Lightening the mood

Well, folks, it seems that J. Neil Schulman has noticed my antics and decided that enough is enough. After I described to him how I pirated his book, and then compared him to the villains from Tron, he responded… by adding me as a friend on Facebook.

How about that.

I happily accepted. And not as a joke, either. I actually like this Schulman guy. To see why, I recommend that you read this post of his: Mere Anarchy. That post is the sort of thing I wish I had written, but I don’t need to write it now because Neil already did. So yeah, I loudly disagree with Neil on some things, but I agree with him on other things, and I don’t wish to overlook that.

So thank you, Neil, for taking the high ground and extending an olive branch. I’ll probably continue to disagree with you on some things, but when I do, I hope I don’t forget this time, when I spoke to you like an enemy and you still asked to be my friend.

J. Neil Sark wants to rule the Grid

So, back in my old post wherein I disagree with J. Neil Schulman, Schulman himself has dropped by to publicly disagree with me. This is good, because that’s exactly what a comments section is for. Anyways, in the course of insisting that he is right and I am wrong, he reminded me that his preferred term, instead of “intellectual property”, is “media-carried property”, or MCP for short.

MCP… where have I heard those initials before?

Oh, snap! End of Line.

Now, I doubt that Neil intended to reference the tyrannical Master Control Program when he picked the term “media-carried property”, but, nerd that I am, I can’t resist making the connection. And there is a deeper connection, but it is one that Neil has consistently refused to acknowledge.

Neil does not talk much about how to enforce claims of MCP. In his first post insisting that copying is akin to identity theft, he has this to say on the matter:

The questions of how copyrights, trademarks, and patents are currently defined and enforced by States are an entirely separate issue from the arguments I have been making since the 1980’s about property rights in identity and information objects.

For now I would be entirely satisfied if libertarians and anarchists recognized my property rights in the things I create and respected my right to license copies, using no other enforcement mechanism than social preferencing.

And… that’s it. The end! But I am not satisfied. This tells us nothing at all about what happens when social preferencing fails. What then?

Neil’s theories on matter-based property do not suffer from this lack. In the event that someone does not recognize your property rights in the physical world, Neil says that you have the right to shoot them, and he suggests that you carry a gun. He wrote a whole book on the matter, called Stopping Power (I haven’t yet read it, though I expect that I’ll agree with most of what it says). This is good, because you can’t expect social preferencing to always work. You need a backup plan when people break the rules, and carrying a gun is a good backup plan.

But what about when someone takes your media-carried property? What if they break through your copy protection and make it available as a Torrent? What do you do then, Neil? But he has never answered this question. This situation has been presented to him many times, by both friends and enemies, and he hasn’t even acknowledged it. This leaves a big, gaping hole in his theory of property rights in information.

Of course, Neil is not the first person to claim property rights in information. Many people before him have set out to do the same thing, and they have come up with solutions to fill that hole. Solutions like digital rights management, trusted computing, broadcast flags, notice-and-takedowns, ISP policing, and copyright bots. These all work together to do two things: take away people’s privacy, and take away people’s control over their own machines. And this is where Neil’s MCP runs into Tron‘s MCP. The only way to complete Neil’s theory, and provide information owners a means to defend their claims, is to control all communication. The entire network must be monitored and controlled, and any break-ins must be shut down swiftly and decisively. The media companies have known this for a long time, and they have fought to establish that control over the World Wide Web. To a great extent, they have succeeded. Their copy-protection schemes have infected all of our devices, and their monitoring systems hover over their world, ready to cut off and punish anyone who shares information without their permission. Like the Master Control Program, they reach into systems and appropriate programs and insist that they can run things better than we can.

Every time you get a DMCA notice, just imagine it’s from this guy. You’ll feel better.

This is a massive problem for Neil’s theory, because all of these measures invade people’s property and reduce their control over their own lives. Worse, they all work through the mechanism of State power, and they increase the State’s control over us. We can’t accept any of this. But then how can owners of media-carried property protect their property from invasion? Neil’s theory makes no sense anymore, because there’s no way to implement it. It’s as if he were advocating for the right of self-defense but refusing to let people own weapons. How does it work?

And what of the fact that these controlling measures are all being implemented? Here in the real world, the MCP is winning. Copyright laws continue to get stricter, anti-piracy measures continue to get more invasive, and ordinary citizens continue to get squeezed, and J. Neil Schulman, proud libertarian, is silent. If Neil will not fight for our liberty, who will?

Luckily for us, some people are smarter than Schulman. Like Flynn and Tron, they work to create systems where all information is free and open. They create open-source software that will not betray its users to outside controllers. They support laws that protect our privacy and our right to communicate. They find ways to crack DRM and defeat broadcast flags. They give us the power to protect our liberties. They go by many names: copyfighters, free software advocates, cypherpunks, pirates, and so on. But they all have one thing in common: they fight for the Users.

Real programmers do not normally wear cool outfits like this guy’s. Sorry, everyone.

