The Copyright Monopoly Is A Market Distortion, Not A Birthright

When you start questioning the copyright monopoly, many middlemen and other has-beens start acting offended – as if you have somehow questioned a natural right that they have by birthright. Nothing is farther from the truth.

The copyright monopoly is not a natural right. It is a government-sanctioned private monopoly, granted under the assumption that no culture would get created if there’s not a profit motive behind it, and that this profit motive can only be realized in a monopolized setting. Yet, when you question this assumption and this monopoly, some people react with unmitigated anger and fury – as though you have questioned their very right to life. This is puzzling, and indicates a lack of understanding of what the monopoly is and why it exists.

(People who like liberal capitalism should balk at “goverment-sanctioned monopoly”. People who lean towards labor values should balk at “private monopoly”. Still, it’s factually true.)

If property rights and normal competition were applied in the fields of culture and knowledge, there would be no such thing as the copyright monopoly whatsoever. It would be like any other field of entreprenurship – compare, for example, with how a professional chef needs to create new recipes and then can monetize them either by performing, by educating others, or by selling cookbooks, just to name a few methods. I use chefs as example on purpose here, as food recipes are explicitly not covered by the copyright monopoly – and yet, there are many cooks, chefs, and famous star chefs.

Some time in history (in 1709, specifically), publishers managed to convince legislators that no culture would get printed and distributed if the publishing guild couldn’t get the copyright monopoly reinstated, the lucrative monopoly that had previously been a censorship regime. Importantly, they didn’t argue that nothing would get created without a monopoly; they argued it wouldn’t get duplicated and distributed. Thus, fearing that no culture would be available for the population, legislators agreed to the monopoly on purely utilitarian grounds.

Later, this mutated into a purely utilitarian justification for this monopoly that limits normal property rights, competition, and trade mechanisms: “without the monopoly, little or no new culture would get created”. We see that all the time: “if you allow this monopoly to last for only 110 years instead of 120, how would the million-euro blockbuster movies get funded?”. Putting aside the argument that no movies have a return-on-investment horizon of 100 years in the first place (and many actually make their investment back opening weekend, making the copyright monopoly completely unnecessary), this argument keeps coming back: “if there’s no monopoly, no culture will be created”.

Thus, any entrepreneur aspiring to sell culture by the copy has historically had two layers of customers, and keeps having two layers. The first layer is legislators, where they have to keep selling the idea that the greater public good is served by giving the culture entrepreneurs a monopoly that infringes on other people’s property rights (“or culture won’t be created at all”). The second layer of customers are the ones actually buying culture by the copy.

That’s why it’s so thoroughly surprising to see these entrepreneurs react with fury and anger when legislators who are actually their customers – even if just customers of an idea they keep entertaining – when those legislators question the existence and value of this monopoly, up to and including threatening in public to burn such politicians at the stake. The copyright monopoly is not a natural right, like property or life. It never was. It is a government-granted market-distorting privilege that limits property rights and limits trade.

If entrepreneurs in the cultural sector want to keep this distortive privilege, the utilitarian value of it needs to be re-evaluated constantly. It is usually a bad idea to threaten the people who ultimately get to decide if the monopoly remains, rather than attempting to keep selling the picture of it as something that serves the greater good.

Of course, we also know now that the original premise of the copyright monopoly is thoroughly false. People are creating more than ever, and despite the copyright monopoly, not because of it. Over two days of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. People create as much in 48 hours today as humankind had created in total before 2003. Granted, not all of it is blockbuster movies – but humankind’s favorite form of culture has always shifted with the times. We don’t watch opera or theater much any more, so perhaps there’s something very interesting around the corner that will replace blockbusters, too?

In any case, the copyright monopoly is no kind of natural right, and people who react with fury and anger when it is questioned are severely misguided. They are reacting quite like religious fundamentalists. I don’t mean that in the sense of what we normally associate with a religion, I am merely pointing out that they are behaving in exactly the same patterns as religious fundamentalists are: with anger and hostility, every time their claims are called into question and scrutiny.

Just like with religious fanatic zealots, that disapproval of scrutiny may ultimately be their downfall – so may the light of a thousand suns shine on the disastrous market distortion that is the copyright monopoly.

This article is also published on TorrentFreak.

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. […] When you start questioning the copyright monopoly, many middlemen and other has-beens start acting offended – as if you have somehow questioned a natural right that they have by birthright. Nothing is farther from the truth.[…]  […]

  2. Anon

    Kinda sad on how many of the blockbusters are making their money back on opening night, yet they bitch and bitch on how they’re starve under if copyright isn’t extended by another X years all the time.
    These companies and middlehands have all been spoiled with the ability to hoard in outrageous amounts of money and pay out to shareholders/middlehands over these years. They can’t even imagine that profits can go down sometimes, it always has to go up all the time in their world.

    1. -tully Vloyf

      Anon You are wrong no blockbuster makes their money back on opening night and guess how many films are financial successes? A minority.

  3. printersMate

    While copyright is a market distortion, it is based on a distorted view of culture. To the publishers, culture consists of creators and artists, producing culture for consumption by audiences. Also, as copyright owners they wish to be paid for every act of consumption if it is at all possible. Because of this they feel that they should be able to prevent all re-us of culture by private citizens, and only allow such re-use by creators and artists where they get the major portion of any profit. This totally misses the primary definition of culture, that of shares stories and songs.
    The publishers wish to use copyright to control not only the copying of works, but also all use and performance of the works. Except where legal exceptions have been carved out, mainly as mandatory licensing of music, this control consists of blocking any use of works unless a hefty license fee can be extracted. Further, and dangerously, the publishers wish to control, or prohibit use of any technology that enables copying.
    Despite the claims of the publishers, it is copyright rather than ‘piracy’, that will lead to a cultural dessert of mass produced and trivial content entertainment. They are trying to stamp out all sharing of culture, and if possible this will include any independent publication of works. Copyright maximalism is not only a distorted market, but is also killing culture by trying to turn it into something that is only consumed.

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