Why Do Copyright Monopolists Think They Can Just Steal Somebody Else's Work?

Copyright monopolists insist on the idea of controlling the fruits of other people’s labor, such as when other people copy a particular file. This attitude is offensive, insulting, and antithetical to a free market.

The famous philosopher John Locke once published the idea that a person has the right to profit off of the fruits of their labor. This is only partially true: once you have sold something, you hold no further rights to profit off of it. This is fairly obvious, but needs to be stated for context.

An entrepreneur can sell one or both of two things: you can sell products, and you can sell services. If somebody decides to make shiny things and sell them, they have a right to profit off the fruit of that labor – but only up until the point where they sell the shiny things. Their ownership of the shiny thing, and their right to profit, ends the second the item is sold to somebody. Conversely, if somebody decides to sell their time in selling services, their right to profit ends the second they stop working for the person they have sold their time to.

In geek terms, entrepreneurship is finding a value differential in society, constructing a conduit between the two endpoints and sticking a generator in the middle of the conduit. Profit ensues from the generator until the value differential has equalized to the point where the pressure is no longer sufficient to overcome the resistance of the generator, at which point the conduit stops working.

This is how a free market works, and it is regarded as the foundation of our economy. However, copyright monopolists are trying their hardest to muddle this simple and fundamental principle, by claiming a continued kind of ownership even after something is sold. That’s not how a market works. That’s a monopoly. That’s harmful. That’s bad.

We have indeed observed before how the copyright monopoly stands in direct opposition to property rights, sabotaging this foundation of our economy and the fundamentals of entrepreneurship.

So for the sake of argument, let’s assume I am given a copy of the movie The Avengers by somebody. It is one of many copies. There are many ones like it, but this one is mine. It is my property in all its aspects.

However, copyright monopolists would argue that they should continue to control my property. This is not just strange, but offensive. Even worse, when I do some labor on my own property, such as executing a “copy file” command on it, the copyright monopolists claim they should control that labor too – as well as the fruits of it. This is outrageous and has me fuming over their arrogance.

When I manufacture another copy of the Avengers using my own property and my own labor, copyright monopolists somehow believe they have a right to the fruits of my labor. I find that idea offensive and insulting.

It is true that the ease of my labor depends on many people having worked on other things before me. However, this is true with all entrepreneurship. My ability to copy a particular file depends not just on those who created the file, but also on those who invented electricity generators, the modern graphics card, the keyboard, wire insulation, storage media, networking protocols, and many, many other things. This is as ancient as Rome: entrepreneurship has always built on the already-performed work of others, and one set of previous such entrepreneurs do obviously not get any kind of special privileges on a functioning market.

Anybody is free to create shiny things, but their ownership over the shiny thing stops the instant they sell it. That’s how a market works. Claiming control over the fruits of other people’s labor, such as when somebody makes a copy of a file using their own property, is deeply, deeply immoral.

This piece was previously 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. anon372818

    Insightful article.
    How do you suggest making it feasible for companies/individuals relying solely on “ideas” such as designers of lamps, chairs and clothes? The fundament of their existance is not the production itself but the designs

    1. harveyed

      If people want new designs, let them invest in the work of producing said designs. The old designs and credit for them will work as PR or commercials for the service of creating new work. The value is in the new work and not the old results. This of course assumes that it is still illegal to plagiarize other peoples work – but almost all pirates today still think plagiarism should not be legal. With internet decentralized payments and decentralized investments will hopefully be made easier and easier. Not a big individual risk to chance 1$ a month for your favourite rock band, but imagine just a few thousand fans doing the same. That would be a welcome influx of cash to fund creative works.

      Copy rights have sadly become a bad excuse for earning money over and over on (other peoples) old accomplishments. There may have been a time when there was no better way to incentivize investments for creative work than with copyrights. But that clearly is not the case anymore..

    2. steelneck

      Now you are talking about industrial designs, not copyright. As far as i know the Pirate Party does not have anything against the legislation about idustrial designs (mönsterskydd in Swedish).

    3. TG

      By selling their designs to a manufacturer under exclusive disclosure contracts. The manufacturer will be willing to pay because they will gets the benefits of being first in the market and having official designer endorsement.

