Why I Insist On Saying "The Copyright Monopoly"

Some people have asked me why I keep saying “the copyright monopoly” instead of just “copyright”. Isn’t this just cheap rhetoric?, they ask. It is neither cheap nor rhetoric, and as is often the case when I choose words, it makes an important point.

If you listen to copyright lawyers discussing in courtrooms, they never use the casual language of “we hold the copyright to this movie”. Rather, they will use the legalese expression “we hold the exclusive rights to this (…)”.

Now, legislative language and legalese can be very complex, and we all have a duty to explain the complexities of the copyright monopoly to the public in as easy-to-grasp terms as we can.

An exclusive right is something theoretical and mystical for most people. Therefore, I much prefer the semantically and thesaurusally identical monopoly.

Now, it should be carefully noted that I use the copyright industry’s own language here, only replacing a term with a more widely-understood synonym.

There is another point to this. By always saying “the copyright monopoly” instead of “copyright”, you reinforce the nature of the legislation — that it is an exclusive right, or a monopoly, that is in opposition to property rights, and is not a property right itself. Just this straightforward use of accurate, descriptive language will accomplish that.

I spoke with two legal professors yesterday, and they had no problems whatsoever using the “monopoly” term when discussing the legislation, as it is fully correct. (Although, when challenged on this by a third legal scholar, I clarified that I speak of a statutory monopoly — de jure — rather than an abused dominant market position — de facto. After that, everybody was happy and the discussion continued.)

Finally, the copyright industry hates when I say “the copyright monopoly”, just because it describes the legislation’s nature to those who haven’t yet taken time to delve into the issues. Also, monopoly is a negative word. But it is negative for a very good reason. If people react negatively when I use correct and easy-to-understand words to describe the legal situation, that’s not because of me; that’s because of the situation itself.

So I’d love to see more people say “the copyright monopoly” consistently. We have a mission ahead of us to educate the public on the nature of this legislation.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. Thomas Fullerton

    An exclusive right is something theoretical and mystical for most people. Therefore, I much prefer the semantically and thesaurusally identical monopoly.

    The real reason why the phrase ‘copyright monopoly’ is correct comes from the historical fact that patents originated from the crown as a true monopoly on the use of an idea. A single person or company was granted a monopoly on the use of some new invention and the state backed up the inventor with violence against anyone who copied that idea and tried to make use of it.

    Today, the state uses violence to protect the copyrights of the global media companies. Theoretically, everyone who makes things has the same access to copyright ‘protections’ (of course, this is not true in practice); so the state guarantees you that it will use violence against anyone who copies what you create.

    The copyright monopoly in the modern sense however, is a different thing to the ancient monopolies. The copyright monopoly is the predatory group of global companies that have privileged access to the mechanism of the law through political lobbying to create statutes that entrench them and their fallacious intellectual property claims.

    It is not just a matter of the exclusive right to exploit an idea; it is a power and economic monopoly in the same way that AT&T was a monopoly, or that the USSRs Melodia record label was a monopoly. The MPAA, RIAA and their cohorts represent a restrictive, anti competitive, destructive monopoly of the law, its enforcement and legislation making. That is the true nature of the copyright monopoly.

    It is important to say what the true nature of this phrase is, because if you do not do so, you cannot get to the root of the problem, which is the fact that these companies have privileged access to the entity that has the most important monopoly of all the monopoly on violence; the State.

    Without the State to back up their illegitimate claims, there would be no ICE seizures of domains, no mass prosecutions of P2P file sharers, no shutdown of Napster, Limewire, Kazaa etc.

    The copyright monopoly is the intellectual property oligarchy, the criminal gangster class of crony capitalists that abuse government to destroy everything that threatens them by using the violence of the State.

    That is the true situation!

