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L. Neil Smith's
Number 588, September 19, 2010

"They want our lives to be as miserable as theirs,
and they will stop at nothing to have their way."

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Theft of Intellectual Property?
by Iloilo Marguerite Jones

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Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

An interesting and balanced read on intellectual property: "Time—Going, Going, Gone" by Cathy L.Z. Smith

(I seldom copyright stuff, but do copyright some of my algorithms, because they can take weeks—if not months—to perfect, and I sell those mathematical designs. Someone who swipes them and uses them without paying for the use is certainly stealing many hours or days of my life's work. And while I do not own numbers, just as musicians do not own notes, nor writers words, the arrangements—patterns—we create are unique. If people do not think they are, then let them try hiring a troop of monkeys to create works of the same utility.)

Cathy L.Z. Smith at The Libertarian Enterprise gives a novel account of why intellectual property is, indeed, a scarce resource. The pattern created by an artist or writer represents her time. If you take it without paying what she asks, you are stealing her time, stealing part of her life.

Of course, I can also simply stop creating and live by working at a fast food joint, thus making the entire argument moot. But if I do create, where is the incentive to do so if there is no right to the property I create?

Of course, it is not the concept of words or writing to which the author has ownership, but rather the particular application of those concepts coupled with the effort to produce a created work.

Of course, I don't publish my mathematical works: I make them available only to my customers. Many other people might come up with mathematical designs or patterns which accomplish the same thing, and they would own those works, but they do not have permission to copy or use the works I create.

To deprive someone of the product of their time and labour is hardly the same as attempting to deprive someone of the exercise of writing, after all. And to copy someone's work from their privately-owned site on the internet, without attribution, deprives the creator of any business or contact with the consumers who do not know who is the author of a work. If they like the purloined phrases, they might want to check out the actual producer of that pattern of words, and purchase some of her works: the consumer cannot do so if there is no attribution or link to the creator's site. Besides, isn't acknowledgement of authorship just plain old good manners?

When one uses clay to create a bowl, one owns the bowl, but not the concept of pottery. No one tries to own the concept of pottery, only their individual product of the use of that concept, coupled with their own time, labour and creativity.

The example Smith demonstrates is clearly a violation of ownership, and if the other people who took credit are all that smart, why did they not come up with their own arrangement words, rather than swiping someone else's arrangement of words? Why did they not give credit where credit was due? I find the swiping very dishonest, actually. Further, it deprives the author of possible sales of his other arrangements of words.

I had a chap buy one of my ceramic pieces, then proceed to make molds, including my chop, and try to sell them as his own work. Did he own the original work? Yes. Did he own the right to reproduce the original work? No, especially not without giving proper credit. But he was a state-supported artist, and he believed that no one has any ownership of anything, so he was morally justified, according to his own moral compass.

If there is no ownership of productivity or creativity, then why should anyone produce or create? Why invest the time and labour, if one cannot hold ownership of those creations? Isn't that the argument the state uses, to take ownership of what we create? That it is all commonly-held property, anyway? No government is required to enforce any type of ownership, by the way: that is a delusion supported by statists.

Ownership can be enforced in as many private, free market ways as there are individuals. Membership web sites with a membership fee are one way to begin. Have a contract—which is what I do with my algorithms. Actually, the only challenge to my right to the product of my time and thinking has come from a government agency, using much the same arguments against intellectual ownership as I see expressed by those who do not want to be bothered with providing attribution and links.

Of course, neither my art nor my math are available to the general public. And the people with whom I deal respect my ownership, so I am not terribly concerned about theft.

But the berry-picking example of Jeffrey Tucker is pure hogwash, and entirely off the mark. Concepts are not intellectual property, but the product of the application of concepts most certainly are individual property. Tucker confuses the two in an unexamined attempt to support his argument, and fails miserably.

Again, no one owns the concepts of human liberty or of arranging words. However, if there is a significant reproduction, which Cathy's article mentioned, a word for word reproduction of the application of those concepts to a pattern or design of words as created by Smith, later altered slightly to mask the theft, then it remains theft of effort.

The chap who made a mold of my art changed the glazes, because he did not have my glazes, but he did not change the shape or carved designs: substantially, the work remained mine.