    4. Bernd Paysan

      Sell services, sell your time. This is, BTW, the business model of all designers of lamps, chairs, and clothes I know. They sell their time to the industry which makes lamps, chairs, and clothes. They need designers, they hire or contract them, and the designers sell their time. In any case: As long as there is a need to design lamps, chairs, and clothes, there will be money in it, and thus people who do this design will be able to make a living. There is a whole fashion industry behind that, because people do already have all the lamps, chairs, and clothes they need, and selling them more works only by making new designs. The fashion industry is a very good example of an industry with weak IP rights, and very fast and competitive innovations of new trendy designs. Free market works!

      These designs can be protected by monopoly rights, but often aren’t – and if they are, it’s not the designer who protects them. It’s the maker of the goods, trying to achieve a monopoly. Flat, bar-like telephone with a touch-screen, rounded corners and a bezel? Apple wants to monopolize on that. They made billions by their first-mover advantage, before they started suing the competition. Free market works, really!

      Articles like this try to address Ayn Rand neoliberals. People who believe in property rights and free markets, but not in state-granted monopolies.

  2. […] hy Do Copyright Monopolists Think They Can Just Steal Somebody Else’s Work? […]

  3. Ano Nymous

    On TorrentFreak you write: “Economics 101: on a functioning market, any product will be priced at its margin cost, an economic term meaning the cost of making product unit number n+1 if you have already made n units, as n approaches infinity. The upfront cost of any first product is entirely irrelevant in a functioning market.”

    I don’t get this. If that would be true, then you would never get your invested money back, when you start making a product. That would be the end of every company in the world, monopoly or not, physical or nonphysical product.

    Products are always more expensive when they are newly invented. As time goes and more products are sold, prices go down. In part because of the production process being made more eficcient and/or moved to low-wage countries, and in part because of the investment of developing the product is being paid off.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      What I mean by the quote is that the end cost to the buyer will converge with its margin cost, due to competitive pressure, not that it will always be there (in particular not when starting out).

      Above, I write it like this:

      In geek terms, entrepreneurship is finding a value differential in society, constructing a conduit between the two endpoints and sticking a generator in the middle of the conduit. Profit ensues from the generator until the value differential has equalized to the point where the pressure is no longer sufficient to overcome the resistance of the generator, at which point the conduit stops working.

      …meaning that the business case would be a calculation whether the integral of flow over time (total value going out of the generator) would exceed construction costs of the conduit and generator. If it costs more to construct the business than you can hope to get out of the value differential, you don’t build it. In most business cases, there’s a window of opportunity to regain your investment from that value generator in the middle of the conduit between the endpoints on the value differentials.

      (That’s in geek terms. I’m willing to bet a beer no purebred economist would understand a word.) 🙂


      1. Ano Nymous

        And the name was supposed to be Ano Nymous. Sorry. Ano Nym is the equivalent wordplay in Swedish, for those of you who didn’t know.

      2. Bernd Paysan

        The keyword for the recovery of investments is the “first mover advantage”. If you are the first one to satisfy a demand (maybe one you created yourself), you have a significant advantage.

    2. harveyed

      When comes to immateria, maybe we simply have to view what is already done as free commercials for the service of getting new work done and then let the consumers / investors choose how to invest their money for said future work. Someone who have proven to be good at something before is probably a safer bet than someone totally new. But as an artist, you got to start somewhere no matter if there is a copy-rights system or not and regardless if there are talent-hunters or end-consumers making up their minds.

  4. Anonymous

    they seem to think that as far as they are concerned, following the old saying of ‘What’s yours is mine, what’s mine is mine’ is fine. the problem they have is with everyone else having the same opinion! that would have, in my opinion, been even more obvious had ACTA been in being but may well now be back under TAFTA, seeing as how ‘nice’ Mr de Gucht is trying to implement ‘the gold standard in copyright enforcement’ by jumping into bed with the US government and US entertainment industries! what you state as being ‘offensive, insulting, and antithetical to a free market’ Rik, is going to be nothing if this new crap gets into law!

  5. Tom Jeffries

    Rick, your arguments are good, but they are limited in perspective. Do you have any ideas about how musicians and filmmakers can be compensated for their efforts in making the original?