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      I’ll address your first paragraph here; I’m not sure if your keyboard slipped when you wrote that the copyright monopoly has its origins in patents, because the origins are distinctly different. Patent monopolies originally come from Venice, whereas the copyright monopoly is rightly so called for the exact reason you describe — it was originally a monopoly on printing to the London Guild of Stationers, awarded in May of 1557 by Queen Mary I in exchange for censorship powers, in order to fight political dissent (which in this time and place meant protestantism).

      I have nothing to add to the rest of your comment; you describe the situation beautifully and it is the source of much frustration. I can’t see any other solution than spending time and energy on educating the public, one step at a time.

  2. Johan Sundström

    Brilliant! This is exactly the right way to convey dishonestly enmisted truths – using honest, accurate and meaningful terms.

  3. thnurg

    Nice one Rick. I love the fact that you call a spade a spade and use language to clearly get your point across.

    The copyright monopoly, on the other hand, use FUD, unclear terminology and misplaced emotion to try and drum up support.

    Words like “theft” or “stealing” are used to make culture sharers look like criminals. There is also the egregious fightonlinetheft website that uses a story of death by counterfeit drugs to explain why PROTECT IP is necessary and thus try and lump file sharers in with killers.

    As long as people like you keep explaining clearly there is hope.

  4. Runar

    Nice term and reasoning behind it! 🙂 This would also be valid on discussing patents, as mentioned by Thomas Fullerton. I’ll start using it in patent debates as well.

  5. NoName

    The “exclusive right” refers to a specific product (or a part of a product as a territorial right on a specific medium), monopoly (as used today) refers to a industry or a line of business. One can have the monopoly on selling cars in a country, but if one oly has the monopoly on a specific car brand – and others are still allowed to sell cars – it’s no longer a monopoly on selling cars. It’s a monopoly on selling a specific brand. So it’s NOT the same. The exclusive right might also refer to the rights for a limitied period of time. Monopoly does not. So the term ““the copyright monopoly” is incorrect. The correct term would be to use “The copyright of XXX on YYY terms monopoly”. Re-defining words for ones own benefits is basic lawschool 101 bullshit!

    1. Thomas Fullerton

      What you are describing is the difference between a patent (a monopoly on the use of an idea) and a Trademark, which is a monopoly on the use of a unique name. Trade marks (in so far as they are not controlled by the violent and evil State) are reasonable, because it prevents people from passing off your goods with your name, which is a type of fraud.

      Copyright is a State enforced monopoly on a creative work, that can be copied without injury to the person who first released the creative work. It stops you from completely owning what you buy (you cant copy from a CD you have bought, or the State will violently smack you down) and that is not ethical.

      As for limited term, the Sonny Bono Copyright extension Act is only one example of how the correctly named copyright monopoly buys laws to extend its violent hold on you and your property to the detriment of everyone.

      1. NoName

        Still, the “monopoly” refers to one specific medium, on one specific content. Weather you call it a trademark or a patent. You are free to produce your own CD, DVD:s an so on. There’s no monopoly there (except licensing fees for Blu-rays). The distributors only have monopoly on the specefic content, in a specefic medium for a limitied period of time. That means that they have a monopoly on reproducing specific content. The same way a car manufacturer has a “monopoly” on producing their specific models, brands and so on – but no monopoly on producing cars.

        1. Thomas Fullerton

          They dont have a monopoly on producing cars now but by your argument, someone should have a monopoly on producing cars, simply because the government has the power to violently enforce the idea that a man or a company can own the idea of what a car is and how it operates. This is what is immoral and wrong.

          1. NoName

            You don’t seem to understand the difference between a general monopoly on a line of products, and a monopoly on a more specific product. There is no “copyright monopoly” since everyone is aloowed to copy anything – as long as they create it themselfs. There is a however a “copyright monopoly ON speiefic rights owned by copyright holders”. But since there is so many different copyrightholders and anyone is allowed to create, by or in other ways aquire new rights – this can not be considered a monopoly. It’s just re-defining words. Legal bullshit 101.

