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Net Neutrality and Censorship: It’s Not About Property, It’s About The Agreement

32

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of Speech

My recent post suggesting that ISPs should introduce retaliatory censorship produced very interesting reactions, ranging from enthusiastic endorsement (“Hell Yes”) to resolute rejection (“Hell No”). These unusually diverse and emotional responses across the entire register set me thinking.

Mike Masnick on TechDirt also floated the idea as a quick test balloon, and encountered the same diversity of comments. Attempting to get the overall feel from the comments here and there, there was a feeling that while it would have a strong effect and feel good from a purely vindicative standpoint, it was just… wrong.

Not everybody agreed, though. There were some really good responses in sorting out the concepts of censorship and property, pointing out (rightfully) that censorship is when somebody else exercises power over what traffic that your property may carry, whereas property rights dictate that you can instruct your property to do exactly whatever you please, and also sell or rent services as you please. This position is contrary to Net Neutrality.

There was also a great deal of confusion as to what constitutes censorship, which led me to understand that censorship is not what people really have issues with. While censorship is bad — as in really bad — it is not what lies at the heart of the emotion here, when ISPs are forced to filter somebody out from the net and existence, as the exact same reactions are produced when they do the exact same actions voluntarily.

Rather, it’s Violations of The Agreement that are at heart.

The Agreement that is the Internet. Because that’s what the Internet is: it is a world of ends, an agreement on how to move bits from origin to destination. An agreement between thousands of different operators of small independent networks. That’s all it is, and its immense value lies in its simplicity. It is not property. Nobody owns it, nobody controls it. It is an agreement which is carried only in the spirit of everybody’s adherence to it.

This Agreement says a couple of things, like everybody being an equal, everybody having communications, and a number of other things that make it the greatest leveler of the playing field ever invented by humanity. This does not go over well with the previous kings-of-the-hill of humanity, even if everybody else loves it.

The Agreement has not been written down anywhere. It’s in the spirit of the Net, in the air and in the water, which is also why vindicative lawmakers and obsoleting industries are trying to take themselves the right to change it by force.

Going back to Net Neutrality, being involved in lawmaking, I need to weigh important values against one another. There were libertarians on my blog arguing strongly against Net Neutrality laws as they would limit property rights. As I give them right in the premise, I disagree with the conclusion.

The libertarian ideology comes from a time centuries ago when Property was the solution to everything. Today, it is Knowledge, and specifically Transfer of Knowledge.

Free Speech rights are more important than property rights. Much more important, even. I will illustrate this by the fact that most countries have taxes, limiting the property rights of its citizens, but limits on freedom of opinion and speech are very rare if existing at all.

Arguably, you may not falsely yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater, so some particular expressions of opinions are banned. But not all expressions of a particular opinion: it would be perfectly ok to whisper “the flickering crimson glow behind that door, does that look like a fire to you?” to the person next to you in the theater. Thus. freedom of opinion — and some expression of every opinion — is practically universal, even if every expression of a particular opinion isn’t allowed.

This leads my to my point: Free Speech rights today are synonymous with upholding of The Agreement.

In the 21st century, the Internet IS free speech, IS assembly, IS the press.

People exercise their fundamental rights through the net today. Therefore, the net is as fundamental a right itself as the rights that are exercised through it.

Therefore, I have to conclude that libertarians who think that property rights dictate that The Agreement can be violated at will as an exercise of property rights are, well, wrong. The Agreement supersedes property rights as Free Speech today depends on The Agreement, and as demonstrated, Free Speech is more important than property rights.

That does not mean that Net Neutrality should be made into law, for practical reasons of policymaking and politics. The instant that particular box is opened, lobbyists and corporates will be all over it, and we will risk getting a law that says the very opposite of The Agreement once it goes to the voting floor. That path is a dangerous one.

I also conclude that violating The Agreement for the sake of punishing violations of The Agreement is the wrong thing to do. I’m not sure how to reign in the MAFIAA, which was the original question posted, but that particular path appears inconsistent.

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About The Author: Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. He has a tech entrepreneur background and loves whisky.

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  3. 3
    Dylan

    Free speech is inherited by your right to your own body, therefore property is more important. Free speech is a consequence of property.

    • 3.1

      The right to your own body is severely curtailed in most countries, and besides, counting it as “property” is too artificial a construct that misses the original point of property.

    • 3.2
      Charles Broam

      No. A person has free speech before they have ANY property. A baby can scream and cry regardless of the fact that that baby has any parents to dress him/her with any clothes (property). Free Speech happens first, property second. Always.

  4. 4
    Thomas Fullerton

    Thank you for your insightful posts on this matter. I have to take issue with your conclusions howerver, which are going in the correct direction, but which are not fully formed.

    Every right you have comes from property rights. There is no ‘right of free speech’ that can be separated from property rights. You have the right to own pieces of paper and ink, and to do with them what you want. that means writing on them or printing on them. You have the right to sell that paper to whomever you want, on terms that are satisfactory for you. This is the true nature of the right of free speech; your right to dispose of what you print and publish and own to whomever you want.

    Similarly, your right to pubish a webpage can be traced directly back to property rights. You either own yourself or rent space on a server (property), and then connect to other computers (property) by mutual agreement. You cannot agree to share bandwidth (money or cost) with other people without property rights. This is why when you say:

    Rather, it’s Violations of The Agreement that are at heart.

    You are not getting at the root of what is behind all of this.

    Property rights and peoples enlightened self interest are what actually powers the internet. Different owners of servers (property) all agree voluntarily to share the resources that belong to them for a greater good, and without the State having to say anything whatsoever, this spontaneous order has changed the world for the good.

    Behind it all, is property rights.

    Now on to the rest of your article.

    The libertarian ideology comes from a time centuries ago when Property was the solution to everything. Today, it is Knowledge, and specifically Transfer of Knowledge.

    This is false. Property rights are at the root of all your rights, the most central of which is the property right you have in yourself. You own yourself and the things you make and lawfully acquire. This has not changed between ‘centuries ago’ and today. If you do not own yourself, your property and what you make, then someone else does. This is at the heart of Net Neutrality; the idea that people who run ISPS do not own the servers and bandwidth they pay for, and that these are some specie of public utility that the State can steal from private individuals for ‘the greater good’. This is morally wrong. The State should have no powers that individuals do not have, and this includes using other peoples property without consent.

    Free Speech rights are more important than property rights. Much more important, even. I will illustrate this by the fact that most countries have taxes, limiting the property rights of its citizens, but limits on freedom of opinion and speech are very rare if existing at all.

    The fact that most countries have taxes that violate the property rights of human beings does not make it right. This is a logical fallacy. Limits on free speech are widespread throughout the west; there are even limits on how you may or may not be educated in many western countries. These are indisputable facts.

    Arguably, you may not falsely yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater, so some particular expressions of opinions are banned. But not all expressions of a particular opinion: it would be perfectly ok to whisper “the flickering crimson glow behind that door, does that look like a fire to you?” to the person next to you in the theater. Thus. freedom of opinion — and some expression of every opinion — is practically universal, even if every expression of a particular opinion isn’t allowed.

    Its interesting that you pick this example of how freedom of expression should be banned. It is a straw man of course, and Murray Rothbard convincingly demonstrates that the assumptions around this repeated by rote justification for supressing people’s rights is actually a violation of property rights:

    Consider, for example, the classic example where liberals generally concede that a person’s “right of freedom of speech” must be curbed in the name of the “public interest”: Justice Holmes’ famous dictum that no one has the right to cry “fire” falsely in a crowded theater. Holmes and his followers have used this illustration again and again to prove the supposed necessity for all rights to be relative and tentative rather than precise and absolute.

    But the problem here is not that rights cannot be pushed too far, but that the whole case is discussed in terms of a vague and wooly “freedom of speech” rather than in terms of the rights of private property. Suppose we analyze the problem under the aspect of property rights. The fellow who brings on a riot by falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater is, necessarily, either the owner of the theater (or the owner’s agent) or a paying patron. If he is the owner, then he has committed fraud on his customers. He has taken their money in exchange for a promise to put on a movie or play, and now, instead, he disrupts the show by falsely shouting “fire” and breaking up the performance. He has thus welshed on his contractual obligation, and has thereby stolen the property — the money — of his patrons and has violated their property rights.

    Suppose, on the other hand, that the shouter is a patron and not the owner. In that case, he is violating the property right of the owner [p. 44] as well as of the other guests to their paid-for performance. As a guest, he has gained access to the property on certain terms, including an obligation not to violate the owner’s property or to disrupt the performance the owner is putting on. His malicious act, therefore, violates the property rights of the theater owner and of all the other patrons. There is no need, therefore, for individual rights to be restricted in the case of the false shouter of “fire.” The rights of the individual are still absolute; but they are property rights. The fellow who maliciously cried “fire” in a crowded theater is indeed a criminal, but not because his so-called “right of free speech” must be pragmatically restricted on behalf of the “public good”; he is a criminal because he has clearly and obviously violated the property rights of another person.

    http://mises.org/rothbard/newlibertywhole.asp

    Free Speech rights today are not at all synonymous with ‘upholding of The Agreement’ they come directly from property rights; this is absolutely clear.

    The Internet is NOT free speech, it is a technical solution made of private property that allows people to publish efficiently.

    The Internet is NOT assembly it is a technical solution made of private property that allows people to communicate and engage in social interaction without physically meeting.

    When we discuss these important matters, it is crucial that we use language very carefully, that we do not change the meaning of words, and that we always try and work from the root of the problem, with the correct assumptions.

    Which brings me on to the last part of this comment, and the most terrible error you have made.

    People exercise their fundamental rights through the net today. Therefore, the net is as fundamental a right itself as the rights that are exercised through it.

    This is completely wrong.

    The net is not a fundamental right, as the UN and others have tried to assert.

    Anything that is a right cannot involve access to other people’s property. You have a right to your own life and your own property, but you do not have a right to other peoples property and lives.

    This is why there is no such thing as a ‘right to education’ or a ‘right to healthcare’ or indeed, a ‘right to internet access’.

    All of those things are goods, not rights. The rights you have as a human being are limited in number and they are all related directly to property rights.

    Please watch this video for an easy to digest primer on what rights are and where they come from:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-Lb8YitPs8

    Therefore, I have to conclude that libertarians who think that property rights dictate that The Agreement can be violated at will as an exercise of property rights are, well, wrong. The Agreement supersedes property rights as Free Speech today depends on The Agreement, and as demonstrated, Free Speech is more important than property rights.

    This conclusion is completely wrong.

    In your example, your fatal flaw is that you have conflated explicit agreements with a tacit ones.

    In a tacit agreement as you describe, people agree to share their resources in an unwritten agreement. Thats fine, as as we have all seen, works brilliantly, but there are other types of agreements, that are explicit contracts, that are very different, and whcih are necessary when someone is having their property used in specific circumstances.

    You cannot appropriate or use other people’s property without some form of explicit contract. If you do not have such a contract, and you use their property you are engaging in theft.

    You cannot unilaterally claim that a persons property rights are null and void. This is the logic of ‘the ends justifies the means’ and is the basis of all the things you hate that the governments of the world are doing to the Internet.

    You cannot on the one hand, say that your particular usurpation is legitimate, “just because you say so”, and that net surveillance, censorship and all the other things that you do not personally like are illegitimate. The people who are making the claims that their usurpations are necessary are using the same logic that you are using. This is a fatal flaw in your philosophy that you need to address if you are to be consistent and moral.

    Free speech is not separable from property rights. The ends do not justify the means. There is no ‘agreement’ that can allow someone to use your property without your permission unless you have signed a contract.

    These fundamental principles of freedom should be understood by everyone who claims to be a champion of justice and freedom.

  5. 5
    Thomas Fullerton

    Thank you for your insightful posts on this matter. I have to take issue with your conclusions however, which are going in the correct direction, but which are not fully formed.

    Every right you have comes from property rights. There is no ‘right of free speech’ that can be separated from property rights. You have the right to own pieces of paper and ink, and to do with them what you want. that means writing on them or printing on them. You have the right to sell that paper to whomever you want, on terms that are satisfactory for you. This is the true nature of the right of free speech; your right to dispose of what you print and publish and own to whomever you want.

    Similarly, your right to pubish a webpage can be traced directly back to property rights. You either own your own, or rent space on a server owned by someone else (property), and then connect to other computers (property) by mutual agreement. You cannot agree to share bandwidth (money or cost) with other people without property rights. This is why when you say:

    Rather, it’s Violations of The Agreement that are at heart.

    You are not getting at the root of what is behind all of this.

    Property rights and people’s enlightened self interest are what actually powers the internet. Different owners of servers (property) all agree voluntarily to share the resources that belong to them for a greater good, and without the State having to say anything whatsoever, this spontaneous order has changed the world for the good.

    Behind it all, is property rights.

    Now on to the rest of your article.

    The libertarian ideology comes from a time centuries ago when Property was the solution to everything. Today, it is Knowledge, and specifically Transfer of Knowledge.

    This is false. Property rights are at the root of all your rights, the most central of which is the property right you have in yourself. You own yourself and the things you make and lawfully acquire. This has not changed between ‘centuries ago’ and today. If you do not own yourself, your property and what you make, then someone else does. This is at the heart of Net Neutrality; the idea that people who run ISPs do not own the servers and bandwidth they pay for and that these are instad, some specie of public utility that the State can steal from private individuals for ‘the greater good’. This is morally wrong. The State should have no powers that individuals do not have, and this includes using other people’s property without consent.

    Free Speech rights are more important than property rights. Much more important, even. I will illustrate this by the fact that most countries have taxes, limiting the property rights of its citizens, but limits on freedom of opinion and speech are very rare if existing at all.

    The fact that most countries have taxes that violate the property rights of human beings does not make it right. This is a logical fallacy. Limits on free speech are widespread throughout the west; there are even limits on how you may or may not be educated in many western countries. These are indisputable facts.

    Arguably, you may not falsely yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater, so some particular expressions of opinions are banned. But not all expressions of a particular opinion: it would be perfectly ok to whisper “the flickering crimson glow behind that door, does that look like a fire to you?” to the person next to you in the theater. Thus. freedom of opinion — and some expression of every opinion — is practically universal, even if every expression of a particular opinion isn’t allowed.

    Its interesting that you pick this example of how freedom of expression should be banned. It is a straw man of course, and Murray Rothbard convincingly demonstrates that the assumptions around this repeated by rote justification for supressing people’s rights is actually a violation of property rights:

    Consider, for example, the classic example where liberals generally concede that a person’s “right of freedom of speech” must be curbed in the name of the “public interest”: Justice Holmes’ famous dictum that no one has the right to cry “fire” falsely in a crowded theater. Holmes and his followers have used this illustration again and again to prove the supposed necessity for all rights to be relative and tentative rather than precise and absolute.

    But the problem here is not that rights cannot be pushed too far, but that the whole case is discussed in terms of a vague and wooly “freedom of speech” rather than in terms of the rights of private property. Suppose we analyze the problem under the aspect of property rights. The fellow who brings on a riot by falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater is, necessarily, either the owner of the theater (or the owner’s agent) or a paying patron. If he is the owner, then he has committed fraud on his customers. He has taken their money in exchange for a promise to put on a movie or play, and now, instead, he disrupts the show by falsely shouting “fire” and breaking up the performance. He has thus welshed on his contractual obligation, and has thereby stolen the property — the money — of his patrons and has violated their property rights.

    Suppose, on the other hand, that the shouter is a patron and not the owner. In that case, he is violating the property right of the owner [p. 44] as well as of the other guests to their paid-for performance. As a guest, he has gained access to the property on certain terms, including an obligation not to violate the owner’s property or to disrupt the performance the owner is putting on. His malicious act, therefore, violates the property rights of the theater owner and of all the other patrons. There is no need, therefore, for individual rights to be restricted in the case of the false shouter of “fire.” The rights of the individual are still absolute; but they are property rights. The fellow who maliciously cried “fire” in a crowded theater is indeed a criminal, but not because his so-called “right of free speech” must be pragmatically restricted on behalf of the “public good”; he is a criminal because he has clearly and obviously violated the property rights of another person.

    http://mises.org/rothbard/newlibertywhole.asp

    Free Speech rights today are not at all synonymous with ‘upholding of The Agreement’ they come directly from property rights; this is absolutely clear.

    The Internet is NOT free speech, it is a technical solution made of private property that allows people to publish efficiently.

    The Internet is NOT assembly it is a technical solution made of private property that allows people to communicate and engage in social interaction without physically meeting.

    When we discuss these important matters, it is crucial that we use language very carefully, that we do not change the meaning of words, and that we always try and work from the root of the problem, with the correct assumptions.

    Which brings me on to the last part of this comment, and the most terrible error you have made.

    People exercise their fundamental rights through the net today. Therefore, the net is as fundamental a right itself as the rights that are exercised through it.

    This is completely wrong.

    The net is not a fundamental right, as the UN and others have tried to assert.

    Anything that is a right cannot involve coerced access to other people’s property. You have a right to your own life and your own property, but you do not have a right to other peoples property and lives.

    This is why there is no such thing as a ‘right to education’ or a ‘right to healthcare’ or indeed, a ‘right to internet access’.

    All of those things are goods, not rights. The rights you have as a human being are limited in number and they are all related directly to property rights.

    Please watch this video for an easy to digest primer on what rights are and where they come from:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-Lb8YitPs8

    Therefore, I have to conclude that libertarians who think that property rights dictate that The Agreement can be violated at will as an exercise of property rights are, well, wrong. The Agreement supersedes property rights as Free Speech today depends on The Agreement, and as demonstrated, Free Speech is more important than property rights.

