Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Christianity and Copyrights

I have recently been reading a book called Against Intellectual Monopoly, and found an interesting article entitled "Christianity and IP [Intellectual Property Laws]." The author takes the position that the laws of the State are only legitimate and worthy of obeisance insofar as they comport with God's law. Since ideas cannot be owned, says the author (Paul Green), then federal copyright laws are arbitrary manifestations of the state alone (not God) and bear no moral weight for anyone. In other words, according to Green, not only do the Scriptures not speak about intellectual property rights, but they cannot reasonably be used to argue in favor of the monopoly on ideas which copyrights or patents represent.

Some Christians believe that the State, as a "minister of good" writes laws which any and all citizens are morally required to obey. According to the author, it is an incorrect reading of Scripture to believe that any and all laws created by the state are good and must be obeyed. He points out that Romans 13 was abused by Hitler to "neutralize" the Christian churches; certainly, most will agree, WWII Germany is a good example of a state that was not "good."
Romans says there is "no authority except God's" – that is, if it is not God's law it has no proper authority (but we should be prudent...for the Lord's sake and our own...) Only in so far as the state is punishing an actual wrongdoer should we support (including by taxation) any action from our conscience rather than just prudently comply due to the threat of official "wrath."

Another interesting insight near the end of Green's article:
Regarding prudence in the face of an immediate tax demand, Jesus enlightened his disciples when He said in Matthew 17:26 "the children of the king don’t have to pay taxes… but we don’t want to make these tax collectors angry… pay the tax for you and me."

His argument being that Jesus did not view the State's rule as binding upon the conscience or posessing an intrinsically moral quality; rather, Jesus obeyed the temple tax so as to "not give offense" (ESV). So what is it, guys? Does the State write good laws? Or its laws only good so far as they reflect God's will? Also, then, is Green correct regarding what he says are the implications of this for copyright laws?

Another interesting article dealing with Copyrights is by Gary North, which I also recommend.


  1. IP is a difficult but interesting field. I'll have to read those two articles when I get some more time. I just wanted to comment on his implications.

    I would say he is quite wrong in regards to if Christians should obey copyright law for a few reasons.

    1) We are called to submit to authorities, even when they are unjust (1 Peter 2:13-25, etc). Our duty to obey the state is not derived from some notion that the state is intrinsically good, therefore we are morally obligated to obey it (as your summary of Green seems to suggest), but rather we are morally obligated to obey because God commands us to.

    2) Regarding Matthew 17, Green seems to completely ignore that the tax in question is a temple tax and has nothing to do with the Roman State. Peter asked Christ if He paid the atonement money (Exodus 30:11-16). Christ's response is that He, the Son of God, is not required to pay a tax, or make an offering, to His Father. Yet His identity was not fully revealed, so to avoid unnecessary disturbance, He paid it.

  2. Brandon,

    I know this may come as a shock to you, but I tend to agree with your first point. I have not looked into it to say if I agree with your second point, but your first point seems to be the best way to understand Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. We all need to keep in mind that the government at the time the NT was written was not a just and good government, but we are still told to obey it.

  3. I appreciate your response, Brandon, and I do think your understanding of Matt. 17 is more robust than Green's brief analysis, and as such would have to say that it's not a good example on Green's part. Regarding your first point, however, I do believe that all Christians at some point must acknowledge that it all breaks down eventually. I mean, just as an example, or perhaps as a question for you, lets consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The man is an avowed pacifist, a believer that God puts leaders in place and that we should obey those leaders, and yet he eventually conspires to kill Adolf Hitler. Why? Was it because Hitler was being a minister for good? Perhaps it is because Bonhoeffer understood (or at least came to believe) that Romans 13 cannot be used as justification for full-blown obedience to the State in all matters.

    I'm interested in your take on this question, because if you answer that Bonhoeffer was wrong, that he should have let Hitler continue on his course that puts you in interesting company and the conversation will go down paths I have never considered before. But if you say that bad leaders (in the extreme example of Hitler) are to be opposed, then you are at least conceding that there are some States which do not make just laws and which we do not - therefore - owe obedience to in every area of their legislation.