Again, concepts are not property, but their application to a product of individual effort is property. Many people, mostly those too lazy to think (often the same batch too lazy to create and produce original works) have difficulty with this distinction.

If the state-supported artist had offered mediation, my response to his theft would have been that he should break all the stolen bits of my work that he was selling as his own work. As it was, I merely spoke the truth to everyone I knew, ruined his reputation, and left him bereft of all support but the stolen money from government to which he was already addicted (thus compounding and continuing his life of theft, I might add.)

Compromise with theft is seldom productive, and I commend Cathy on being willing to settle for an apology and an attribution. Why enter into mediation? Why waste the time? That is merely a feint designed to disguise the theft with a cloak of sincerity. Bah.

...and back to the original issue:

While one cannot own a concept, is ownership of the individual application of a concept the property of the individual, or not?

I imagine that others thought through this question and responded from individual rationalizations to a question which raises certain issues from an individual storehouse of references, after all. Someone mentioned copyrights, and how they should expire at the death of the author. Death might be an excellent termination of ownership. Of course, the children might think otherwise, if their mother left them several copyrighted items of music, words, art, or other creations of that individual. The children might see this as their legacy, and the mother might so intend. Property, it seems to me, is subject to the disposal of the owner, or it is not property in the essential sense of that term.

I already said that humans cannot own concepts: in fact, I included that within my question. It is the product that results from the application of the concepts that I say is individual property. Re-read my question: While one cannot own a concept, is ownership of the individual application of a concept the property of the individual, or not?

Nor has L. Neil been paid anything for the use of his property by the other person. The pattern and arrangement of those words are his design. To use it without permission or rent or purchase is theft. All that was asked for was an apology and attribution.

Further, I consider the term "intellectual property" to be a canard and a smokescreen, used to separate the efforts involving creativity and thinking from efforts involving only human physical labour: nothing is manifested into existence without an effort on the part of some human, even if it is only typing on a keyboard: it is still effort.

Property rights arise from human effort, whether keyboarding or log sawing. To try to compartmentalize thought-driven efforts, such as writing, as somehow not intrinsically the same human effort as cotton picking is a diversionary tactic to demean products and creations that originate in the mind, but are still manifested through physical effort to achieve expression in reality. The entire exercise is an anti-intellectual one, designed to elevate muscle work and undermine mind work. There is nothing better or worse about property resulting from labour of any nature. If this concept escapes you, please consider the entire concept of property as something you need to sort out in your own mind.

If I cut down a tree in my forest, saw it up, split the wood, and carry it to near my home, everyone will recognize my ownership of my wood. I have the right to burn the wood for heat. No one else has the right to come to my wood pile and take even a piece of my wood for any reason whatsoever. If I choose to pile the wood on my property right next to the road, still, no one has the right to steal my wood: it is my property on my property.

If I write words on my web site, which I own, what gives anyone the right to come and copy those words? What makes words on a privately-held web site on the internet to be less inherent property of the owner of the site than is my wood? And if I posted those words as a part of my marketing strategy to gain sales, and others copy those words without attribution of a link, they have both stolen my design of words, and deprived me of my marketing efforts.

And, significantly, why would you not seek permission to copy those words, or to copy even part of them? Especially if you know that protocol of the web society as a whole—quite a lovely anarchistic gathering, I might add—has defined the asking as a polite recognition of the owner of the site and of the creator of that pattern of words? And why would you not provide attribution, as well as, by way of a hat tip, a link to the owner's web site? From my studies of the internet, this is the protocol which we adopt voluntarily to abide within this community.

Each of us must determine what is ethical—or moral, if you prefer—for us. And be willing to live with the consequences of our actions. Bright lines in legal issues are easily manipulated: encroachments on human rights are fairly well defined, and have long included individual property rights as a primary ethical imperative, including ownership of self as one's principle property.

Use your own mind, and consider yourself the one whose writing or other work is being exploited by others without attribution, permission, or payment, or all three. If there are no links back to your private property site, where you market your designs of words, how are you to reach potential customers? Is it not theft of your time and effort for others to refrain from giving attribution and a link to your site where you sell your word creations?