    This conclusion is completely wrong.

    In your example, your fatal flaw is that you have conflated explicit agreements with tacit ones.

    In a tacit agreement as you describe, people agree to share their resources in an unwritten agreement. Thats fine, as as we have all seen, and it works brilliantly, but there are other types of agreements, that are explicit contracts, that are very different, and which are necessary when someone is having their property used in specific circumstances.

    You cannot appropriate or use other people’s property without some form of explicit contract. If you do not have such a contract, and you use their property by force, you are engaging in theft.

    You cannot unilaterally claim that a person’s property rights are null and void. This is the logic of ‘the ends justifies the means’ and is the basis of all the things you hate that the governments of the world are doing to the Internet.

    You cannot on the one hand, say that your particular usurpation is legitimate, “just because you say so”, and that net surveillance, censorship and all the other things that you do not personally like are illegitimate. The people who are making the claims that their usurpations are necessary are using the same logic that you are using. This is a fatal flaw in your philosophy that you need to address if you are to be consistent and moral.

    Free speech is not separable from property rights. The ends do not justify the means. There is no ‘agreement’ that can allow someone to use your property without your permission unless you have signed a contract.

    These fundamental principles of freedom should be understood by everyone who claims to be a champion of justice and freedom.

    • 5.1
      ForFreedom

      These are exactly the kind of bizarre mental gymnastics performed by a libertarian.

      When the state suppresses certain information that is called censorship of course. But if some individual (or group) owns e.g. 80% of media in certain country (which is the case in many) and decides to suppress information inconvenient to him because of his political agenda, that is not censorship but he’s just “exercising his property rights” .

      When the state strategically omits some information, highlights misleading or even false one instead that is called propaganda. But if “private individual” media mogul does the same thing that’s “exercising his property rights”.

      Anyone else sees the disconnect?

      When a statesman decides to shut down water to certain “uncooperative” village or area to “persuade” them to go along with whatever he wants he is called a dictator … if a CEO of a private water company does it, he is called a capitalist. At that point, the only difference between a dictator and a capitalist is in a name only.

      Unrestrained “property rights” lead to despotism and ultimately dictatorship, this is where this so called “libertarianism” leads. The natural tendency in such a system is to consolidate, monopolize and grow your influence until it results in such a centralized system that it is indistinguishable from fascism. This can be clearly seen in the state of the world today … if anyone thinks that most governments (especially the US) are acting as anything else than puppets of the so called “free companies” is deluding himself.

      Yet libertarians hold these corporations corrupting governments world wide as the purest symbols of freedom and liberty and despise the only thing that, even when being corrupted more and more by them, is barely holding them back – the government.

      Welcome to the bizarro-world of libertarianism…

  6. 6

    “I also conclude that violating The Agreement for the sake of punishing violations of The Agreement is the wrong thing to do.”

    I disagree. I quite liked the idea of ISPs “boycotting” sites of industries that were coming after them. You yourself called it “self-defense censorship” last time. OK, it’s not censorship, but I’m talking about the self-defense part. The ISPs are being attacked by people who clearly don’t understand what the internet is for and what it does and are trying to censor it for their own benefit. Are the ISPs not entitled to make a statement in their own defense? What about their free speech?

    Wouldn’t the original idea have been like blocking up a door to a business? What’s the difference?

    Maybe I don’t have such a pure idea of “The Agreement.” But screw the Agreement if it means that a business can’t make a statement to defend itself (and everyone who depends on it)

    • 7.1
      Cesar

      What Falkvinge is calling “The Agreement” is much more than merely the technical specifications which govern what you could call The Protocol. In fact, The Agreement is independent from The Protocol.

      The Protocol is all about “if you put these bytes in this way, the response will come in that way”. Bits and bytes. Electrons on a wire.

      The Agreement exists on a different layer. It is about how people interact. It is about how computers interact. It is about how computers interact with people.

      Falkvinge mentioned a couple of things which can be found in The Agreement: “everybody being an equal, everybody having communications”. I believe there are more. The World of Ends link gives some more hints, and perhaps is the closest to a written form of The Agreement we have so far.

  7. 8
    Björn Persson

    I think you mean “rein in” – tygla, hålla in – rather than “reign in” – härska i.

  8. 9
    ForFreedom

    Congratulations Rick!

    I must say I was very frustrated after reading your previous post, it really struck me as a bizarre position from a freedom advocate. If ISPs would take a moral stand on one issue that would decimate their position as a neutral carriers and implicitly made them responsible for everything that goes trough their network. “You took stance on file-sharing, why won’t you block also entities that support the use of drugs? Or occupation of Gaza/Iraq/whatever? Or etc. etc.” Once you open that box it can not be taken back … they take a stance on one issue, they’re forced to make a stance on virtually ALL issues. It would also legitimize censorship as a tool to reinforce your position – that is EXTREMELY bad and dangerous message to send.

    And those “libertarians” really get on my nerves with their religious dogma of “private property” and so on. By that logic if a dictator owned an infrastructure of a country (be it transport/communications/gas/water or any other) he has the ultimate right to deny that infrastructure to his opposition and dissidents, censor, make people die of thirst or anything else and it would be all candy dandy because he owns it! That’s just insane! So if China owns its telecom infrastructure it has the right to censor, nothing wrong with that? Bizarre, just bizarre these people…

    Censorship is censorship no matter where it originates. ISPs “voluntarily” censoring is even worse than being forced to. That kind of sounds like common sense to me … it is insane to propose to fight fire with fire, you could see the results of similar thinking recently when someone decides to fight terror with terror – that’s the same thing albeit much more extreme. It never works in the long term. But some of the recent posts in here have such overtones which is kind of worrying … I hope the authors will see the light as you have with this post.

