copyright and censorship (was Re: [FoRK] NewTube VS OldTube)

Luis Villa < luis at > on > Thu Oct 12 16:27:42 PDT 2006

On 10/12/06, Albert Scherbinsky <albert at> wrote:
> My understanding is that copyright is one form of IP.
> I also understand that the purpose of copyright is not
> the "right to share information with one another" if
> that property does not belong to the sharer. My
> understanding of property involves ownership. Property
> ownership is at the root of capitalism. I am a
> capitalist not a communist.

And so we reach a new high in the level of discourse at FoRK. Yay.
I'll try to raise it up a little bit again.

The family of limited, government-granted business monopolies
(copyright and patent) which we now incorrectly lump in with trademark
and trade secrets as 'intellectual property' have, in this country,
been about inducing individuals to share their ideas with the public
since the day the patent/copyright clause was written into the

In contrast, this notion of copyright and patent as *infinitely*
controllable property is a fairly new idea, arguably introduced by
those who fear competition and would rather rest on their laurels than
be forced to be continuously creative. [See, for example, Disney,
which was much more creative before they realized it was more
profitable to hire lobbyists to extend copyright law than to employ
more writers and artists.]

The goal of sharing knowledge with the public is most explicit in
patent law, which requires you to publicly publish instructions on how
to create the thing you're patenting. If patents were about merely
preventing competition, the details of the patent would be secret, and
instructions sufficient to recreate the idea would not be required.
Instead, we publish the idea, and the instructions to implement it, in
order to *share* that information with the public. In return for that
sharing, the public grants a time-limited monopoly on the use of the
idea. But lets be clear- the monopoly is in exchange for the sharing
of the idea.

The inducement of sharing is less explicit in copyright law, but it is
there too. You'll note that copyright is of limited duration, unlike,
say, your claim to a piece of physical property. Again, the Founding
Fathers wisely saw copyright as a means to induce the creation of
information which would later be *shared* by the public, after 14
years. Again, the limited monopoly granted by the state- what the
founding fathers understood as a tax on the public- was made in
exchange for 'the progress of science and useful arts'.

Now, you can make an argument that even in an era of near-zero
marginal cost for the *distribution* of ideas, you still need an
economic/capitalist incentive to spur the *creation* of ideas, and
hence that copyright and patent are still valuable concepts. But you
can't claim that preventing that distribution is anything other than
the granting of a government-created monopoly (even if perhaps a
beneficient monopoly), particularly in a day and age when creating
additional copies imposes effectively no additional cost on the
producer. And you definitely can't claim that sharing is communist,
unless you think Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers were commies

But if all that was too historically accurate for you, Albert, I can
put it another way: God bless the USA, God bless agressive,
competitive capitalism which builds on the shoulders of others, and
God bless our Founding Fathers and their understanding of the evils of
all forms of anti-competitive monopolies, especially those granted by
the government.


> --- Kragen Javier Sitaker <kragen at> wrote:
> > On Tue, 10 Oct 2006 15:09:06 -0400 (EDT), Albert S.
> > wrote:
> > > There is a difference between protecting IP rights
> > and
> > > censorship. Removing copyrighted material isn't
> > > censorship.
> >
> > [Leaving aside Luis's point that YouTube has
> > sometimes removed things
> > for reasons other than copyright infringement.]
> >
> > I suppose there are different definitions of
> > "censorship" around, but
> > it's certainly the case that copyright is sometimes
> > used to prevent
> > information from reaching the public, or from being
> > widely
> > distributed; that meets my definition of censorship.
> >
> >
> > I think the only legitimate purpose of copyright is
> > to *promote*
> > public access to important information, by providing
> > necessary
> > financial incentives for the investment required to
> > distribute that
> > information widely, and using it for censorship is a
> > perversion of
> > that purpose.
> >
> > I also take issue with your use of the term "IP
> > rights".  I know it's
> > common practice in many circles to use the term
> > "intellectual
> > property".  However, I try not to use it, because
> > it's a propaganda
> > term that serves the ends of extremists, in the
> > following ways:
> > 1. It erases the important legal and moral
> > distinctions between the
> >    various legal restrictions it describes --- for
> > example,
> >    copyrights, patents, trademarks, mask-work
> > rights, the sui generis
> >    database protection rights Europe adopted a
> > decade ago, design
> >    patents, and so on.  Very little of any coherence
> > can be said about
> >    such a diverse collection of laws.
> > 2. It frames the debate as one about "property", as
> > if we were
> >    discussing whether people had the right to
> > shoplift, rather than
> >    whether they have the right to share information
> > with one another.
> >
> >
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