In Which I Am Discouraged by the US Pirate Party

In this week’s US Pirate Party Newsletter, Renee Schroeder (“A Story From a Few Days Ago,” Nov. 1) recounts her dismay at seeing “pirated” DVDs for sale at a flea market:  “… he was selling DVD-Rs onto which he used a Sharpie to write the name of a movie, such as A Bug’s Life, or Rocky, or any other number of movies.”

Schroeder continues: “The United States Pirate Party is against this blatant form of copyright infringement (and others as well). Am I the only one that reads the FBI warning that precedes every movie?”

I confess to some dismay of my own on reading this. Spurred by her comments to examine their positions more closely, I found this statement on their website: “We do not promote, advocate, support, or engage in illegal activities. Where there is a disparity between individual action and the law, the law wins.” And this, under their “Points of Unity”:  “We gather to change laws, not break them.”

I can only speak for myself, but I was attracted to the US Pirate Party because I believe copyright law and all other laws upholding “property” in ideas are morally indefensible. I was attracted, moreover, because of the party’s indirect association (in name if nothing else) with The Pirate Bay, and my adamant support for torrent sites as an infrastructure for nullifying copyright law. The terms “legality” and “illegality” carry no more moral weight for me in the case of “intellectual property” than they would in the case of a legal “property” in human beings. The sooner copyright law becomes unenforceable, the sooner most people trample it underfoot with the contempt it deserves — indeed, the more people read that FBI warning just to laugh at it — the better for the cause of human freedom.

As for the party’s preference for changing laws rather than breaking them, I can only say that I consider it a most unfortunate choice. I have no quarrel with those who try to change the laws. So long as the state exists, evil laws will give it open-ended discretion to find pretexts for harrassing people it doesn’t like. And no matter how difficult the laws are to enforce in general, and how many people ignore them, there will still be the unlucky or careless few who get caught. So getting the copyright laws off the books would present a significant form of closure.

But achieving significant changes in lawswhich, like copyright, are centrally important to the structure of corporate capitalism, is extremely unlikely. It would require an equally unlikely prior success in overcoming the power of entrenched corporate money and corporate culture in American politics, before they even had a chance. It would require years of painstaking effort to build a coalition that would almost certainly achieve nothing more than minor tinkering around the edges of existing copyright policy.

Just look at Prop 19:  Even assuming it passes, how many decades of uphill struggle did it take? I’m not willing to wait that many decades for permission to do as I please with what’s mine.

And I guess I’m just too proud, even if democracy really did represent the majority will, to beg a majority of the public for permission — again — to do as I please with what’s mine. I’m an anarchist because I don’t believe I need to ask permission to be free and start living my life the way I want.

But if changing the law requires enormous, long-term effort with little hope of success, breaking the law on the other hand is extremely cost-effective. New technical means of circumventing the law can be developed for a tiny fraction of the cost of changing it. And the beauty of the network revolution is that it has radically shifted the comparative advantage in the ongoing offensive-defensive arms race between the authoritarian state and those of us trying to build a free, self-organized society. The state’s rules for “changing the laws,” in effect, require us to throw away our advantages of superior agility and efficiency and be as ponderous and bureaucratic as they are.

Who in their right mind would willingly stop, on the verge of victory, and adopt the methods of an enemy we’ve already almost beaten?

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The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory