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The copyright monopoly stands in direct opposition to property rights

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
28th December 2012


Excerpted/republished from Rick Falkvinge:

“The idea that the copyright monopoly would be a property right doesn’t just lack factual basis, but it is 180 degrees and one hundred per cent wrong, factually wrong. The copyright monopoly stands in direct opposition to property rights.

The copyright monopoly is a governmentally-sanctioned private monopoly. No liberal, socialist, green, capitalist, or conservative can defend those constructions from their ideology; this construction only fits corporativist and protectionist ideologies.

Allow us to illustrate with a tangible example: assume that we buy a copy of a chair. We say “a copy”, as it is automatically made from a master in the form of a digital blueprint in some sort of plant; colloquially, we’ve bought “a chair” at IKEA. We own this copy of the chair, we have our receipt here in hand. This physical object, in all its aspects, is our property.

We are allowed to do a number of things with this copy of the chair:

* We can take the chair apart, and use pieces of it for new projects that we make in our workshop.

* We can look at the underlying pattern to examine how the chair is built, make an identical copy, and sell it.

* We can put out our chair on the porch and use it there, and we can charge our neighbors to use it if we like.

All of this is typical for property. These are typical actions we can all take with our property without anybody raising an eyebrow. (To counter a common but false objection to this point: while there are some monopolistic protections possible for chairs, the overwhelming majority of chairs don’t come with patent or design patent monopolies, and the everyday chair is perfectly legal to reproduce using your own parts and labor, as is the normal case with property.)

In contrast, assume that we buy a copy of a movie. We say “a copy” as the disc with the movie is automatically made from a master in the form of a digital blueprint in some sort of plant; colloquially, we’ve bought “a movie” at the gas station.

We own this copy of the movie, we have our receipt here. This physical object, in all its aspects, is our property. Yet, we are not legally allowed to do certain things with this copy of the movie:

* We are not legally allowed to remix the movie that we own and use parts of it for new projects.

* We are not legally allowed to examine the underlying bitpattern and make an identical copy on a different storage medium which is the property of somebody else, nor are we allowed to sell a copy we have produced with our own property and labor.

* We may not use our movie on the porch, and may not charge our neighbors to use it.
Somebody’s monopoly overrides our property rights and makes it illegal to use our legal property and exercise our normal property rights using our own work and labor.

The copyright monopoly is a governmentally-sanctioned private monopoly on certain forms of duplication and performance. It doesn’t just stand in opposition to property rights, but to free trade as well. (Some people would argue that even property as such is a governmentally-sanctioned private monopoly, in order to downplay the fact that the copyright monopoly stands in opposition to property rights, but that would not be what we mean by “property” and “monopoly” as concepts. If I own an umbrella, I control that umbrella. If I have a monopoly on umbrellas, I get to control everybody else’s umbrella too, and get to call on the government to have that enforced.)

It is quite possible to argue for the copyright monopoly from a purely utilitarian, protectionist, or mercantilist perspective, but not from a “property is good” perspective: you will end up in the exact opposite conclusion. By extension, since we know that property rights are good for trade, we also deduce that the copyright monopoly is bad for trade and competition. This comes as no surprise, seeing how the copyright industry has been fighting tooth and nail against the more-efficient industries that would otherwise already have replaced them.”

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