    Perhaps a better question: do you agree with Augustine (and Martin Luther King, Jr.) that unjust laws must not be obeyed?

  4. By the way, I have an overall approach I'm taking here, but I want to go bit by bit. I want us to see if it is true that, as Augustine says, "an unjust law is no law at all." If it is, in fact, true, then we can pair things down a bit to the more interesting question of whether Intellectual Property rights are unjust laws. I contend that they are, in fact, unjust laws, but I don't want to get ahead of myself by discussing that until the idea has been fleshed out as to what the status of an unjust law actually is.

  5. I actually just had a similar discussion in regards to slavery and hermeneutics related to homosexuality pomomusings and my pastors have been preaching through 1 Peter 2... so perhaps God is preparing me to suffer unjustly at the hands of the state.

    Must Christians submit to every order of the state?

    When Peter was faced with this question, he said "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). But it's very important to look at what exactly Peter was referring to.

    "27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.”

    So it is clear that the exception that Peter makes to the command to submit to authorities is a case of the state requiring the Christian to directly disobey a command from God, the Great Commission. In that case, we should obey God rather than men.

    But Peter does not say we should only submit to the state when their laws are just. In fact, he says the exact opposite in 1 Peter 2. In v13-17 Peter commands us to submit to every human institution, including the emperor. In v18-25 he specifically refers to slaves suffering under an unjust master. I believe his commands to the slave applies equally to the citizen, yet if he were to state openly in a letter addressed to a church that the Roman state was unjust, he would hinder the spread of the gospel even more by giving Rome an excuse to persecute. So he does so in a roundabout way.

    Should a Christian submit to unjust laws? Yes, unless they require him to disobey God. I just don't see anywhere in Scripture that we are to determine if a law is just or not before we obey it. In fact, I see the opposite.

    Consider the context of Romans 13. Was Paul writing in the context of a state ruling justly or was Rome full of unjust laws and evil?

    In regards to Bonhoeffer... I think I would have to say his attempt to kill Hitler was wrong. I just don't see any biblical warrant for it. If Hitler commanded him to kill a Jew, then he should object, because God commands us not to murder. But does that mean he should therefore seek to kill Hitler? No. Note that in the famous render unto Caesar passage, Jesus first responded "why tempt ye me?" It was a temptation because Jesus knew the Roman authorities were unjust, just as I'm sure Bonhoeffer faced incredible temptation.

  6. Who said this? I think you probably know:

    "You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: 'How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?' The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that 'an unjust law is no law at all.'

    "Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law."

  7. A question for everyone.

    Are all laws either just or unjust? Is there a middle ground? What are speed limit laws, just of unjust? How do we tell?

  8. So Brandon, you actually do agree that we ought to disobey unjust laws, as well; your definition of "just" and "unjust" laws is much tighter than Aquinas'. For you, an unjust law is a law which requires direct disobedience to God's stated command, and for Aquinas an "unjust" law is one "which is not rooted in eternal law and natural law."

  9. Josh,

    I think some laws are arbitrary. The speed limit is a good example. In Kansas, I can drive on the highway at 65, but if I'm in a delivery truck I have to go 55. In one state the limit is 75 on the highway, while in another it is 65. There is no uniformity; but there is no moral value attached to the number, either.

  10. Adam,

    Do you think that since, as Christians, we are to obey the government that speed limit laws are moral? Not moral in themselves, but moral in the fact that if we break the speed limit laws we are breaking God's command to obey the law.

  11. Josh,

    Sure I do. After all:
    A) There is nothing unjust about the speed limit.
    B) The speed limit is a reasonable way of preventing accidents (or at least limiting their severity).

    The speed limit is within reason, and I can only think of a handful of instances where it is appropriate to break the speed limit (say, the person in your car is dying and needs a hospital).

  12. The quote from MLKJ is nice, but I couldn’t find the text he was expositing. Sounds like he was expositing Augustine, not Peter or Paul or Jesus.

    you actually do agree that we ought to disobey unjust laws, as well; your definition of "just" and "unjust" laws is much tighter than Aquinas'.

