continued employment or future reward).

An author’s and inventor’s exclusive right derives from the individual’s natural right to privacy.

7. Protect life, for all, as equals

All men are born free and equal, and have four key, natural and inalienable rights: foremost life, followed by privacy, truth, and liberty. It is to preserve these rights for all as equals that we collectively create, empower, and elect a government to protect them.

Thus we have a duty to protect the life of others, and that includes desisting from speech that incites violence, whether against individuals (Salman Rushdie) or classes (sex, race, religion), or endorses abuse (of suspects and other non-consenting adults, or those unable to give consent such as minors).

It should be recognised that corporations are neither human beings nor equivalent to individuals and consequently have no natural rights, though they may benefit from the collected rights of their constituency, e.g. effective privacy of collectively owned buildings.

_____________________________________

1 “Monopolies are sacrifices of the many to the few.” James Madison in a letter of October 17, 1788



 

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