    The solution is not to stoop to their level – it is to take the higher moral ground and form communities that operate outside of their system – support libre artists, screw their copyright, screw their Star Wars and Harry Potter if the money for those tickets go right back to bite you in the ass in the form of digital police state laws.

    File-sharers like to debunk industry’s claims of lost revenue by pointing out that they’re actually rising despite “piracy” … but they shouldn’t! They should be dropping like a rock and libre revenues should skyrocket at the same rate, if they’re doing all these horrible things why people continue give them money for it? And why is Pioneer One struggling to get mere $60,000? If we do not put our money where our mouth is it’s all just empty phrases …

  9. 10
    rogge

    I think you’re on to someting. There is an agreement of sorts.
    More thinking is needed to refine this concept.

    The internet is much more than the sum of it’s parts. It’s value lies in this agreement to freely share data. Everybody knows this on some level. What each ISP owns as it’s own property like servers and fiber is not worth much on it’s own. Only when connected to everyone else does it really become a means for them to make money/property. But this isn’t really the point either.

    Internet is about sharing information. it’s not about owning at all, it’s about sharing and in so doing creating something more than was before. This goes directly agains the property idea. Here you make more when you share freely, rather than buy/sell and protect your “property”.

    Society itself is a similar system. Those narrow minded libertarians don’t wanna pay taxes, when most of them can thank their income/property to other people paying taxes and contributing to a greater whole.
    If you think you owe nothing to society then go live in the woods of some unclaimed land and see how rich/happy you’ll be there.

    At some point access to certain goods, some choices and protections is seen as so important that it should apply to all people for the greater good. It should not matter how rich you are to have these basic things. This is how living in a society makes the world better than living alone in the jungle.

    Such things includes access to clean water, food , health care at a minimum level. Basic education, freedom of speech and so on. And now access to a free and open internet is for more and more people seen as one of those things everyone should have the choice to be part of if they so choose.

    Both censorship and net non-neutrality are threats to this system, and sometimes laws has to be made to protect the weak from the strong. In todays cooporatist democracies however, it’s the copyright lobby who buys legislation to protect their business models. This buying of politcians and lawmakers is the real threat in the world today and extends way beyond net censorship and net neutrality.

    • 10.1
      Thomas Fullerton

      Hello Rogge. Allow me to use your post as a foil.

      The internet is indeed more than the sum of its parts. That is because it conveys ideas that remain behind after a person has interacted with it.

      You concede that ISPs own their own property like servers and fiber. We agree on this. I also agree with you that these servers and fiber are worth more to their owners when they are part of the network. This is why they connect to it; to make their equipment worth more to them than the monetary value of the physical goods.

      We disagree however when it comes to the precise, clearly defined details of the basis upon which people interact. You are for using violence to force people to share, whereas Libertarians like me, are non violent.

      The internet is about sharing information; this is true. Sharing does not ‘go directly against the property idea’. You cannot have sharing, which is defined as “a portion belonging to, due to, or contributed by an individual or group”, without property. Once you accept this, it then becomes a matter of what basis the act of sharing is done, with violence, as you advocate, or voluntarily, as has been done with the hyper sucessful, non violent Internet.

      It is in the self interest of server owners to share their resources on the internet. Everyone benefits when they do it, their equipment and bandwidth capacity becomes worth more to them when they do it, and force is not needed to make them share it. This is the misunderstanding of property rights that Statists make, thanks to miseducation about the real meaning of the words they use to describe these actions.

      You are partialy correct when you say that society is a similar system. Despite the interference of the State, people get along with each other and share their resources without having to be forced to do so. It is the taxation (theft) of the State that ruins economies, creates poverty and poisons the natural interactions between men. The decilne in charitable organizations can be traced directly to the welfare state; people no longer feel a need to help others themselvs in the way they used to in the past, because it is assumed that charity and the welfare of others is not their responsibiliyty, but the State’s. This is of course, false. Every man has a moral duty to other men.

      You then fall into the average thinker’s trap that the means justifies the ends, and that the State should steal from people ‘for the greater good’, and you roll out the ‘living on an island’ straw man that we are quite used to refuting and which I will not refute here.

      Access to clean water, food and healthcare are not rights, they are goods. It is of course, desireable that people have access to these things; the question is how do we get them to the maximum number of people, without violence. People with limited intelectual resources always go to violence, either out of tradition, igorance, a lack of imagination or they are the type that just likes to lord it over other people and their property.

      Finally you correctly identify that in ‘cooporatist democracies’ the copyright lobby buys legislation to protect their slerotic, buggy-whip business models. You fail however, to reach the correct conclusion that the State itself is the problem. If the State were not there to do the evil bidding of these companies, the censorship that you loath could not be carried out by force.

      I suggest you look deeper into the facts about this, consider your personal philosophy of violence and perhaps come to the conclusion that your thinking is fundamently immoral when it comes to these matters.

      • 10.1.1
        Cesar

        I am failing to see anything on rogge’s post which advocates or even mentions violence.

        • Thomas Fullerton

          Hello Cesar.

          When Rogge says, “At some point access to certain goods, some choices and protections is seen as so important that it should apply to all people for the greater good.”

          What he is talking about is making access to goods, ‘rights’. This means making, for example, healthcare, internet access, education and housing a ‘right’.

          Lets take internet access, and work with that. If internet access is made into a ‘right’ then what the State is saying is that people have the right to have an ISP account.

          This means that either ISPs will be forced to give accounts to people who cannot afford them, or the government will set up its own ISP to give these people access.

          In the former, the resources of ISPs are being stolen by the government to give access to people who cannot afford it. In the latter, the money of other people is being stolen to create a government ISP to cater to the needs of these people.

          If an ISP refuses to give free access to people who cannot afford internet access, they would be in breach of the law, will face fines, potential closure and ultimately seizure of their property. This is a threat of violence, followed by actual violence.

          If the government sets up its own ISP for the poor, they do so with other people’s money, which is extracted by the same method; people are threatened with violence if they do not pay tax, and then if they persist, actual violence is done to them.