        2. Shnit

          Walt Disney is dead and some guys alive today have a monopoly over the use of Mickey and the gang. It’s completely in my range of capabilities to use this idea of a cartoon mouse in my art and it could be argued that I would be the best person in the world to make art with Mickey, but I can’t do that unless I get permission from the people holding the monopoly who have nothing to do with the idea.

  6. SF

    It should perhaps be noted that while the monopoly itself is a bad thing for society, providing incentives for investment in scientific or cultural works can be a good thing.

    The copyright monopoly should, just as patents be seen as an incentive to invest time or money in the creation of new works and as such the really important questions are:
    How extensive does the monopoly really have to be in order to provide the necessary incentive ?

    Are there other ways to provide incentives for creation of cultural works that have fewer drawbacks ?

    Finding other ways to provide incentives for large scale investment in culture is difficult but reducing the negative effects of the current system can be as easy as scaling back the duration of the monopoly and doing so would have little to no effect on the incentive to invest.

    1. Neverhood

      I agree, but I also think that the sheer amount of knowledge resources made freely available by scaling back copyright and patent monopolies would more that make up for any lost incentives to innovate.

      All the knowledge that is locked up and the omnipresent threat of lawsuits is already a huge tax on the incentive to innovate. You need look no further than the Smartphone industry for proof of that.

  7. […] Beklagar sorgen. Nu ökar upphovsrättsmonopolet. […]

  8. Ne dites plus Copyright mais Monopole du Copyright ! | Dico Micro

    […] Why I Insist On Saying “The Copyright Monopoly” […]

  9. P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » Why is copyright a monopoly?

    […] Excerpted from Rick Falkvinge, explaining why he consistently uses the concept of ‘copyright monopoly’: […]

  10. Patrick Anderson

    You may guess the Copyright Monopoly to be of no value,

    But the GNU GPL requires this legal instrument to operate.

    The GNU GPL prevents another kind of Monopoly by
    requiring Sources accompany all Objects to prevent
    the distributor from “getting in the way” of the Users
    when the Users want to change or fix the program.

    Requiring Users gain access to Sources insures those
    Users can fix and improve the Objects.

    The Users may need to hire someone to do that
    Work, but at least the distributor does not have a
    monopoly on supplying that Work.

  11. Crosbie Fitch

    The lawyers use ‘exclusive right’ as shorthand for ‘legislatively created exclusive right’ (all created ‘rights’ are unethical) and primarily because ‘right’ can be confused with right, i.e. a natural right (one that exists in man by nature, not through royal grant or legislation).

    Copyright is the right to copy annulled in the majority to be left, by exclusion, in the hands of a few – ‘copyright holders’.

    The only natural right to exclude is better known as privacy – the right to exclude others from the objects and spaces you possess or inhabit. It is this natural exclusive right that the US Constitution recognises and empowers Congress to secure in terms of an author’s writings or an inventor’s designs.

    Copyright (the Statute of Anne enacted in Britain 1709, US 1790), by effectively annulling the people’s natural right to copy, thereby creates the privilege to exclude others from copying their own possessions, a quasi ‘exclusive right’. Obviously, in nature, no-one has the natural power to prevent others making copies of what they possess (whereas they do have the natural power to exclude burglars).

    Today, far too few people know the difference between a right that exists in man by nature and a ‘right’ created by legally annulling or abridging a natural right.

    Copyright lawyers are happy to conflate unethical ‘rights’ (created by law) with ethical rights (natural) – because most people have picked up the residual folk memory that rights are a priori good (but that monopolies are a priori bad).

  12. […] en dialog om upphovsrätt som jag läst och tänkt till om. Jag har också kikat en del på det Rick Falkvinge skriver.Den ene (Contentisking) pratar om artisternas rätt ,och den andre (Magnihasa) […]

  13. […] can help spread understanding of the fact that the copyright monopoly is a monopoly by consistently saying “the copyright monopoly”, just like we do here and others do […]

  14. […] is treated as an “intellectual property” right under the law (even though it’s more like a monopoly than property). That means the right to control your work — to say who can distribute it, reproduce it, remix […]

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