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IP Nihilism Ad Coelum et Ad Inferos · Wednesday September 09, 2009 by Crosbie Fitch

I’m amused to confront the warped mind of the IP Nihilist, and yet bemused that it’s so difficult deprogramming them from some of the belief systems they’ve become indoctrinated with (more severely than IP monopolists are in believing copyright to be a natural right).

They have this strange notion that because intellectual works may be infinitely reproduced (well, at least until you run out of atoms in the universe with which to digitally represent them), that they may as well be treated as infinite resources, and therefore disqualified from constituting property – after all, they explain, it would be immoral to enable people to enclose infinite resources.

So as a hypothetical example, let’s say I take a few days to write some software for a client who has invited me to tender. I demonstrate my software, but tell the client they can’t have my intellectual property until they pay me good money for it.

According to the IP nihilist, because my software can be infinitely reproduced it is immoral for me to enclose it as my property, and that therefore the law should turn a blind eye should a burglar steal a copy of my software and deliver it to what would have been my client. Or at least, the burglar is guilty of no more than trespass, as no IP should be recognised to have been stolen.

The IP nihilist has mistaken a state granted monopoly’s constraint on the public’s liberty to make copies, as the copyright holder’s ownership of all copies of a particular intellectual work.

Therefore, they incorrectly deduce, if copyright is wrong, the concept of IP and owning intellectual work is wrong.

No, let’s not be so silly, people still own the books on their shelves, they’ve simply had their liberty to make copies of them suspended. It’s the state granted monopoly that’s wrong, not the recognition of intellectual works as property.

Simply because people should be free to make and sell copies of their own property, that doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as property. And simply because published works can notionally be copied without limit, that doesn’t mean the public has a justification to seize all intellectual works (including each other’s private intellectual property), nor to discount their theft as a non-event.

It is the intellectual work that takes the effort and that is the property of its creator or purchaser. Simply because copies could be made at negligible cost doesn’t mean the work may be seized from someone without their consent, nor that it should remain unsecured by the law.

So yes, the public should be free to reproduce the works in its possession ad coelum or even ad infinitum, but that doesn’t extend in the other direction ad inferos such that the public should be free to take copies of private works, private intellectual property.

If you want to copy something, at least buy the original, don’t steal it. You should be free to make copies of the software you obtain legitimately, but that doesn’t mean the law should turn a blind eye if you steal copies from someone. Free as in speech, not as in beer.

Abolish the unnatural intellectual monopoly (restoring our liberty), and then we’re left with perfectly natural intellectual property. Our liberty is the freedom to make copies, not to steal them. And simply because you can set your PC to produce a billion copies of an MP3 file on your multi-terabyte hard drive that doesn’t mean you get to steal a copy of that MP3 file from your neighbour’s recording studio – on the confused pretext they’re immorally enclosing an infinite resource (or even the facile “It’s ok because they still have a copy”). It is the reproducibility that is infinite, not the resource (the intellectual work).

Ibutton77 said 3418 days ago :

Card carrying IP Nihilist here, hi. :)

I like to consider Crosbie my ally. Our beliefs regarding digital information and economics, while stemming from different foundations, appear to lead to identical practical results save in the unusual circumstance of a bad actor willfully absconding data from a private hoard.

Feel free to correct me if I’m off the mark of course, but Crosbie agrees with me that once data is voluntarily shared with a larger audience, regardless of what compensation was involved, that that data now lay at the mercy of it’s new possessors as to whether it will be rebroadcast potentially to the whole world.

Crosbie’s concern against IP nihilists such as myself lay primarily with the case of where one or more individuals wish to keep data secret. In this case, if a bad actor (I often cast a fictional “data ninja” into this role :3 ) eavesdrops on this data, that is where my view and Crosbie’s view begin to diverge.

We agree that Data Ninja should be prosecuted. Aggressively. Though we disagree on the charges or how the sentencing should be calculated.

I maintain that we should hold significantly greater sovereignty for a person’s privacy and data security than our culture or laws presently allow. I argue that hard earned data is vitally important, only that it cannot easily be quantified and assessed as though it were physical, measurable property.

Crosbie asserts that intellectual works should continue to be quantified as property (somehow), perhaps assessed in a similar way to oil paintings, and that eavesdropping where intellectual works are involved should be prosecuted as a literal form of theft.

Physical property can be quantified (measured, weighed, examined for material content, etc) and rectified (Maltese falcon missing? Find Maltese falcon! Found? Return to proper owner! It only has one possible physical location.)

I know of no way IP could be, however. This novel is your life’s work? and it’s unpublished, and virtually incomparable to any previously published work? What is it worth? Well, you’ve spent 20 hours a week on average over 30 years writing the thing. Do we assess it based on hourly wages? Well, you have published a dozen novels in the past, and none of them have sold a dime. Does that make this work valueless also? Data Ninja stole the hard drive in this case, leaving no copy to assess, so I can’t even read it just to tell you what I’d pay for a copy.