          What Rogge and all other people who claim that the State should provide goods for people who cannot afford them are calling for is violence.

          Internet access, healthcare, education and all those things are goods, not rights. You do not have a right to other people’s money or property, and this is how you can instantly distinguish a right from a good. See the link in my comment above for a video explaining what a good and a right are.

          People like Rogge are well meaning, but they have not thought clearly about the implications of what they are advocating. Their philosophy is based on violence at the root. That violence, hidden away from the explicit calls they make for ‘the greater good’ is a pernicious, evil, corrosive drain on society, distorting man’s natural urge to help his fellow man and causing huge disruption and damage to the economy.

          Hope this helps. SPQR!

        • Scary Devil Monastery

          I think making internet access a “right” is using the wrong definition.
          Access to communication is a right. Thus anyone can purchase a telephone and start a subscription. Freedom of opinion is a right, and thus communications must by default be unmonitored and unrestricted. Exceptions to this allowed only where a public prosecutor has decided there is due cause to violate the right to privacy.

          What the UN definition of human rights usually means in practice is that it is the duty of every nation to ensure that there is an affordable option to receive basic healthcare, basic education, basic communications access and so on and so forth. It doesn’t mean and never has meant that a government has the duty of giving a telephone and a subscription to each and every one of it’s citizens. In any healthy marketplace (and to be frank, a lot of unhealthy ones also), everyone who hasn’t slipped through the cracks of the public safety nets in the first place can afford this.

          It simply means that the government isn’t normally allowed to take such devices and services away. It has to ensure that no one else does, either.

          The way I interpret internet communication as a human right is simple – the government has to stand as guarantee that no one is allowed to frivolously take away that service from a citizen, prevent the citizen from obtaining such a service, or use control over that service to violate the privacy of that citizen.

          It’s that simple. In some cases it may be desireable for governments and/or municipalities to subsidize certain services when it’s seen to serve the common good – the way some cities sponsor open wifi networks and/or internet access to households as it’s deemed as a good way to accelerate industrial growth and job opportunities.
          But that’s a different issue altogether and isn’t covered by making the internet a human rights issue.

        • Scary Devil Monastery

          “Internet access, healthcare, education and all those things are goods, not rights. You do not have a right to other people’s money or property,”

          No, wrong. Internet access, education and health care are all examples of services, not goods as you seem to define them.

          A fiber cable and a physical router is property. Access to that cable setup in order to provide internet access is a service. All services need to conform to a minimum standard in order to be legally provided. It’s there we need to focus.

          A company certainly can determine that they will not provide such a service on their property. But if they do intend to sell that service commercially then they are going to have to abide by a minimum standard. Net Neutrality would be a good place to start – something we already have bits and pieces of in the Swedish telecom legislation and the EU telecom packages.

          Your property rights naturally diminish if you yourself want to use that property commercially – not by design but simply because you will be required to sell access to your property under legal obligations.

  10. 11
    Mårten

    Hmm, I think the principle of net neutrality is important but at the same time the idea of property rights resonate with me as well. This makes me wonder if enforcing net neutrality on all service providers is the wrong solution after all. A better method might be to make “internet” (or “broadband” etc) a protected name that must fulfill certain requirements in order for a service provider to be allowed to use it. Similar to how certain food and wine names are protected in the EU (e.g. roquefort cheese or falukorv). One criteria for something to be marketed as internet might then be “net neutrality”. I’m not sure how big a legal difference it would make, but it would solve the philosophical property right issues for the sensitive libertarians at lest. :)
    I think it’s true that if ISPs start retaliating by filtering out certain companies (tempting as it might be) they will also open up the flood gates for filtering requests of all kinds of content in the future. It will be hard to argue against filtering certain things while accepting others.

    • 11.1
      Scary Devil Monastery

      “A better method might be to make “internet” (or “broadband” etc) a protected name that must fulfill certain requirements in order for a service provider to be allowed to use it.”

      That would be my view as well. Certainly no company who owns cable should be forced to share that cable with anyone. But if they choose to sell a service then that service needs to comply with a minimum standard in the same way a commercially sold box of oreo cookies isn’t allowed to contain potassium cyanide or heavy metals.

      “Property rights” should be sacrosanct. What people fail to realize when they are debating net neutrality is that internet access isn’t a case of “property” but a case of being a “commercial service”.

      • 11.1.1
        Thomas Fullerton

        SCD: When we say that healthcare, education, food and internet access are goods and not rights, we are speaking in the economic sense. I think even you would not argue that a car is a good, or that food is a good. Maybe this will help:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOwImRicZrw

        Both you and Mårten have decided that the State should effectively take control of the word ‘internet’ like a trademark, and then regulate ISPs through the back door, by defining what the internet is and is not. You claim that they “have to abide by a minimum standard”. Why? Who are you to say that anyone must comply to any standard of any kind, and why do you think that the State should be the controller of this standard?

        The internet has reached the point that it has without the government having any say in the technical details or any specification to define it, and now, all of a sudden, you are saying that the State should define what the internet is, when access to it is sold to the public?

        This doesn’t make any sense.

        ISPs have always stated what they are offering to customers in terms of the price and amount and style of bandwidth they are offering. The existing consumer protection laws ensure that if people have a service misrepresented to them they can sue the company. This is more than enough protection, but what you two are asking for is more than simple protection against fraud; you both want the government to shape the internet to reflect your personal philosophies, through violence. It has been demonstrated to you that property rights cannot be violated to do this, and so you are trying to create another way of getting what you want without violating people’s rights, which you acknowledge are ‘sacrosanct’.

        The problem is, you cannot do it. Saying that you can own whatever you like, but cannot dispose of it or sell access to it without stringent rules imposed by violence is a violation of property rights. If you own something, you have the right to rent it, sell it, and do whatever you want with it in a private contract with another person. This is part of what property rights actually are, and of course, the other party can decline your generous offer if she wants to.