    No. I would say there are unjust laws that we ought to obey. There are also unjust laws that we should not obey. The difference between the two is whether we are required to directly disobey a command from God.

    As far as a law being just or unjust… I’m not sure I could say there is a middle ground, but I haven’t really considered it. If a law, like a speed limit, is arbitrary, then I would probably tend to think it is unjust. I might say the fact that I have to obey a state law regarding how fast I may drive to work is unjust because I would much rather be driving on a private road that various government barriers prevent from existing ;-) Or consider a federally imposed 55mph speed limit to save gas. If it is a law that exceeds the state’s proper role, then it is morally wrong, and thus unjust, is it not?

    John Piper and John MacArthur both have good sermons on Romans 13 that address your questions and are worth considering

    Subjection to God and Subjection to the State

    Various MacArthur sermons on Romans 13

  13. Firstly, Brandon, let me say that the deeper I get into this discussion the more tempted I am to use straw-men and absurd examples. I hope that I do a sufficient job of resisting that tendency.

    I will be clearer regarding my characterization of your view: You believe that we ought to disobey unjust laws, just as I do, but you would only say that an unjust law is a law which directly requires us to disobey God's own commands. I expand unjust law to include laws which are not evident from Scripture or nature (this includes the IP laws under discussion).

    I find it a little ironic that while you are opposed to Hitler's own people removing him from power by force (therefore stopping a world war) you are almost certainly in favor of a foreign power coming in and using the same violent force to remove him.

    While I think the texts you quote are sufficient to argue that Christians should not be rebels (at least under ordinary circumstances), I'm still of the opinion that your understanding of the State with regards to Romans 13 is eventually forced to break down. Let me try some thought experiments (forgive my constant WWII references; I'm not very creative):

    You're a German during WWII who knows that his neighbor is hiding Jews in his attic. According to State law you must tell the authorities. If you disobey you are committing the sin of breaking State law, and probably the sin of lying. If you obey you are breaking none of God's laws.

    As far as I can tell, your understanding of Rom. 13 would require you to turn in the neighbors, though it seems obvious to me and many others that the State has written an unjust law that must be disobeyed and yet does not conflict with God's law.

    This seems like a clear example of a time when the unjust law of a state should be disobeyed, even though the law being disobeyed is not addressed in Scripture.

    Governments around the world are counting on its citizens being passive and permissive regarding their activities. Your understanding of citizens and the State falls right into that realm of behavior.

    Let me instead suggest that Christians ought to peacefully oppose unjust laws. Even if the State isn't asking you to worship a golden calf, it is still wrong to bow your knee to the State and its arbitrary demands in the name of good old fashioned Christian Patriotism (these are, after all, only fallible sinners). Because it cannot be consistently held to, I'm tempted to think that your understanding of civil obedience is beyond what Paul (or Peter) had in mind when they told us to submit to the government.

  14. I think reductio ad absurdum is an acceptable and helpful form of argumentation. If our views lead us to absurd conclusions down the road, then point it out and let's re-asses.

    There are a few things to point out:

    1. There is a difference between rebellion and disobedience. Seeking to overthrow Hitler is different from refusing to obey him.

    2. You introduce the idea of breaking God’s law for a higher purpose when you talk about lying.

    Looking at your example, I cannot commend that the German lie to the soldiers. He could remain silent. Doing so would likely result in punishment, perhaps death for himself and the Jews.

    Governments around the world are counting on its citizens being passive and permissive regarding their activities. Your understanding of citizens and the State falls right into that realm of behavior.

    I know. And as a libertarian it is difficult to ignore that. But I am trying my best to live in light of Scripture, remembering that I am a sojourner on this earth, that my citizenship belongs in heaven.

    Obeying the state is not worshiping the state. True, there are many who do worship the state, but my obedience to the state is not rooted in my worship of it, but rather in my worship of God who has placed it in authority over me.