    Right now they are trying to use copyright to protect themselves. Unfortunately the only way they can really protect themselves would be to make those laws completely totalitarian and eliminate free speech. The people who are really making money from the current laws are corporations and lawyers, not musicians and filmmakers.

    How can we get file sharers and artists together, so that the artists can make a living from what they do and the file sharers aren’t being fined huge amounts or even being put in jail?

    Think about it from the point of view of a musician who spent months in the recording studio, or a filmmaker who borrowed a couple of million dollars to make a film. Let’s find some ways that they get compensation, without resorting to insane laws. More and more artists are willing to work with file sharers, how about some ideas on how to get these two groups together?

    You have obviously thought about this at depth, and I look forward to your comments.

    1. Anyone

      kickstarter and similar sites have been successful for many so far
      trent reznor put out his album for free, yet people still paid $300 for a limited edition of it

      of course, some form of copyright is still needed to prevent companies from selling other people’s work, but if you give it away for free it should not only be legal but encouraged

      1. Tom Jeffries

        Crowd funding with sites like Kickstarter has helped a lot of artists, but it takes a lot of work, and does not form a steady income stream. Most groups do it once or twice; recordings are done (hopefully!) on a regular basis.

        It seems to me that connecting the artists with the people who are sharing files is really the best way to approach this.

        1. Sten

          TPB AFK – documentary.

          Now over 1 000 000 views on Youtube. 17 000 seeders on TPB.
          But only 2776 people have chosen to pay for it, resulting in 33,021. USD.

          I (who is no PP fan what so ever) really hoped that this attempt would work better financially.

        2. Rick Falkvinge


          Your fixation with the “one view – one payment” mindset is what traps you in the illusion that it hasn’t.

          That also means that you’re no businessperson, nor able to judge businesses on their merits – and more importantly, no authority for “how things must work”.


        3. Sten


          “Your fixation with the “one view – one payment” mindset is what traps you in the illusion that it hasn’t.”
          Well Rick, since 1 view 1 sell is soooooo far away from the TPB AFK stats, I must doubt you understand what you are writing.
          One could have expected possibly 2% of the viewers being inclined to pay for it, but not even 1% have.

          “That also means that you’re no businessperson,”
          Well I have been living very well creating different kinds of immaterial work for more than 30 years, started when I was 13. So you are wrong, I am successful as a freelancer and I know how much it costs to create a 1 hour plus documentary. You obviously don´t.

          I also know how you buy and sell images, hence I know that you are at loss in regards of your claim to have discovered a copyright infringement in regards of a certain image of a certain boat . If I am wrong, when do you think you will reveal the details of this case?

          “nor able to judge businesses on their merits – and more importantly, no authority for “how things must work”.”
          I have not claimed to know “how things must work” (although I hoped someone would prove that it was possible making a living out of projects like TPB AFK) , but I do know that 4 years of work and 80 000 dollars (I think they got 50 000 USD at Kickstarter) do not pay for kids clothes, food and housing for the period of 48 months.
          Unless you get your salary as a gift from someone that is…

        4. harveyed

          Sten: Do you think more people would have paid or even wanted to view the movie in the first place, if it was known to people that the producers would hunt them as criminals? Hardly so…

          Get your shit together and stop hunting your potential fans/costumers and maybe they will start to show you some well earned respect…

          “This person thinks I’m a scum of the earth and wants me in a prison, let’s buy something from him <3 <3" – said no one ever.

        5. harveyed

          Well, Sten… you claim that you started making money off of copy rights when you were 13.

          It must feel good to still have a lawful right to profit from your work as a 13 years old. You know… not all of us have such Privileges. Most of us sold christmas-cards or mowed the lawn for a one time profit when we were 13, there was no monopoly lasting our entire life time + 70 years to keep us well fed.

          We have to continously deliver new work to get any money – and that’s actually the only sane way to have it. Everything else is monopoly and encouraging people to sit on their ass getting money for old work. 🙂

        6. Facto

          I find it mildly amusing that some people seem to believe that putting creative people into their “destined place” as beggars, jugglers and circus people is the right way into the future.

          Is this a humanist view? I doubt so. It pits the majority of non-creative people against the view that have the ability to create.

          If only 0.1% pay and you can not “sustain yourself”, you simply made clearly an error in the choice of movie. The guy should have shot ugly, dirty porn. This would have made more money and this is the reasoning he should get from this.