If none of this bothers you at all, then you may be fine with such practices, but be prepared for the actions of those who are not fine with such practices. This internet is a polite and smiling community, but not without teeth, as one could say. Is it not therefore more ethical—in the most practical sense of the word—to observe ownership in all instances possible when a permission may be granted, as most individuals would do?

Such a protocol also serves as a self-sorting mechanism of those who wish to hold property rights to such human efforts as word patterns, and those who do not wish to hold property rights. The two types can co-exist if they recognize their difference and respectfully observe the right of each individual to form an ethical code which extends to the absolute boundaries of his ownership of self and property. The free market will iron out such idiocies about property rights as corporations create with the protection and collusion of government.

Some people are thinking about this, and have begun to write about it. They are worth reading, and you can, of course, begin with WikiLeaks, where you will find a well-defined protocol of survival and civility.

(I think for some people it is difficult to depart from a focus on personalities and bickering, and to take a few steps back to examine the larger issue of protocols needed to function in what is, in reality, an anarchist community.)

Societies such as the one we have here on the internet function as well as they do largely because most people are a bit more polite, considerate, and cautious not to give offense than they would be in any unarmed, politically-controlled community. While downloading another's property to one's own computer would probably not be considered theft, to publish it on your property (site) without attribution can be considered theft by someone who extends their sense of property rights to all that they have created. It becomes both theft and fraud when there is any attempt to imply that it is your own creation.

Ethics are practical: they keep you functioning in community, and alive. They inform other individuals that you are a person who can be trusted. They indicate to others that you have a well-developed ethical compass, and that you will use it whenever there are questions of protocol, propriety, or good manners. They will identify the user of ethics as a person who has taken the time to regulate their own behaviour based on a well-reasoned choice of actions which are consistent with a logical format for life.

If you can ignore the snits, name-calling, and other mouth noises of personalities—which can be difficult to do in a society largely led by the drama of personalities—and focus on the core issues of cultural mores necessary for the functioning of an anarchist society, I think you will recognize that to err on the side of cautious respect for the perceived property rights of other individuals—in all matters, for all property and practices—will advance peace and accord in your life a lot more than picking at nits to attempt to justify any invasion of individual property rights.

A significant measure of any individual's emotional and mental development is the ability to adjust and coexist in peace with people—whether Muslim, Jew, Hispanic, Chinese, or L. Neil Smith—who demand that their (individual perceptions of their) rights be observed. If their locus of rights does not impinge on your locus of rights, why would you not practice reciprocity of rights with that individual? Why would you bother to quibble about their peaceful demand and enforcement of their rights?

Why would you not therefore correct any errors that the other individual perceived as an infringement, and file that bit of datum for later reference, and go on with your life? Here, I am not speaking of the Smith situation, per se, but the broader issue of recognition of cultural and individual differences in perception of the boundaries of individual rights.

As long as their rights do not do violence to any of your rights, why not merely accept their rights as they present them? Is this not the very essence of individual human rights: that each individual has the right to exercise their property rights as they think best and proper, including and extending to life, body, home, creations, products, and beliefs; so long as those rights do not interfere with your rights?

Why would there be any argument about this? And who stands to gain by deliberately ignoring the other individual's declaration of and practice of their rights? Who loses if the product of their labours is not attributed to them? If we deny the rights of another individual because their perception of their rights does not match our perception of their rights, where no coercion, violence, or fraud is involved, who stands to gain, and who to lose?

It is on such denials of rights that the Crusades were undertaken, women were denied equal protection, slavery was legitimized, and other human rights were denied to entire groups of people.

When I say that I own all the designs or patterns of words I create, although not the individual words, and someone denies that ownership, who gains? Who is denying my property rights as a means to advance their own ability to rationalize and grant permission to commit theft or worse? When I say I own my firewood, and some person reasons that trees are a creation of God, and therefore I cannot own my firewood, although my labour is invested as much in that firewood as in designing a pattern of words and writing them down, who benefits by the denial of my property rights?

And while the person who steals my firewood and provides heat for others does not extend their crime to the innocents who did not know they were benefitted from stolen firewood, even those innocents could, under the rules of conduct of an anarchist society, be responsible enough to check that they are not receiving benefits from stolen goods.