    Let us consider the absurd result of your view. If it was acceptable for Bonhoeffer to assassinate Hitler, then it is acceptable for Christians to bomb abortion clinics and the doctors who are responsible for the holocaust of the unborn.

  15. Here's where it either becomes ironic or merely humorous. I also oppose Bonhoeffer's attempt to assassinate Hitler, but on different grounds than you. You, it would appear, oppose the assassination of Hitler on the grounds that he has been placed there and ordained by God as "the State."

    I think that Hitler should have been overthrown, and if he could have been overthrown without murdering him, then that would have been a good thing. After all, if we're going to take the "God has ordained the leader" approach," then God also ordained him to be overthrown by a bunch of libertarian rascals.

    Now, why would you not turn over the Jewish people to the State? After all, it is the law, and God established that law.

    By the way, sorry I put up the straw man that equated your obedience with worship. It was uncalled for.

  16. I would oppose the assassination of a government leader because as Romans 13 tells us, he has been appointed by God, and because citizens are not to take justice into their own hands. What other meaning could Romans 13 have? Is Paul only instructing Christians not to rebel against just authorities? Why would a Christian want to resist a just authority and thus necessitate Paul warning them not to? Again, the taxes Paul is talking about were very unjust, yet he tells Christians to submit and pay them, as did Christ. If you are correct, then Paul should have told Christians to decide first if the tax was just, and only then pay it, and he would have laid out principles for determining if the tax was just.

    Also, my argument is not strictly rooted in God's decree. I'm not advocating a hyper-calvinist, frosen chosen response, so your comment about the libertarian rascals is not quite relevant. I'm advocating what Paul says, that authorities are over us because God has appointed them.

    How do you understand Romans 13? Is Paul only referring to just authorities? What about 1 Peter 2 where he specifically speaks about suffering unjustly?

    Also, on what grounds would you oppose Bonhoeffer's actions?

    And what about the abortion clinics?

  17. I guess I must not have been clear. I would oppose the murder of Hitler and of abortionists on the grounds that murder is wrong, and that we ought not to sin so that a "greater good" may result.

    First of all, I want to say, that Paul is not necessarily talking only about just authorities, because obviously, I think, all authorities have elements of injustice in their system of government. Paul knows this, and we know this as well. But I would argue that Paul seems to want us to submit to all the taxes which are required of us (in light of Jesus' statement that we render to Caesar that which is Caesar's), and that we are to obey the just laws which the State passes. According to Piper, part of the reason he doesn't discuss the exceptions in Rom. 13 (the times we may disobey) is because "Paul is probably writing to be read by government officials as well as by the church in Rome." Paul doesn't want to send a message to Rome that Christians will overthrow them if they pass bad laws (that's not necessarily what I'm advocating, either). Though I do advocate peaceful non-violent resistance when times are necessary, and I can give Biblical examples of people doing just that if you desire.

    With regard to my understanding of Romans 13, I am not entirely alone when I argue that Rom. 13 & 1 Peter 2 do need some reading between the lines. John Piper, in his July 3, 2005 sermon on subjection to God and the state, discusses the seemingly unqualified nature of Paul's comments (and by extension, I think, Peter's comments):

    "If the Bible allows for civil disobedience sometimes...then why does Paul speak the way he does in Romans 13? Why is there such a seemingly unqualified of the rights of civil authority?" He then goes on to list three reasons which I consider peripheral to what I'm trying to do here.

    Clearly however, Piper sees that there are exceptions; the text allows that sometimes we are to disobey the State. Now, his exceptions are narrower than mine, but there can be no doubt that he sees what I see as well: that Paul does have room for exceptions, even though the language seems to be quite wooden.

  18. I've said from the beginning that there are exceptions. I just don't think the exceptions are "whatever we think is unjust."

    I agree with Piper when he says:
    I cannot imagine Paul writing this way if Paul thought that the ultimate thing was being treated fairly by the government. But I can imagine him writing this way if faith and humility and self-denial and readiness to suffer for Christ is the main thing... The main issue is not being treated justly in this world by civil authorities. The main issue is trusting Christ, being humble and denying ourselves for the glory of Christ and the good of others.

