Ayn Rand Institute Lets Us Read Some Rand!

People will be able to look up BREAKFAST and see
that I did not advocate eating babies for breakfast.

– Ayn Rand

If I were running the Ayn Rand Institute – admittedly an unlikely turn of events – I’d make all of Rand’s writings available online. (So far the only major Rand work available online got there by mistake, because Peikoff & Co. apparently forgot to renew the U.S. copyright on Anthem.) So why hasn’t ARI taken this obvious step? Do they really value copyright revenue more than the chance to promote Rand’s ideas? If so, they’re still probably miscalculating: I suspect putting Rand’s works online would stimulate more book sales than it would stifle. (The Mises Institute, for example, puts loads of stuff online and yet the paper versions sell like hotcakes.)

Ayn Rand looking scary But I suspect ARI’s decision not to put the writings online has been driven less by mercenary considerations than by some sort of notion that it’s immoral, a violation of the Trader Principle, to hand out benefits without receiving anything in return. If so, it’s a misunderstanding of the Trader Principle; unless the folks running ARI regard themselves (or Rand, insofar as they take themselves to be her agents) as having no personal interest in promoting Rand’s ideas (in which case, what’s the point of ARI?), they presumably would receive a “selfish” benefit by putting them online, and thus could do so with a clear egoist conscience.

Whatever the reason, ARI’s refusal to disseminate Rand’s writings in the most effective manner seems nearly as self-defeating as Andrew Galambos’s refusal to disseminate his writings in any form. (I’m reminded of the Shakers, a sect which died out because its tenets forbade reproduction.)

But a small chink has appeared in the armour of ARI’s anti-web policy: the Ayn Rand Lexicon has been placed online. (Conical hat tip to Karen DeCoster.) Admittedly this is a comparatively unimportant text; it’s just a collection of quotations from Rand (and sometimes her acolytes as well) on various subjects, arranged alphabetically by topic (apparently the editors were under the misapprehension that alphabetical order of topics is sufficient to make a book a “lexicon”). But it’s a start.

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7 Responses to Ayn Rand Institute Lets Us Read Some Rand!

  1. Geoffrey Allan Plauche October 30, 2007 at 4:05 pm #

    You may be right about the misinterpretation of the trader principle. They do have a habit of being unsubtle and dogmatic.

    Perhaps they think putting all of Rand’s published and unpublished material online for free would be a violation of the spirit of IP.

    Or maybe they are also as clueless about the positive connection between free online copies and book sales.

    Or maybe it is some combination f the three.

    I’m not sure even I would suspect them of being so economically ignorant as to think that keeping a tight hold on all of Rand’s work would allow them to make more money by being able to charge whatever prices they want for them. On the other hand, they do charge some astronomical prices for their products.

  2. Neil Parille October 30, 2007 at 4:54 pm #

    Not too long ago, the ARI also made available free to members (just registration required) lectures by Rand and other Objectivists. I have no idea for the change in policy, but the ARI has always had a preference for selling high-priced tapes (and CDs).

  3. Black Bloke October 30, 2007 at 10:47 pm #

    Didn’t they use that retarded Real™ codec for their videos and audio clips? It’s just as annoying when the Cato Institute does it.

  4. ChrisBaker October 31, 2007 at 9:20 am #

    I’ve argued for a while that all copyrights should die when the author (or last author if there is more than one) dies. ARI’s case reminds me of why this should be, but it’s not the only case.

    I have said that the same thing should have done with any film rights to _Atlas Shrugged_. Put it in the public domain now, and some independent group will probably make it a film for maybe $200,000 or so. It doesn’t need million-dollar actors to be a great film. I think that is how it finally will be made as a film, by the way. That was how we got _We The Living_ (haven’t seen it) as a film, too.

  5. Joel Schlosberg November 4, 2007 at 1:04 am #

    And apparently, for some Randians, Randism implies not only not putting one’s IP online, but overpricing it in printed form too:

    Ironically, Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia and Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg are both Randians. In fact, Michael Hart has explicitly stated that his project is consistent with Randian egoism: “I really am an Ayn Rand freak…. I am doing Project Gutenberg for the most selfish of reasons – because I want a world that has Project Gutenberg in it.”
    In fact, when Wikipedia first began one of the first large amounts of content was an extensive Cliffs Notes-style guide to Atlas Shrugged written by Wales’s colleague Tim Shell; Malcolm Farmer said that when he joined Wikipedia in March 2001, “Every other article back then was either an Atlas Shrugged or a Larry Sanger philosophy article”.

    And what about George Reisman? He was really closely affiliated with Rand (and her followers) and his book Capitalism is online, all 1000+ pages of it.

  6. Administrator November 5, 2007 at 5:17 pm #

    Reisman hopes you’ll print it out because he has investments in the paper industry. 🙂

  7. Mark January 21, 2008 at 11:46 pm #

    It’s a fine thing that the people at ARI give out free copies of Ayn Rand’s work, but look at  what else they promote.

    The saying (biblical I guess) comes to mind:
    “What one hand giveth, the other hand taketh away.”

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