In our series about defenses of the copyright monopoly, and why they don’t hold water on scrutiny, today’s article will be about the argument of the copyright monopoly being no different from other restrictions on property rights. Some people would claim that the copyright monopoly is just as legitimate as regulations of land property. This is a false assertion; the copyright monopoly is only legitimate from protectionist or corporativist ideologies.
We’ve outlined in many articles how the copyright monopoly stands in opposition to property rights, being a governmentally-granted private monopoly. We’ve looked at common objections to this observation from those who would attempt to defend the copyright monopoly as legitimate, and how such attempts all fail when confronted with basic facts about the monopoly.
Today, we’ll address a harder point: some people will readily admit that the copyright monopoly is a restriction of property rights, but that it’s no different from other restrictions of property rights, and therefore, they argue it is just as legitimate as the ban against polluting the soil on your land with radioactive waste, or similar regulations that also restrict property rights.
(Some people would be less eloquent and pick worse examples, sometimes much worse – for example, they would point at how you can’t use a hammer to kill a person. That’s most certainly not a restriction of your property rights to hammers, that’s a ban on murdering people.)
In the end, this is all about legitimacy: the legitimacy of the copyright monopoly and its restrictions to our property rights to the copies we manufacture with our own parts and labor and therefore own. Still, on the surface, the claim that the copyright monopoly is like any other restriction on property rights would appear correct. To understand why the argument is false, and doesn’t lend legitimacy to the copyright monopoly, we have to go a bit into philosophy to understand the nature of property rights, and where they come from.
Before we had states with a police that upheld the state’s laws using force, there was still the notion of property. Essentially, you could call that “your property” which you had the means to defend by yourself. This can be easily observed in the animal kingdom, too. Such property fell into three categories: loose objects, territory, and other lifeforms.
We can easily observe in nature how lifeforms behave by these proto-property laws. You will have no problem finding an animal which clearly displays that its considers an object, a territory, or another lifeform their property.
Then, with the construction of states and laws, this became partly institutionalized. You no longer needed to defend all of your property by yourself; the state would defend it for you, but only as long as you complied with the state’s rules. Alas, you would sometimes disagree with the state as to which was your property, and you would be on the losing end of that discussion, so there was a simultaneous loss to the property rights that had been. (We can observe this in taxation, for instance.)
Further, with the invention of the state and the superior firepower resting with it, the rights to own other lifeforms started to gradually disappear, and a new form of property right was conceived: the property right to one’s own body (meaning that no other person could also own it). Thus, gradually, even people born with the wrong set or color of body parts became unownable.
(We can still observe remnants from when women were property in the Christian marriage ritual, where the woman is handed over from her father to her husband: from owner to owner, in what was primarily a property transaction. This is not a ritual we should be proud of, and there’s nothing beautiful about that part of the ritual.)
So we’re arriving at a point where the existence of the state is a precondition for uniform restrictions to property rights, even though restrictions to property rights have existed before, mainly through nonuniform application of force between the citizens themselves. But what about the copyright monopoly, then? Unlike property rights, it cannot exist without the state, for it grants the right to restrict everybody’s property rights to private interests, rather than maintaining it as a function of government.
This is a key difference.
It is quite uncontested that the elected legislature has the right to restrict property rights. I’m not allowed to pour toxic sludge into the groundwater on my own property, for example. It’s also reasonably uncontested that such an elected legislature has the right to delegate a mandate to un-restrict property rights to the executive branch – as long as the default is restricted for everybody, the legislature can delegate the duty of granting exceptions to some authority within government.
Thus, it’s not that the restrictions would apply to some private interests and not to others: property restrictions do apply nonuniformly even under a state of laws. For example, the private defense contractor Applied Nucular Research, LLC may be legally able to purchase metric tons of lithium-6-deuteride, while I may most certainly not. This would be determined by the Radiological Authority or something similarly named, with a delegated mandate from the legislature.
However, when it comes to that copy of Avengers that I bought, and which is my property, it’s not the legislature or their delegate within the government that gets to determine how my property rights are restricted; it’s a private interest. (As we have seen before, my purchase of Avengers is not a contractual agreement; the copyright monopoly stands in opposition to contracting rights and property rights. It’s a pure restriction on property rights, exercised by a private interest.)
So, we’re down to the admission that the copyright monopoly is indeed a restriction of property rights, but we have determined that a key difference between the copyright monopoly and other restrictions of property rights is that the restrictions emanating from the copyright monopoly are controlled by a private interest. How does this affect the copyright monopoly’s legitimacy?
Well, that would depend on which set of eyes you use to judge that legitimacy. At this point, we need to look at which ideologies would support such a construction, and which would not.
The notion that the state can restrict property rights by elected legislature, with exceptions to those restrictions being issued by the government executive, is a well-supported notion in socialism, conservatism, liberalism, and green ideology – all of today’s major political ideals. There are some hardcore libertarians who would argue that nobody has the right to punish you for poisoning the groundwater on your own soil; other than that, this is a pretty much uniform agreement.
However, none of these ideologies support the notion of the legislature delegating the right to restrict property rights to private interests, to delegate the responsibility outside of government of controlling citizen’s property rights. That is a governmentally-sanctioned private monopoly. Such constructions are foreign and horrid to these ideologies – they are…
- Foreign to socialism, as private monopolies must not exist;
- Foreign to conservatism, as property rights can’t be limited by governmentally-sanctioned monopolies;
- Foreign to liberalism, as trade can’t be justly limited by private competing interests;
- Foreign to green ideology, for the socialism and liberalism reasons.
The only ideologies that properly defend this construction are corporativism (in its corporatocratic meaning) and protectionism:
- Corporativism: Anything which is good for the currently dominant corporations is good for society, and corporate and legislative powers should ideally meld.
- Protectionism: The overriding priority is to safeguard our current jobs and industries from influences and developments that threaten them. Anything else is secondary.
Thus, in conclusion,
The copyright monopoly can only be seen as legitimate from a corporativist or protectionist ideology. For socialist, liberal, conservative, or green ideologies, it is a hideous construction.
Therefore, the copyright monopoly is quite unlike other forms of restrictions on property rights, as such restrictions find support in all major political ideologies, which the copyright monopoly doesn’t.