  19. Maybe at this point the conversation could turn to whether the government's monopolizing of ideas to the first person to file a patent or copyright is a just law, because more than civil disobedience on this matter, I would like to see changes in federal law with regards to patents and copyrights. Not that I think it will ever happen (the RIAA and MPAA are far too effective as lobbyists). Though most of the American public seems to in principle agree that copyrights are good, in action they don't. According to Gary North's article on LewRockwell.com 75 million computers in the United States have peer 2 peer file sharing software. You know what I call that? A mandate for change, and a recognition that patents and intellectual property rights is a scam that should, at the very least, be changed, because the status quo is on the way out the door.

  20. If that's all you're interested in, then there's really no need for this whole discussion. We live in a democracy where we are all, to some extent, civil magistrates. If we do not like something in our government, it is part of the nature of our government to allow us to change it. That is not rebellion.

    And as to the comment about 75 million people with peer to peer software... I think that says a lot more about people's willingness to break God's command not to steal than it does about people's philosophy of law regarding intellectual property. If those 75 million people actually agreed and understood the libertarian position that intellectual property laws are an unjust monopoly perpetrated by the state, well then Ron Paul would be president.

  21. So it comes down to this question: why do you believe that downloading information is stealing? Because the RIAA says so? They are a cartel, and they represent a group of businesses. No one is stealing the CDs they are printing, or the records they are making or the DVDs they are printing. What some people are doing is copying the information contained on those discs and distributing it freely to whomever wants it. You seem so sure that copying information is theft, but the interesting thing about stealing is that after you steal something, you have it and the other person no longer does. Can you think of any other thing in the entire world that you can steal and yet the other person still has the item that was supposedly stolen?

    It's kind of like what Mindy Kaling says (you might remember her as Kelly from The Office): "You know those anti-piracy ads before movies that say, 'You wouldn't steal a car, would you?' Well, yeah, I would, if I could steal someone's car and then they'd still have their car. Sure."

    But the same problem applies to patents. A patent is a governmentally sanctioned monopoly given to a person who was the first to file with the magistrate. A patent is nothing; it's just an idea that others are not allowed to use.

    So I take issue with the idea that these 75 million people are stealing. They're not. They're exchanging information and doing whatever they want with that information. Just because the MPAA has lobbied the government into making laws favoring their industries doesn't make file sharing stealing.

  22. It's important to note a few things here:

    1) My comment about stealing was in regards to the motivation of the 75 million you mentioned. 99% of those people have never considered libertarian intellectual property theory. Therefore, as far as they know, what they are doing is stealing. It is inappropriate to use them as evidence of growing support for libertarian legal theory. They just like to get stuff for free.

    2) We have shifted the conversation now. Previously we were talking about whether or not a Christian is obligated to obey an unjust law of the state. Now we are talking about whether or not a specific law is just or unjust.

    3) I am still undecided on the issue. There are very good reasons for rejecting IP laws, including the reaons you mention. And I do not take the issue lightly. My potential career as a filmmaker is very directly affected by the issue.

    4) We can argue about whether or not we should have IP laws, but the fact is, we do. And this is important in considering whether or not you should download music, movies, and software without paying for it. Those movies, music, and software were created with the understanding that they are protected by copyright. Thus certain decisions were made during their creation. Those products would be drastically different if the creators did not believe a copyright law would insure their revenue. The Dark Knight would not be the Dark Knight you saw in theaters if copyright laws did not exist.

    The creators understood that a contract existed between them and whoever chose to use their product. People who then bought said product did so under the agreement that they would not copy and disribute the product. Thus it is an issue of contract, IMO. You may say you can't contract an idea, but I think Non-Disclosure Agreements might be a decent objection.

    Thus we may debate IP laws, but as long as they exist, I think you are breaking an agreement between yourself and the creator if you choose to ignore their terms of use.