        “But what if all the ISPs group together and conspire to offer a crippled service? There would be no choice!” I hear you cry. This is what is called a market opportunity. If there is a market for Net Neutral ISPs then you or someone else can provide it. Its your property and money, and you can build whatever systems you like and sell them.

        Finally, and once again, you cannot run a service without property rights. Even a prostitute provides a service with property; her own body, which she owns and can use in whatever way she sees fit. Property rights do not ‘naturally diminish’ ever. I do not know how you came to this conclusion, but it is completely false. Rights do not ever diminish; they are fixed in nature and are limited in number, all stemming from property rights. Commercial use of your property does not in any way legitimise the State curtailing your rights.

        You cannot call for property rights to be ‘sacrosanct’ and at the same time call for the State to restrict what people do only because they want to sell or rent their property, or claim that rights diminish because you are involved in commerce. That is neither logical or moral.

        I suggest that both of you try and consider a way to get what you want without resorting to violence, or any idea that involves anyone being forced to do something, just as a thought experiment. After all, a voluntary network of peers on the internet has brought us together here to exchange ideas; clearly voluntarism can do amazing things if we would only tap it and renounce violence!

        • Mårten

          Thomas, if you buy a box of bananas you expect it to be full of bananas and not something else. If it isn’t you will sue (and ultimately threaten with violence) the seller. Similarly if you buy access to the internet you expect to get normal access to the internet and not something else. It makes sense for the government to define what we mean when we say banana or internet in legal contracts and marketing.
          That wouldn’t interfere with property rights, the owner of the property can still do whatever he wants to do with it and he can sell access to it that doesn’t live up to the internet standard. He can’t call it internet if it doesn’t, but he could sell it under a different name, like “filternet”, or “unequalnet” etc.

        • Thomas Fullerton

          If you buy a banana, you know what it is when you buy it in the shop. You can squeeze it, smell it, talk to the shop owner about it, and then decide to either buy it or not.

          You do not need the State to tell you what a banana is, or that you need one, where to get one or how much you should pay for it. All of this is between you and the seller of the fruit. And billions of bananas and other fruits, and even fruit cakes are sold every day without Big Brother holding your hand.

          If you want a cheaper banana, you shop around until you find one that is suited to your needs. You compare the green grocers out there, and you might even pick one that wasn’t selling the most fresh bananas, but the one that had the friendliest owner.

          In the same way, people shop around for internet access. You can choose between different providers, and then pay for one that is good for you.

          For millions of people AOL is a perfect choice, as inexplicable as that might seem to computer literates like you and I. AOL holds your hand, is garbage, but people like it because it makes them feel good. Good luck to them.

          The State has no business defining what things are and are not. It is not inside their competence, they do not help anyone by doing it, and the result is always that someone’s rights get suppressed.

          By your logic, AOL would never have been able to call itself an internet provider, because it sold access to its own crippled network instead of what we think of as the ‘real internet’.

          It is their right to sell access to that crippled network; you can always leave it and go to a pure internet ISP.

          All ISPs describe fully what they are offering in their TOS. They have do do this as a part of the contract they offer. They are already telling the consumer exactly what they are getting, so ‘we’ do not need any new legislation or arbitrary rules that will be an unwarranted and absurd imposition on business.

          Once again, it would be interesting to hear what you can come up with that does not involve telling other people what to do by force.

        • Scary Devil Monastery

          “This is what is called a market opportunity. If there is a market for Net Neutral ISPs then you or someone else can provide it. Its your property and money, and you can build whatever systems you like and sell them.”

          As we have seen such efforts pan out in real life (Bell Telephones, Microsoft vs EU, Microsoft vs US) we can certainly predict what happens. Here’s the problem – without government regulation the marketplace will move to monopolization quite simply because that’s the most profitable path.

          Without some form of government regulation we thus end up with the market economy turning into a planned economy instead. We either have to put up with the most powerful player on the market dictating terms – or we have to accept that the terms are decided by a majority vote.

          I’ll agree that property rights are sacred – if I purchase something then it should be no one’s business but my own what I do with it (as long as I’m not performing a crime in which case the problem isn’t so much with my property rights as wth my actions).

          However, there are certainly stipulations we accept as valid restrictions when it comes to the purchase and usage of property. If I purchase a car I both have to demonstrate a capability to drive it safely (a license) and I have to maintain the car in running order (as in demonstrating that it’s fit to drive safely). Unless I fulfil these criteria the only legal use I can put my car to is as adornment in my garage.

          Where internet access (or any other service) is concerned the same reasoning applies.

          On the whole I’d be happy if governmental interference were kept to a minimum. When it comes to fair treatment of consumers however, that means either that we apply the government violence monopoly in defining the minimum requirements a service must fulfill in order to be legal – or we have to apply the same government violence monopoly in order to ensure “fair” market place conditions (as in antitrust legislation and so on.

          It is quite literally impossible to prevent unfair market place conditions unless we implement truly draconian measures. If a given monopoly decides to undercut a newcomer locally by price dumping then that is nothing the government should interfere in – it’s simply competition where one player on the market decides to take a short-term loss for long-term gain.

          So we end up with the absolute necessity of applying regulation at the minimum level where it will do some good.

          The idea that you are allowed to sell a service to any term as defined by the vendor has never been the standard. Nor should it be.

          This is why you aren’t allowed to sell cars, guns, food, drugs, or, in the nations allowing prostitution, yourself without the good (as defined by you) or service performing to a minimum standard.

          That’s the legal basis at least. And that’s where I think you miss a vital definition on what “property rights” really is. It concerns what you yourself may do with a property you own. Selling that property or leasing access to it must conform to a minimum standard of legal protection for the consumer in question simply because you now use your property as leverage on another persons freedoms. You don’t have to sell food you own. But if you try to knowingly sell food which contains harmful additives then you are now legally responsible for causing harm.

          With internet access that gets even worse. If you are the only provider who has constructed a road then the government would rightly take a dim view if you chose to block any road exit towards cities where your competition was heavily represented. Especially if the design of your road specifically inhibits others from creating an alternative route.