And of course, how could I read it without compensating the author first? Once read, I would be at liberty to redistribute the thing, so I’m sure the author would expect compensation prior to.. er.. assessment. :/

The second step of this scenario is the part where our views begin to starkly diverge.

Crosbie feels, so long as data is voluntarily made available, then whoever possesses it may redistribute the work freely.

While a step in the right direction, I believe that a person should have the recognized right to share absolutely any data in their possession. Regardless of who authored the data. Regardless of how that author hopes to recoup their costs for having initially assembled the data. Regardless of how the data got into the possessors hands.

I contend that our forbearers invented the concept of “property” in order to properly address the fact that physical property, goods and land, can be difficult to distribute and share. A hairbrush cannot benefit the entire community as efficiently as it can benefit an individual, and so long as there are a greater demand for personally owned hairbrushes than there is a supply, people will compete to obtain them. This competition provides economic incentive for those skilled at hairbrush making to increase the supply. Since each hairbrush can only have one owner and can only have one physical manifestation, this system does an admirable job of obtaining the greatest good for the individual as well as for the group from a resource which is limited and difficult to manufacture or reproduce.

However, I do not believe that makes this system, nor the concept of “property” that it engenders, the right fit for virtually any other arrangement. For example it is non-ideal for people to be treated as property. Societies which have tried have failed in the face of those who know of better ways to express “human capitol”. I say it is even contentious to treat animals (livestock, pets, wildlife) as “property”. I say it is wiser to treat deed of guardianship over the animals as property. Such abstract deeds, like physical goods, being irreproducible and limited in supply.

Ideas however — words and sounds and sights, literature and music and cinema — do not benefit at all from being traded in any form similar to physical property, nor can they be deeded.

Whatever meme can be digitized, unlike the hairbrush, can be easily shared. Every member of a society — indeed any member of any society capable of consuming the meme — can benefit from it simultaneously. The supply is (indistinguishable from) infinite, as consumers are counter-intuitively more well suited to reproducing the meme than the originators are. Thus the process of distribution benefits from exothermic participation, and the more popular it is the greater distribution it can have for free.

This sounds much like Crosbie’s accidental strawman in TFA, however I do not claim that hoarding knowledge is immoral. Whatever knowledge a person releases can potentially benefit the globe, but I believe that not only should there be no obligation for them to do so, instead our culture and our laws should strongly resolve to protect the sovereignty of a person’s privacy.

The flipside of the coin “any person should be able to share any data in their possession that they chose” is that “any person should have no obligation to share any information in their possession they do not choose, with very few and specific court ordered exceptions”. Such privacy protection should be directly encouraged by a healthy government. Educating the public on encryption and computer security is potentially as valuable as educating them about drunk driving and safe sex.

Furthermore, the value and the expression of memes are fluid. As water compared to a stone, as air compared to water, is a meme compared to air.

Any part of a meme can have value. From the plot of a movie, to the popularity of a character, to a series of witty quotes, to a particularly poignant wide-angle camera shot that the director and cameraman never foresaw the impact of.

The truth of all art is that beauty and value are in the eye of the beholder. While oft times good art is produced by good artists trying to express a particular idea or emotion to their audience, just as often a work of art is appreciated for reasons entirely unrelated to why it was formed in the first place. Like crystals of ice in the snow catching light from the right angle as your eye moves through the scene, the value of art depends heavily upon what common chords it strikes within viewers.

Thus, we IP nihilists contend that authors are below-average custodians for the memes they have spawned. This due in no disrespect to the artists, but instead because the value is ultimately assessed by the audience, and can thus be best amplified and replicated by the same audience.

So, it benefits society to distribute memes at a rate limited only by the most enthusiastic rebroadcasters with access to the material. Not only that, but for the greatest societal benefit, we should be allowed to remix memes however we please, and these in turn will see redistribution proportional to their popularity. Thus, a majority of production of content can borrow from existing content, dropping the onerous intellectual cost required to make new art until the question of compensation stops being such a terror to producers, and micropayment compensation and pro bono surge in popularity.

Crosbie’s concern about categorizing memes into neat packages of IP threatens this natural economy of memetic propogation very directly.

Crosbie and I have discussed the matter of Data Ninja at some length, and he has suggested that the data pilfered by DN, should it be released into the wild, ought to be treated in precisely the same manner as copyrighted data is today. It should become illegal to share, persons trafficking the data should be issued the equivalent of DMCA notices to censor their sharing, and any material derived from the leaked data should be destroyed or remanded into the “custody” of the original, violated author. Again, please correct me if I am missing your meaning Cros, but I have plumbed you pretty heavily on this point just to be sure.

I have also made it clear in my discussions with Crosbie in the past that this assertion from TFA is flawed:

> Therefore, they incorrectly
> deduce, if copyright is
> wrong, the concept of IP
> and owning intellectual
> work is wrong.