    5) And if we are going to bring this back around to the Christians duty to obey said laws: You have already stated that Paul was referring to unjust taxes and that he was telling Christians to pay those taxes. If you object to paying for music because it's only protected by an evil cartel and not a legitimate law, then your objection should also justify your exemption from paying taxes to the evil government cartel... but Paul would seem to disagree.

    btw, I appreciate the sharpening and it's nice to see someone passionate about libertarian ideas

  23. In the book Against Intellectual Monopoly, the authors point out that Hollywood emerged because pirates wanted to escape the patents owned by producers of film equipment on the east coast; thus, the MPAA was born. So you might say that it's ironic how the birth of the film industry in Hollywood emerged from piracy, and now they are the ones crying foul when others want to use their intellectual property as well.

    I suspect that if copyright laws didn't exist as we know them, we could expect a few changes, but most notably, right out of the gate DVDs would be sold with more special features, more interesting and detailed packaging, and would be produced at higher quality. You see, part of the reason why I collect records is for the whole experience. I can get music if I want off the web. But you can't download the physical experience of holding a record, enjoying the large artwork, or physically putting it on the spindle and watching it turn to play your songs.

    Its the same sort of thing with music and movies. Piracy can only give people so much, but it can't give them the whole experience. Derek Webb recently released his latest album with a graphic novel included. He specifically said this was because he knew it would motivate people to do more than simply download his songs (which, by the way, he encourages people to do, because it brings WAY more people to his gigs; just look at his website and see someone who understands the way things are). As it is, the Dark Knight comes with few special features, it comes with no deleted scenes, no featurettes on Heath Ledger or anything else that fans want. Someday down the road WB will probably release a $40 packaged Special Edition, but by then it will have been too late because the market will be saturated with the devalued, featureless DVDs that already cost full price. So in a world without copyrights, I reckon The Dark Knight would be a better experience once it came to home video.

    One more thing, just because the packaging of an object has agreements written on it does not mean that the purchaser agrees to those terms. The words say that the purchaser does, but that means little. Consider that once someone purchases something, that item belongs to HIM and not to Warner Bros. or anyone else. I cannot sell you a picture of myself and then dictate to you how you may use it. If I sold it to you, then it is no longer mine to control. You can make satire of it, you can draw all over it and make fun of me, you can cut it in little pieces or make your own copies of it if you want. But if I sell you something and still have my claws in it, you can bet that it will never really be yours; that's what renting is.

    I'd write more, but I have to sleep. I also appreciate the sharpening because it's been awhile since I've engaged in... well... thought.

  24. Here's another article from the Libertarian perspective: The Unseen Cost of Patents. Not the whole case, of course.

  25. Yes, there exists an agreement between you and the creator. You may find the grounds of that agreement to be bogus, but there is an agreement none the less. If the creator did not believe there was an agreement, the product you obtained would have been drastically different. Thus to violate that agreement is fraud.

    And I'm rather puzzled by your reasoning regarding packaging. You need to admit that art as commerce would cease to exist without copyright laws. Packaging doesn't mean jack. I walk into Blockbuster to buy the Super Sweet Special Edition of The Dark Knight with 1000 hours of bonus features and an awesome case. It's being sold by WB for $35. Right next to it is the pirated copy. Everything about it is exactly the same, all 1000 hours of extras. All the details of the packaging are the exact same. It costs $4. Same thing with your record.

    And yes, pirating can give people the whole experience. Without copyright I can enjoy the whole experience of The Dark Knight in a theater for $2 because the theater doesn't have to pay WB anything. Concerts are a different matter because you're not comparing apples to apples. You're comparing CDs to live performances.

    Here is a lecture series delivered at the Mises Institute covering the history of art and economics showing how art has been funded in the past and how it affected the art. Commerce and Culture (Start at bottom)

    I cannot sell you a picture of myself and then dictate to you how you may use it.

    Yes you can if it's part of the contract.