          Ayn Randish objektivism is not a bad idea in principle but it still has to exist in the real world. Taken too far it becomes just as dangerous and damaging as marxist plan economy.

        • Scary Devil Monastery

          “In the same way, people shop around for internet access. You can choose between different providers, and then pay for one that is good for you.”

          This presumes that actual competition exists or is possible. If the net amount of possible providers is one or two the entire system of free competition falls to the ground. At the end of which you need to involve the government at a level of intrusion which is, basically, profound.

          See the microsoft trials or the case vs Bell telephones. I’d prefer a far smaller government intrusion in business than a heavy-handed enforced splitting of the company. And yet that was the only option left on the table.

        • Thomas Fullerton

          As we have seen such efforts pan out in real life (Bell Telephones, Microsoft vs EU, Microsoft vs US) we can certainly predict what happens. Here’s the problem – without government regulation the marketplace will move to monopolization quite simply because that’s the most profitable path.

          There is a fundamental flaw with this view. The first part of this flaw is the mistaken belief that we have been living in a true free market economy. Nothing cold be further from the truth.

          To take just one example from your list of companies, Microsoft is a perfect example of what happens when the State is involved in economics. Through its system of privileges (patents) and other crony capitalist market distortions, Microsoft was able to destroy many companies and new technologies. Just ask Mark Andressen about how MS used the state to destroy Netscape when MS thought that its suite would become a threat to its desktop business.

          Similarly, Bell Telephones, through its many patents (government granted monopolies) was able to keep competition out of the market to such an extent that it became the monster that it did. The very State that you hold is the solution to monopolies is in fact the thing that creates monopolies in the first place.

          I do not accept some of your ‘valid’ restrictions. There is absolutely no reason why we need the State to issue driving licenses. If you accept that the State has the right to do this then you must accept that it also has a right to license you to have a baby, use the internet, grow food, sell food in a restaurant or anything else you do. These arguments all fall flat when you accept that someone else may think that you should be licensed in a way that you do not agree with.

          I see that you have, finally, albeit obliquely, conceded that you are for violence. Once again, who is to decide what is fair and is not fair? In the past, Chinese women marrying Caucasians was deemed to be unacceptable by the majority, and so no doubt if you were alive then, you would agree that the State should have the power to stop those people from marrying, simply because the majority says so. This is not logical, legitimate or moral, and it doesn’t matter what example you trawl up; your opinion only applies to you and your property and nothing else.

          The idea that there is such a thing as ‘predatory pricing’ is a fallacy. I don’t have time to go into it here, but I can point you here:

          https://mises.org/daily/226

          for a sound refutation.

          As an aside, we can see how innovation free of government control (Linux) can create something that cannot be stopped by a huge monopoly like MS. This is why the patent fight is so crucial; the State that you serve and defend in these comments is set to be used as a hammer to smash free software. It is schizophrenic, to say the least, to on the one hand be for property rights and against monopolies and in the same breath, argue for the strictures of the State.

          Once again, your idea that it should not be ‘the standard’ that you are allowed to sell a service to any term as defined by the vendor is just your opinion, and you have no right to tell other people what to do with their property, and you have no moral basis to group together with other people to use violence to make them obey you.

          It doesn’t matter what the thing you are selling is; cars, guns, food, drugs, your own body, none of these are your business if you do not want to be involved in them. None of these should be subject to license, inspection or any State control of any kind. This will not in any way impact on the utility or safety of the goods or services, as we have seen with the Underwriter’s Laboratory example:

          http://mises.org/daily/3440

          Selling property or leasing access to it is in no way ‘leveraging on another persons freedoms’. This is utter nonsense, and displays a complete misunderstanding of what free exchange and property rights are. It comes from the mistaken idea that ‘capitalism is exploitation’, a fallacious and nonsensical idea straight out of the holy books of socialism.

          When two people exchange, it is a meeting of peers. Neither party has an advantage over the other (otherwise, it would not be a fair exchange). In the case of buying something for money, you want the money less than you want the bread, and the baker wants the money more than he wants the bread he has baked. You seriously need to research the fundamentals of liberty and commerce:

          http://mises.org/rothbard/newlibertywhole.asp

          You can do no better than that book. It is easy to read and understand, and it will dispel many of the misconceptions that you are carrying around.

          Of course, fair exchange does not mean defrauding people by misrepresenting what you are selling. Fraud is not a part of free trade.

          finally, you betray the final proof of your unfamiliarity with the ideas of Liberty. These ideas have nothing to do with Ayn Rand and objektivism (sic) but are founded in Libertarianism as expounded by Murray Rothbard. People who are unfamiliar with these ideas always pull out Ayn Rand because she is the only person in their limited exposure that they can call on to smack down. Its pitiful really, but not at all your fault.

          Now that I have given you a very serious and easy book to read, you need to read it. Once you have done so, your will have a much better idea about property rights, free exchange and all of the subjects we have been discussing here.

          I would like to thank you for taking the time to reply at length and with carefully (though completely wrong :) ) in these comments. I am sure that IRL we could have some good times discussing these matters!

  11. RT @piratbloggar: Falkvinge on Infopolicy: Net Neutrality and Censorship: It’s Not About Property, It’s About The Agreement:… http://tinyurl.com/3wwra4p

  12. [...] Net Neutrality and Censorship: It’s Not About Property, It’s About The Agreement ( http://falkvinge.net) [...]

  13. RT @falkvinge Net Neutrality and Censorship: It’s Not About Property, It.. http://is.gd/S8phiz #infopolicy #netneutrality

  14. RT @urbansundstrom: RT @falkvinge Net Neutrality and Censorship: It’s Not About Property, It.. http://is.gd/S8phiz #infopolicy #netneutrality

  15. [...] one well-regarded PIG advocate recently pronounced: “Free Speech rights are more important than property rights…[T]he Internet IS Free [...]

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