I can understand the arguments for “intellectual property.” I don’t agree with them, but I can understand them. I can understand, despite disagreeing with, the argument that “ownership” of an idea trumps someone else’s right to use his own tangible property the way he sees fit.
But now the Copyright Nazis are arguing that their “ownership” of ideas trumps other people’s ownership–wait for it!–of their own ideas.
That’s right. The International Intellectual Property Alliance, a powerful umbrella organization that includes the RIAA and MPAA, is arguing that open-source should be classified as a form of piracy! It’s arguing that the U.S. Trade Representative put countries like Brazil, India and Indonesia on the “Special 301 watchlist” as international copyright scofflaws. Their offense: those countries’ governments have either officially adopted open-source software for use in government agencies and state enterprises, or have recommended the adoption of open-source software by such agencies and enterprises.
Indonesian government policy, in particular, “weakens the software industry and undermines its long-term competitiveness by creating an artificial preference for companies offering open source software and related services,” and in so doing “denies many legitimate companies access to the government market.” It fails to “allow users to benefit from the best solution available in the market, irrespective of the development model, [and] encourages a mindset that does not give due consideration to the value to intellectual creations.” In sum, “it fails to build respect for intellectual property rights and also limits the ability of government or public-sector customers… to choose the best solutions.”
First, let’s keep in mind how open-source licensing schemes work. They are piggybacked on copyright law. The holder of a copyright licenses his work under a GPL, Copyleft, or the like, so that it is made freely available for other people’s use on some condition–usually that derivative work is also freely available on the same terms.
So what the copyright Nazis at the IIPA are really saying is that owners of “intellectual property” should not be able to license the use of their own property as they see fit, on terms that make it freely available to all. Furthermore, they’re arguing that a government that chooses to procure software licensed under those terms, in order to obtain it as cheaply as possible and without the disadvantages of buyer lock-in that go with proprietary software, is guilty of “piracy” against the owners of proprietary software.
If you look at the arguments in the quote above, the IIPA is arguing that the government of Indonesia, by selecting what it sees as the best solution available in the market, is–again, wait for it!–impeding the government’s freedom of action “to benefit from the best solution available in the market.” And in evaluating some products as superior to others, it’s creating an “artificial preference” for the products it judged to be “the best solution available in the market.” See? The very act of choosing “the best solution available in the market” impeded the government’s freedom to “choose the best solutions,” while creating an “artificial preference” for what you choose. The very act of assessing the comparative costs and value of “intellectual creations,” among those available on the market, constitutes disregard of “the value of intellectual creations.”
Got that? The only way government procurement operations can remain free to choose the best value without creating unfair market advantages, and recognize value in the market, is to give equal treatment to the purveyors of shit and refuse to call it what it is.
Now if you tell me that government taxing and spending, as such, constitute piracy, you’re preaching to the choir. But to argue that it’s more piratical for the government to spend money on the cheapest and most effective product on the open market, in preference to paying a higher monopoly price for a shoddier product, or to publicly recommend the cheap and effective product over Bill Gates’ overpriced shit…
Well, you should probably be reading the Adam Smith Institute blog instead. That’s the home of the kind of “libertarianism” that regards anything the government does as “free market” so long as taxpayer money goes to a private, for-profit business enterprise. But for those of us who see coercion itself as the defining feature of state power, using state tax revenues to feed an additional layer of nominally private parasites is just compounding the crime.
The IIPA’s argument against open source is like an apologist for the absolute right of property in human beings arguing against a slave owner’s right to exercise that absolute dominion by freeing his own slaves, on the grounds that it creates a moral environment that undermines slavery. It’s like an apologist for the landed oligarchy’s absolute rights of property in vacant and unimproved land arguing that the owner of a latifundio should not be allowed to open up his own land to homesteaders free of charge, on the grounds that it would reduce the rents other oligarchs can charge.
That is exactly what the Copyright Nazis at the IIPA are arguing. They’re so convinced of the absolute right of dominion over property in ideas, that they’re willing to constrain the free exercise of that dominion in the name of defending “intellectual property”!
The slaveocracy of the old south believed so strongly in the absolute rights of property in human beings that it prevented slave owners from freeing their own property, suppressed the advocacy of such actions via the U.S. Mail, and even barred discussion of it in Congress. Defenders of “intellectual property,” likewise, will never find their spurious property claims secure until they turn the entire society into the kind of totalitarian slave state described by Richard Stallman in “The Right to Read.”