  26. Btw, it appears that Rothbard agreed with me:

    We have seen in chapter 2 that the acid test by which we judge whether or not a certain practice or law is or not consonant with the free market is this: Is the outlawed practice implicit or explicit theft? If it is, then the free market would outlaw it; if not, then its outlawry is itself government interference in the free market. Letus consider copyright. A man writes a book or composes music. When he publishes the book or the sheet ofmusic, he imprints on the first page the word "copyright." This indicates that any man who agrees topurchase this product also agrees as part of the exchange not to recopy or reproduce this work for sale. Inother words, the author does not sell his property outright to the buyer; he sells it on condition that the buyer not reproduce it for sale. Since the buyer does not buy the property outright, but only on this condition, any infringement of the contract by him or a subsequent buyer is implicit theft and would be treated accordingly on the free market.

    Patents & Copyrights

  27. The Rothbard quote is distressing. I'll get back to you. That was a good and painful quote to what I'm trying to do, though I know, now, that there are divisions among libertarians on this issue.

    Knowing Rothbard's anarchist political views, though, I can't imagine that he thinks the government ought to enforce copyrights.

    Like I said, I'll get back to you.

  28. It would be a matter of enforcing contract, which is a legitimate function of the state (if you believe any function of the state is legitimate).

    You may find this worth skimming:
    Intellectual Privilege: The Book written by a libertarian law professor

    (and be sure to check out the author's satirical libertarian music http://www.tomwbell.com/)

    You will encounter differences amongst libertarians on this issue that usually boils down to whether or not they are utilitarian (like Mises) or some form of natural law (like Rothbard). Search mises.org for utilitarian copyright

  29. By the way, art as commerce would not cease without copyright laws. What it would do is encourage higher quality printing and lower prices.

    This is the same with CDs. Imagine, for a moment, that competition entered the market with regards to - say - the new U2 album. Now, I love U2, so this is a good comparison. Earlier this week I pre-ordered their new album No Line On The Horizon on 2 Disc Vinyl. Why vinyl? After all, I could just download the album. The answer is "the experience." I want the big artwork that comes with vinyl, I want to physically hold it, and the bargain hunter in me doesn't care about the cost ($18); I'm a dedicated fan.

    Lets just say, in this case, that copyrights don't exist and that new U2 album is fairgame (once it's released). Island/Def Jam would release the album, all the pre-ordered copies would be sold, and multiplying of the product would begin online (which already happens anyway). Immediately there would emerge a secondary market of individuals wanting to sell the same album with their own second-rate packaging, and with lower prices. What it would do might seem to initially be harmful to U2. I mean, after all, albums are the lifeline of performers, right?

    Wrong. The average artist makes a minuscule percentage of the album sold. Instead, albums (both downloaded and sold) serve an ulterior purpose for the artist: get people to my shows so I can charge them $20 a head to see me play.

    So back to the secondary market: this secondary market of knockoff U2 albums might not be illegal in my little utopia, but what will happen? A) competition between the record label and the secondary marketeers would drive the prices down to reasonable levels, so the consumers would win. B) The existence of cheaper albums would lead to more exposure and less downloading (though downloading would still lead to more exposure). C) Competition would ensue over quality of packaging, which would be just part of the ensuing "conflict" between the label and the "posers." After all, it's not just value that people want; it's overall quality, as well. The musical purists would probably always choose the albums released by the label over the knock-offs, but who really knows?

    It is a fact that album downloads lead to increased concert attendance (at least for artists like Derek Webb who seems to be keeping track), and therefore higher prices per ticket (in response to the high demand; high demand is why it cost me $200 for my wife and I to see U2 at Glendale Arena, even in the nosebleed section). Therefore, piracy is not the bane to artists that many make them out to be. The last tour U2 took brought them in over $200 million in ticket sales; piracy not only helped their bottom line, but (statistics show) encouraged concert traffic.

    All that to say that elimination of copyrights enables competition in the market, which is good for consumers. The competition and lower prices leads to increased exposure, which for musical performers is a MAJOR win. Who loses in this situation? The record label, unless they have prior arrangements with the artists to take a cut of their profits from touring.

    My one dominant presupposition: competition is a good thing.