I have said on several occasions that, at least speaking for myself, I do not disown the concept of IP due to monopolistic concerns regarding copyright. Instead, I disown IP due to the toxic effect of literally any censorship beyond a person exercising their own right to privacy, thus disowning copyright, and thus seeing the fall of it’s monopolistic tendencies as a quaint side benefit.

The fact is that I oppose censorship. I would also oppose monopoly, but my first duty is against censorship. That this happens to overthrow monopoly is agreeable, but tertiary. Once we’ve got censorship licked, then I can start worrying about monopoly, oligopoly and cartels. I think they will be easier to fight once the public is properly armed with the free flow of ideas.

Crosbie is unfortunately advocating that which I would classify as sacrificing the free flow of information. I contend that invading global informational transactions in order to reclaim “copyrighted property” is harmful for reasons entirely aside from monopolistic advantage. I contend this is not only a form of censorship, but one of the worst forms. Crosbie championing these methods to reclaim (reclaim?) involuntarily leaked data makes this harm and this censorship no less real and no less harmful. Perhaps less frequent, but with no counterbalancing benefit less of a wrong is still wrong.

I say that censorship to eradicate ideas from the public consciousness is heinous. I see no distinction between a government forcing public retcon to cover up it’s malfeasance, the entertainment cartel forcing public retcon to make it’s digital goods artificially scarce, or a violated author forcing public retcon to.. uh.. er.. what was the goal here, again? Deterrence, or something? To prevent people from selling items at a profit when there is no market for copies? I always get lost at this point.

Crosbie does not arrive at his conclusions due strictly to his distaste for monopoly or backtracking from the present system to work around what he sees as distasteful any more than he accuses us nihilists of doing. Instead, he starts from a set of axia (he has identified these to me so far as “the natural laws”, which I think sound fascinating but have not yet found enumerated anywhere), and he grows a tree of proposed policy from these roots. I do the same, though I am probably starting from different axia.

As a result, Crosbie appears to appreciate whatever limbs from my tree coincide with his. He seems to ignore whatever limbs of my tree do not, unless/until they conflict with his. Then, as we should in order to reach more perfect accord, we argue the matter. He does not yet seem to appreciate that my tree is grown using the same method his is, or concern himself too heavily with how I’ve arrived at whatever conclusions I have. I fear that in his eyes, at any given moment, I am either agreeing with him or speaking nonsense. If this is true, it is only a symptom of the fact that whatever branches in my tree coincide with his did not get there from the same growth pattern. Nor should that be required. Truth is truth, even if you learn it via divergent channels of evidence. Thus, when and where our trees diverge, it is not because I transitioned from following your precise chain of logic into some local error in judgement. It is because I am carefully following a pattern dictated from a source far away from the point where we have diverged. Given our goals are the same (via empirical understanding of human kind and it’s environment, design policy to bring the greatest benefit to individuals and to societies), our complete trees should grow to be congruent if we do this right. Just like mathematicians using different approaches to solve the same equation, they should arrive at the same conclusions. Whatever truths each hold as self-evident are still (ideally) truths, and thus each individual’s chosen axia should be proven via the other. Done properly, your roots would coincide with what I would see as branches, and vice versa, but the trees would resolve to the same completed shape.

Because they instead diverge, someone has forgotten to carry a 2 somewhere, and it is not necessarily anywhere near the point where the divergence really happens. I am sorry to have to maintain my belief that it is your proposed policies and logic (or possibly your axia) which are in error leading to these diverging opinions.

I am not yet certain if it has to do with confusing work with value (I contend that responsibility is the best index of value; a debate I would not mind having with Thomas Paine himself :3) or with overweighing the needs of a lone producer compared to the more likely use case of a swarm of producer/consumers.

One day we’ll get to the bottom of our schism and work it out to at least enough of an agreement to lead to mutually beneficial collaboration. We’re so close already. Presently, I’ve simply been short the free time to craft responses suited to the material in your most recent missive to me, so I took a swing at this one instead. ;3

Best wishes Crosbie, and good luck with 1p2u!

- – Jesse

Crosbie Fitch said 3418 days ago :

Jesse, thanks for a great and very interesting comment. I can at least quickly observe that I have no need to characterise those who hold a different view to mine as necessarily speaking nonsense, but that doesn’t mean that some arguments aren’t nonsense.

Some people argue against IP on some very peculiar and supernatural notions/strawmen – hence my observation of ‘warped minds’.

I suspect we both agree on the fundamentals, but you’ve come to a different conclusion as to whether IP should remain recognised, and to what extent a government should attempt the remedy of its theft.

So, I apologise if I’ve implied that all IP nihilists have warped minds. The aspersion was a bit tongue-in-cheek anyway… ;-)

Ibutton77 said 3416 days ago :

w00t. :3

Oh, and yeah: Comment system apparently works! ;D




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