          Constant Self-Exploitation is stupid and nobody should fall into that trap. Not for ANY reason.

    2. harveyed

      Hi Tom, although I’m not Falkvinge, I have some ideas.

      One way this could be done is for fans to pay directly to the creators. This would obviously be feasible for small scale creations such as music bands and litterature. 1$ a month is not a big risk investment for me as a fan, but the internet is big and potentially many thousand (if not more) fans willing to chance a few bucks a month to get new culture from their favourite artists.

      When comes to larger risk investments such as movies and computer games, one possible way could be “kickstarter” and similar solutions. Some well known names in computer gaming industry have managed to fund creation of some quite big titles there. But as I am quite aware you already know there is a trend towards marketing of physical industrial goods (car brands, mobile phones, computers and so on) in tv series and movies.

      Most new models of funding assumes power structures controlling economy (transactions such as banks and card companies), communications (internet) and entertainment businesses don’t go together to censor internet communication and filter economy / block “unauthorised”, “immoral” or “criminal” transactions. Would not surprise me at all if their next move would be something like that..

      1. Tom Jeffries

        Yes! This is exactly what I’m working on, finding ways for fans to connect with the creators. I think that’s the real answer- let’s get the major labels and film studios out of the picture so that people are actually connecting with people, not corporations trying to sell stuff so their investors are happy.

        The Safe-Xchange app will even be able to have advertising from outside sources- not all of the artists will want that, but it adds to the revenue stream in a fairly standard way.

        1. harveyed

          Then I wish you good luck 🙂

          I have hoped for these kinds of services for a few years and I really hope it will be possible to make a good bridge between artists and fans which give fans more for their money and artists more power over their income.

  6. Anonymous

    because the rules they force on to others are just that. they are not supposed to apply to them. it’s another ‘dont do what i do, do as i say’ situation! pure selfishness that absolutely no one that can do something about it, will do anything about it!

  7. Kristian Lund

    For a more in-depth view of Locke and the “ownership of knowledge”, see:

    /Shameless plug for own philosophy thesis

    Short version: it depends on whether the product is the idea (all copies) or the instantiation (one copy). The former will lead to horrible results for almost any subject matter…

  8. Rakante

    Mr. Falkenvige speaks about the rights he _bought_.

    I wonder what happens to the argument if someone simply refuses even to SELL one copy of the book. If there are no rights to buy because nobody is _selling_ the digital goods and allow only for streaming,/server-only/live performances the core of the argument seem to fall flat.

    Or we have to stretch the argument to the pure existence of a good, which means that we can also replicate stuff that has been obtained my illegal means or without the consent of the creator.
    That means paying to hack into the production of content creators could provide unlimited payoffs. The first who has it “wins the race”.

    We already Free2Play-Games, Server-only streaming, TV Series only available by certain cable networks etc. pp. If the rules change that someone can lose the right to the sole distribution by selling it to anybody, people, and companies will simply refuse to sell.

    We might see then a renaissance of cinemas for example, because movies will not appear on blueray within this new ruleset. The ones that then will still be sold are clearly not the ones people are pirating currently. Its always the stuff thats behind the wall thats interesting, not the free stuff that you can consume ad infinitum for free, for example cat videos on Youtube.

    I like this sort of radical thinking, but I never assume that humans, that behave in a certain ruleset will behave in a radical different ruleset equally. The usually don’t.

  9. […] See why do copyright monopolists think they can just steal from somebody else’s work? http://falkvinge.net/2013/02/10/why-do-copyright-monopolists-think-they-can-just-steal-somebody-else… […]

  10. Anonymous

    The goal of art is to be completely useless in the material world, but to still possess the creativity of the human mind. That’s why it grasps us…because there is logic and feeling within the art piece but its function and utility are ultimately questionable.

    The goal of economy is to serve those who produce things that improve function and utility. Art is a self serving interpretation of subjective values. Products are a outwardly serving interpretation of objective values. They are polar opposites, and you can’t expect this “situation” to ever resolve. Art will always be dominated by the bored rich, with the occasional starving artist who is able to ignore eating in order to pursue his craft long enough to get noticed by enough bored rich people.

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