  30. 1) You continue to assume pirated copies, including packaging, would be second-rate. There is no reason to assume that.

    2) You continue to compare apples with oranges. A band’s CD is not the same product as their live performance. Use a movie example if it helps to avoid confusion on the issue. Filmmakers don’t have concerts or any other sort of performance. They have DVDs and theater screenings, which can both be copied perfectly. And your example proves my point, the CD would no longer serve the same purpose (direct revenue), it would be an advertisement for the concert, and thus the record label may choose to create it differently, perhaps by limiting the length of song clips or the amount of songs, who knows.

    3) Your example with the competition is seriously flawed. The startup cost for the pirated material is very, very low compared to the startup cost of the original copy (recording process and everything that goes into it). Thus the original copy cannot compete with the pirated copy and remain profitable. The original producers will always lose money, thus they would not produce the product in the same way, if they produce it at all.

    4) Again, I don’t understand your great interest over packaging. My boss has a DVD that he has sold for several years. His assistant came in to my office the other day to help me determine if a DVD she had in her hand was a pirated copy. She couldn’t tell. It was 98% the same. Turns out it was pirated.

    Again, you may not like copyright, and perhaps it’s unjust, but stop pretending that getting rid of it will not drastically change all forms of art as you know it.

  31. Well I hope you didn't get the idea that I don't think it would change art. I certainly do. My point has been that it would be a change for the better.

    The authors of Against Intellectual Monopoly argue that it was once possible in human history to make money without copyrights.

    "Start with English authors selling books in the United States in the nineteenth century. “During the nineteenth century anyone was free in the United States to reprint a foreign publication” without making any payment to the author, besides purchasing a legally sold copy of the book. This was a fact that greatly upset Charles Dickens whose works, along with those of
    many other English authors, were widely distributed in the U.S.,
    and 'yet American publishers found it profitable to make arrangements with English authors. Evidence before the 1876-8 Commission shows that English authors sometimes
    received more from the sale of their books by American publishers, where they had no copyright, than from their royalties in [England] where they did have copyright.' In short without copyright, authors
    still got paid, sometime more without copyright than with it."

  32. Did they mention why American publishers found it profitable to pay the English authors?

  33. Why, yes they did:

    "How did it work? Then, as now, there is a great deal of
    impatience in the demand for books, especially good books. English authors would sell American publishers the manuscripts of their new books before their publication in Britain. The American publisher who bought the manuscript had every incentive to saturate the market for that particular novel as soon as possible, to avoid cheap imitators to come in soon after. This led to mass publication at fairly low prices. The amount of revenues British authors received up front from American publishers often exceeded the amount they were able to collect over a number of years from royalties in the UK. Notice that, at the time, the US market was comparable in size to the UK market."

    They continue:

    "More broadly, the lack of copyright protection, which permitted the United States publishers’ “pirating” of English writers, was a good economic policy of great social value for the people of United States, and of no significant detriment, as the Commission report and other evidence confirm, for English
    authors. Not only did it enable the establishment and rapid growth
    of a large and successful publishing business in the United States; also, and more importantly, it increased literacy and benefited the cultural development of the American people by flooding the market with cheap copies of great books. As an example: Dickens’ A Christmas Carol sold for six cents in the US, while it was priced at roughly two dollars and fifty cents in England. This dramatic increase in literacy was probably instrumental for the emergence of a great number of United States writers and scientists toward the end of the nineteenth century."

    There's a lot more there; good book. All this to say that a world without copyrights would still leave possible the reimbursement of the artist.

  34. Producers would have to get pretty incredibly creative to continue making profit from films. They barely make profit as it is. That's not necessarily a bad thing considering how much crap exists.

    My mind's not made up on the issue, but I think it's important to acknowledge the drastic ramifications is all. We can't just think pretty packaging will insure the survival of the films we currently enjoy. Though costs of film production would also drop because patents for the highly specialized field insure expensive equipment. Lots of other variables as well. It would be an interesting world.

  35. ...and one that will probably never be, unfortunately. But that's what ideals are for.


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