The Teachers' Guild – A Short Story From a Parallel Universe

Imagine a world, in which when you teach something to someone the knowledge is considered your “intellectual property”. Your students are not permitted to teach the things they have learned from you to anyone else, neither for money, nor even for free.

To become a teacher, one must buy into the guild for a lot of money, inherit rights from someone who was a teacher, or teach something that hasn’t been learned from anyone, i.e. something newly invented.

David Xanatos joins the Falkvinge & Co. team today, opening with this article.

Being a teacher was a very powerful position. Having a monopoly to teach and usually even your own districts to educate exclusively, a teacher could charge any price. Furthermore, teachers even had the right to dictate the purpose and conditions on which the knowledge they taught was allowed to be used.

People living near each other were sometimes infringing on these rights of the guild by illegally teaching close friends, or family members things they learned.

When the guild caught someone teaching, the offenders head to pay horrendous fines for this despicable offence of spreading knowledge without holding the proper rights to do so.

As time progressed a new invention was introduced, the postal system, it was spreading like wild fire across districts. Anyone used it to communicate with old friends that moved away or remote family members.

However, soon people called “Pirates” realized the potential of this new technology; and they started to abuse it to spread knowledge, bypassing the guild’s rights.
They were even spreading the knowledge across district borders set up by the guild. Moreover they didn’t just spread it to their friends or family – no they were providing it to anyone, even to the most remote tribes living across the ocean.

Of course the Teachers’ Guild wasn’t pleased. They went mad, really mad like the Content industry was in our world. They were determined to preserve their rights by any means necessary.

All Letters sent through the postal system were opened and checked for infringements of the knowledge monopoly. On the 3rd alleged infringement people were banned from using the postal system.
The mere possession of unlicensed, i.e. self-written, educational materials was made a criminal offence.
The usual stuff you know from our world.

The guild was defending their position with seemingly reasonable arguments:
“If education is free, no one will be willing to pay for education”
“If no one is willing to pay for education, the profession of the teacher will die out”
“No one will invent new things to teach, thus progress of science and useful arts will cease to continue”
“Without professional teachers, the quality of education will drastically drop and society will start to degenerate”
In essence the very same arguments the Content industry is using in our world.

Should this “intellectual property” of the guild be enforced with violence against the society at any cost?

Or should this monopoly be abolished, forcing the teacher guild to switch to alternative business models? E.g. business models where they are not paid any longer for existing knowledge, but for the act of teaching or inventing?

Let’s return to our so very real world.

We realize instantly that our teachers don’t have such mighty monopoly rights, those any knowledge you can grasp anywhere from anyone is allowed to be spread freely and can be improved while spreading.
Furthermore and most important we realize that all those horrible and actually quite plausible sounding doomsday scenarios the guild brought forth did not happen, far from it. Our society with a much freer flow of information is actually doing quite well, much better than any preceding society that head a much more restricted information supply.
The scholars of our world are doing just fine being paid for actual work, not holding any rights on stuff they teach.

We see that the fight these “Pirates” are fighting is the very same we are, we just need to replace teacher with author, and teaching with copying. Than we see that this Teacher Guild is actually identical to our very own Content Industry.

The Content Industry doesn’t want to get paid for actual work that requires skill or assets, but for a service anyone has become capable of doing themselves without assistance. And they are fighting by any means necessary to make this no longer required service (manufacturing of copies) necessary by law.
Instead of switch to business models where they would provide services for which there is actual demand, they are clinging on to their obsolete business models.

As long as there are people interested in a product (like new content) there will be people to whom the product will be important enough to pay for it. As long as volunteers are not able to fully satisfy the demand for free, there will always emerge a market place, where people capable of satisfying these demands will be able to do so in exchange for money.
As we can see in our world even if the product is illegal (like for example drugs), a market still emerges and flourishes.
It would be foolish to assume that as long as there is demand and people capable of satisfying this demand a market could be prevented by the legal framework within which it has to operate.

If we abolished the copyright system today, as long as there is a demand for new work there will always be people providing it, either voluntarily or in exchange for good money.


  1. AeliusBlythe

    An appropriate comparison. Funny how classroom knowledge is allowed to be spread freely while art is not. Though the Aaron Swartz/JSTOR incident shows that sometimes those lines are blurred.

    1. David Xanatos

      Copyright does not protect abstract knowledge, it only protects specific unique representations of knowledge. If Aaron Swartz would not have attempted to put the specific unique representation he download on the web, but a self written representation of the knowledge he obtained through his download, it would have been perfectly legal.
      The main problem in the case is that there is no prove that he actually attempted to publish the files he downloaded.

      1. AeliusBlythe

        Yes true. By “funny” I didn’t mean to suggest there was no difference. My point was just that when abstract knowledge is not available to everyone (we don’t always have someone to teach us), we depend on the representations of knowledge, so therefore it is possible to lock up education just like artistic creations.

        I think it’s interesting that many people who think a monopoly on art is OK and a monopoly on education/knowledge is not do not realize that copyright makes a monopoly on knowledge, well… if not totally possible, at least a threat. Of course copyright can’t apply to abstract knowledge, but if you control the representation of knowledge, then you do–to a certain extent–control abstract knowledge as well. That is, if you control people’s access to education (which copyright does) then you can control people’s opinions and decisions.

        So, to use JSTOR again, JSTOR is a great concrete resource of knowledge that I don’t have access to. And since I don’t also have access to the abstract knowledge of the writers/editors/AaronSwartz/anyone else who can access JSTOR, there’s a lot of data buried in there that I wouldn’t (legally) have access to. So by controlling the concrete representations of knowledge, copyright can (to an extent) control general knowledge.

        1. David Xanatos

          Yes true. Though in your case the problem is the access itself, even without copyright the access to knowledge can be limited.
          Copyright limits only how people who already have access to the knowledge can spread it.

          Though you are right that from a practical point of view this makes almost no difference, as the transcription of knowledge in a way to overcome copyright is a lot of work.

          It might be an interesting concept to create a library which instead of providing access to copyrighted works would on the first request for a particular information create a CC0 transcription and provide these instead.

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  3. PiratGurra

    “If we abolished the copyright system today, as long as there is a demand for new work there will always be people providing it, either voluntarily or in exchange for good money.”

    That is an excellent finish!

    If you want more of someones work – pay them! If not – suit yourself if they can’t afford doing any more work for you!

  4. Pat Mächler

    There already been some guys that ridiculed the act of teaching to exactly that. Read up on Andrew Joseph Galambos (i.e. Wikipedia or the writing of Stephen Kinsella); this “Liberal” asked students to acknowledge a “proprietary notice” which asked them to give credit (both intellectually and financially) for the information gleaned from his courses; later he required that all participants in his lectures sign a NDA to prevent publication of his ideas before he published them himself. (partially copying WP here)

    1. DavidXanatos

      I know that there have been some rather troubling developments lately in this regard.

      But they miss the point, which is that this ridiculous limitations did not exist in the past and still the education system and science in generally worked very well.

      Those removing similar limitations from the copyright system will have similar effects, meaning it will enrich the diversity of works and at the same time wont be the end of professional works as so often presented in the industries doomsday scenarios.

  5. Olli

    Gibt es den Artikel auch auf Deutsch?

    Mein Englisch ist leider nicht gut genug um alles zu verstehen.

  6. David Xanatos

    Es gibt einen ersten Entwurf auf deutsch und wesentlich kürzer:
    aber da fehlt vieles und viele Punkt sind nicht so gut ausgearbeitet, resp. fehlen ganz.
    Insbesondere ist da gerade der Finanzierungsaspekt nicht behandelt.

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