Property Rights, RIAA, etc.

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From: Gordon Mohr (
Date: Fri Jul 28 2000 - 00:25:50 PDT

Jeff Bone writes:
  Jeff Bone writes:
> > I've done that, and the unfortunate and somewhat shocking conclusion
> > that I've reached is that there's something fundamentally screwed about
> > the notion of bits-as-property.
> By the way, the irony of my own argument is not at all lost on me: I'm
> making this argument *despite* having outed myself as a rabid Lockian
> proponent of property rights, right here on this very list ages ago. Still
> --- and this causes me no small amount of consternation --- the problem of
> applying physical property laws in all their dimensions to bits is becoming
> ever-more apparent to me over time.

I'm in the same boat.

I'm a firm believer in property rights... yet when I read something like
Eben Moglen's 'Anarchism Triumphant'
with its decidedly anti-propertarian analysis, I'm almost completely
convinced that bits should not (can not, must not) be owned like real

So I begin to draw a distinction between natural rights and legally
manufactured rights (like copyright and patents). Also, I have to
think about why I even like the idea of personal property in the
first place.

I like property rights because they seem like an effective, evolved
way of dealing with scarcity.

Yet once information is digitized and placed into the network, copies
are no longer scarce. With thousands of years of written language
behind us, really entertaining and insightful ideas aren't scarce.
With more people than ever vocationally or avocationally creating
new information, and working with the assistance of CPUs, even 'novel'
information is no longer scarce.

So perhaps property rights in information should fade away as an
adaptation whose time has come and gone. Like, say, feudalism. Or

And if the end of info-property rights means less new info-property
is created -- a big if -- that's not automatically bad. We may be
overproducing protectable info-property today.

Consider the case of an idea that would be obvious to everyone in
2001. If you devote effort to thinking up that idea this year, and
successfully patent it, the government would be granting you
20 years of monopoly profits, but all society gets is that idea a
few months early -- maybe no net benefit at all. So info-property
rights can incentivize the premature overproduction of protectable

A similar thing might be happening with pop-culture products
(teen-dance singles, horror novels, action movies) -- we're racing
to produce an surplus of trivially novel and thus protectable
works. In a system without info-property protections, we'd
all be just as happy with oldies-but-goodies -- and the energy
currently expended on creating new pablum could create other
kinds of real economic value instead.

- Gordon

Information does not just want to be free.
Information wants to be promiscuous.

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