Copying is theft [updated]
I commented on two local blogs recently on the subject of copyright—a hot issue, what with the latest round of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) talks just having concluded in NZ. Both blogs at which I commented posted the same saccharine piece of agit-prop declaring that “copying is not theft,” to which I replied, in essence:
“Copying is not theft,” you say?
Well, if you’re copying someone else’s creations without permission, yes it is.
My ideas are my property. Steal the form in which my ideas are expressed or made concrete, and you’re a thief.
Since creation is a livelihood for artists, writers and inventors, stealing the form in which their creations are made is theft of their intellectual property–which means a theft of their livelihood. And since intellectual property rights are at the heart of all property rights, the populist attack on intellectual property rights is just the latest and most fundamental front in the attack on all property rights.
Abolishing copyright protection favours theft over thought.
You say-or, at least, your saccharine ditty says, that no-one is worse off if copying is allowed?
Well yes, we all are. We are worse off by the lack of new ideas produced and made concrete in the form of a book, or a CD, or a patentable invention.
Without copyright protection, you load the cost of production onto musicians, writers, artists and inventors, while all the benefits that would have and should have accrued to these producers go to instead to the thieves.
Copy my new kind of bicycle without my permission, for example, and you take away from me all the benefits I’d hoped to derive from the invention of my new bicycle. Take away all the benefits that all the inventors of new bicycles hoped to derive from their invention, and pretty soon you have no new types of bicycle at all–-and, if the process continues across all fields of endeavour, eventually no new inventions at all, and no more technological progress.
Why would anyone continue to produce new music, write new books or invent new things under such a set-up? Why would anyone support such a set-up–unless they wished themselves to steal?
Ludwig von Mises explained this point:
“[I]t is obvious that handing down knowledge to the rising generation and familiarizing the acting individuals with the amount of knowledge they need for the realization of their plans require textbooks, manuals, handbooks, and other nonfiction works. It is unlikely that people would undertake the laborious task of writing such publications if everyone were free to reproduce them. This is still more manifest in the field of technological invention and discovery. The extensive experimentation necessary for such achievements is often very expensive. It is very probable that technological progress would be seriously retarded if, for the inventor and for those who defray the expenses incurred by his experimentation, the results obtained were nothing but [gifting benefits to others while earning nothing oneself for one's creations].”
Make no mistake, copying without the permission of the owner is theft–-no matter how many sappy sugar-coated ditties you hear to the contrary.
So what’s wrong with what ACTA proposes? Simply this:
The way ACTA proposes protecting intellectual property–by going through people’s bags, laptops and MP3 players at airports; by holding ISPs responsible for what their customers do; etc.–-is hardly in accordance with the principle of property rights they purport to be upholding.
That is the copywrong part of ACTA’s copyright proposals. What is proposed violates the very principle they want to protect.