Again, government, by its very nature, commits theft in myriad ways, and distributes the booty to many innocents, who do not question the source of their benefits. To subscribe to an ethical construct that makes one more responsible for one's actions and for what one accepts is a step toward functional anarchy, after all. It costs me nothing to be scrupulously responsible in checking the sources of any benefits I wish to receive and use, to make sure I am not receiving stolen property—in any sense of the term, even if only in the sense of how producer of that property defines individual rights—and ensures that I am advancing a culture of respectful observation of the rights of individuals, anticipating reciprocity in such regard.

In summary:

The issue of individual human property must be defined as generously as possible on behalf of the individul human, or we err on the side of theft;

We must learn to separate concepts from creations. We must separate processes from products, and not confuse these distinct entities when we attempt to discuss individual ownership;

To continue to enjoy the civil society of the anarchy of internet, we must be willing to practice protocols of civility and respect for the rights of the property of others;

We must take advantage of this new community as an opportunity to identify and apply civil constructs which will effectively replace coercive actions.

We live in an age when we must be thoughtful and creative in developing new protocols for society: we must develop protocols that exclude government coercion, and we must replace that coercion with reason. To argue against another individual's rights is to step on that slippery slope that descends into the dark pit of Koran burning. Let us not step there.

PS: If we are unable—even with all our brilliance, enthusiasm, and loathing of coercive governmental intervention—to shape a society here on the internet which is civility in action, and anarchy in spirit, we are losing a grand opportunity.

If we are unable to define cultural habits which will continue to develop and more completely observe cultural traditions of civility, promote individual ownership, and recognize common concerns of individual human rights—even across cultural and language differences, we are not fulfilling the potential of this new community.

We have an opportunity to articulate and to recognize individual rights to property, person, and life. We have nothing to lose by erring on the side of generous recognition of the most miniscule claims of ownership, have we?

If we do not take advantage of this opportunity here, where will it be done?

If we do not undertake this task, who will?

More on Theft of Intellectual Property

The following is in response to a discussion about how there is no harm in copying other's word pattern creations while failing to give attribution. It also responds to the claim that giving attribution would somehow "deface" a work of art.

On harm:
If I write something, and post it to my web site, it is with the intention that others will read the design of my words. I carefully choose the patterns of words to convey a thought, concept, or story. I create patterns of words from my own mind. The significant portion of my income is derived from the patterns of words that I create.

When another person visits one of my sites, and copies what I have written, and then places that pattern of words on other property not owned by me, and fails to provide attribution, I am deprived of any other person's interest—and possible income from sales to that person—because, even if they like the design of words, they will have no way to find me, or to even know that the words are not the product of effort by the person who copied and placed my pattern of words elsewhere.

Monet took the trouble to sign his works, and often stated that he wanted people to know who created the beauty so they could find him and buy other works of his. To provide attribution is not only polite, but honest. To fail to provide attribution based on the slim reed of an excuse that attribution "defaces" some work of another individual is simply a failure to acknowledge the property of another as their creation brought into existence by their efforts.

Much of what I post on the internet is not copyrighted, because I do not care. But I certainly get tired of other people copying my patterns of words and taking credit for those patterns, because it deprives me of readers, as well as depriving off-site readers of any way to locate the pattern creator (me) whom they might like to contact or read more of my work, or perhaps even hire me to write something for them.

For those of us who make our livings by creating word patterns, for those of us who make our livings based on creating material patterns from raw materials, and for those of us who often share samples of our works so that others might see and admire those samples, and then perhaps be encouraged to purchase or support our creations, the failure to give us credit for what we have created deprives us of potential supporters and clients.

For instance, I wrote a piece on time currency, and have been contacted by an academic journal about authoring a piece for their publication, for which I will be paid. If the copy they found—on a site not belonging to me—had not been attributed to me, the opportunity to sell an article to this journal would have been lost, because while the reader might have admired the article, they would not know who had written it.

If someone finds one of my word patterns without my name or contact information, that person has no way to reach me if they want to read more of what I write, or wants to hire me to create a word pattern for them. I am deprived of a sale of a word pattern.

Much of what I write is copyrighted for private clients and never appears on the internet. Because of the confusion I see here in identifying what is harm, what is honesty, and what is license, I think my concerns against posting some of my more income-producing writings is justified fully.

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