Ideas That Stick With You

Under the feudal system, rights to one’s person were alienable (swearing fealty to a lord was irrevocable) while rights to land often weren’t (a feudal lord couldn’t sell his estate, as it belonged in perpetuity to his heirs) – the exact reverse of the rights system that most libertarians advocate. Forbidding the alienation of rightfully alienable property is as much a violation of property right as any other.

Now even libertarians who defend IP generally regard it as alienable; so the current move by the IP lobby to attack the voluntary alienation of IP rights should be something that pro-IP and anti-IP libertarians can agree in opposing.

An argument one sometimes sees for the inalienability of IP is the consequentialist one that if IP is treated as alienable then creators will be exploited by big companies. It’s certainly true that under the current IP system, the chief beneficiaries of copyright tend to be not the original creators but instead large publishing and recording companies; and making IP inalienable is one way to address that. Yet inasmuch as IP, whether alienable or inalienable, constitutes both protectionism and censorship, it remains objectionable on both rights-based and consequentialist grounds. A better solution to the exploitation problem is to replace IP-based business models with ones that secure compensation to creators in nonviolent ways.

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5 Responses to Ideas That Stick With You

  1. Kevin Carson July 11, 2010 at 1:38 am #

    To make it even worse, I don’t think ASCAP even opposes alienating IP when it’s contractually alienated to a proprietary content corporation. So long as the content stays proprietary, they don’t care if the artist sells all the rights to Evil Music Megacorp (LLC). They just object if it’s licensed for free use. So they really, really are a buncha pigs (with the caveat that many of their actual members use CC licenses and were somewhat pissed over the organization’s stance).

    • Roderick July 12, 2010 at 12:46 am #

      Darn, you’re right — there are people who hold the inalienability position on IP but of course ASCAP ain’t them. So your slavery analogy works better than my feudalism analogy.

      • Kevin Carson July 12, 2010 at 12:58 am #

        Maybe it’s like a kind of feudalism where it’s OK to alienate land so long as it’s not a peasant.

      • Crosbie Fitch July 12, 2010 at 10:41 am #

        Slavery is not really an analogy, it is rather a more extreme form.

        The exploitation and exchange of copyright and patent are the exploitation and exchange of the people’s suspended liberty (to reproduce/perform/utilise covered works).

        Copyright and patent are legal manacles upon the people’s cultural liberty and are 18th century anachronisms impeding mankind’s progress that should have been abolished along with slavery.

        Unfortunately, as with slavery, those wealthy industrialists that make colossal profits through the exploitation of others’ lack of liberty will lobby most persuasively for the retention of such legal shackles. And the state colludes given its interest in an (intellectually) emasculated citizenry (that might otherwise threaten stability).

        And as we see here, manumission in the form of copyleft is a despicable practice by bleeding heart liberals (if not a treasonable offence), and calls for abolition are pure heresy (we will all starve without slavery/copyright!).

        We are in the midst of a civil cyberwar between the old guard of 18th century cultural monopolists and the new generation of 21st century cultural libertarians – or as the former put it: between starving artists and pirate scum.

  2. Crosbie Fitch July 12, 2010 at 10:10 am #

    I suspect some moves to make privileges non-transferable qua ‘inalienable’ are more an effort to further insinuate privileges applying to intellectual work as natural rights of the author.

    I’m thinking of droit de suite that denies an artist the ability to unencumber their work from this resale royalty.

    If natural rights are inalienable then how better to make privileges seem natural rather than legal ‘rights’ if they are made non-transferable?

    There’s a barely perceptible echo of this underlying Creative Commons licenses, that they help wrest copyright back from the publisher, back into the rightful hands of the author where it belongs, i.e. copyright as a quasi-natural authorial right. The King Author ruling his loyal subjects concerning what they may or may not do with his beneficent cultural largesse.

    See for evidence that ‘copyright as authorial right’ is the Creative Commons philosophy (as far as it dare have one) – in considerable contrast to the FSF’s far more libertarian emancipation of the public.

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