If these people win, no one will be able to control the network. Information will flow freely. And instead of being a glaring contradiction, Neil’s theory of MCP will simply be left incomplete – permanently, fatally incomplete, like a human body without a heart.

And that is why I keep ragging on Neil. He never acknowledges this problem with his theory (that is, that claims to MCP cannot be enforced without the aid of a total surveillance state). He seems to consider the question of enforcement to be totally irrelevant. Well, Mr. Schulman, you’re wrong. No matter how many nerd jokes I make, I still have to live in reality, and in reality, your claims to media-carried property fail. People do not naturally respect such claims, and even when they try, those who do not respect such claims always have the power to ignore them. Even in our less-than-free society, piracy is easy and rampant, in spite of the State’s best efforts to crush it. Do you think that people will just stop pirating when the State is gone?

If the future is libertarian, then it will run on Free Software and distribute Free Culture, all the better to serve free people. So come on, Neil. Get with the program. Fight for the Users.

The Inevitable State

It has recently occured to me that as a group, we libertarians are a bunch of peaceniks. We may talk tough about self-defense and bearing arms and forming militias and so on, but really, we don’t want to engage in fights at all, let alone start them. We’ve got better things to do, like discuss philosophy or tinker with 3-D printers or smoke cannabis. As the pseudonymous dL puts it in this post, “Live and Let Live” is a big part of what it means to value liberty. We like life, and we hate war. Oh, how we hate war. As Randolph Bourne put it in The State, “War is the health of the state”, and oh, how we hate the state. One of our more popular sites is, and they mean business. We libertarians just hate war.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “So what? Everyone hates war. You think you’re special for hating it or something? Do you think that non-libertarians like war?” And not so long ago, I’d have said something about how I think you actually hate war just as much as we do, but you just haven’t figured out how to get rid of it. But that was then, and this is now, and in between then and now, I changed my mind. Now, I don’t think you hate war as much as you think you do. I also don’t think I hate it as much as I think I do. And this poses a big problem for all of us.
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What I support, and what I oppose

If you look at my previous post, you’ll notice that I’ve written a few essays talking about things I’m against and discussing views I disagree with, but not as many essays that describe what I am for, or that present views I agree with. This post is an attempt to rectify this, and to explain to all and sundry just what it is that I want when it comes to IP, my favorite topic.

First off, I am in favor of self-ownership. I own me, you own you, that person over there owns herself, those guys back that way all each own themselves, and so on. I am in favor of this because I believe that the person best equipped to know and do what is best for me is me, and the person most able to control, manage, and protect me is me, and also, because I don’t know what’s best for other people and I’m not in any position to manage and protect people besides myself. Thus, I oppose drug laws and other measures that restrict people’s freedom to do what they want to themselves, and I oppose slavery and any other relationship that compels people to work for the benefit of others before themselves.

As a consequence of self-ownership, I am in favor of property rights. Some level of property right is both necessary and inevitable, because it’s hard for two people to sit in one chair at the same time so it makes sense to say that the chair belongs to just one person. But beyond the baseline imposed by self-ownership and basic physics, there’s a level of property right that’s convenient for everyone. We like having our own space and our own stuff, and it’s nice to not have to constantly guard our stuff to make sure no one else takes it. The good news is that this kind of stable ownership is possible. We know this, because we have experienced it. It is a gift we all give to each other, and it is good; the benefits really do outweigh the costs.

As the above paragraph implies, I am in favor of cooperation and society. We are social creatures, and though we can often survive on our own, we are stronger when we work together. We create communities for our mutual benefit, and we benefit indeed from their existence.

But as an important qualifier to the last statement, I am in favor of voluntary association. I insist on my right to choose who I cooperate with, and I fully grant this right to all others. I would not force anyone to join any organization that I’m a part of, whether it be my church, my neighborhood home owners’ association, or my local militia (note: at the time I write this, I am not currently a member of any militia, but I’m open to offers of membership).

Finally, and most relevantly to the current topic, I am in favor of the free exchange of information. Free communication is either a natural consequence of or a helpful support to the above things I favor. Self-ownership means that I own my eyes and ears and brain and mouth, so I can take in whatever information I see and hear and then tell it to someone else, or I can come up with my own information to tell people. Property rights means that I can own a pen or paper, or a camera, or a computer, and I can use all these to enhance my ability to receive, record, transmit, edit, and synthesize information. This ability to give and receive information allows us to communicate, which helps us discover truths we were unaware of. This kind of communication is what makes cooperation possible in the first place. The better we get at communicating, the better we are at cooperating, and the more we benefit from society. This communication also helps us determine who to cooperate with. By finding and sharing truth, we can figure out who’s a friend and who isn’t, and we can then properly choose who to associate with. This free communication also bolsters and clarifies property rights. We can discuss with each other to see who gets what, and to determine if an owner is taking more than they deserve, or if they’re being robbed and need our help, and so on.

With that said, I can speak more clearly about what I am against.

I am against monopoly and lock-in. I oppose any measure to reduce people’s right of voluntary association. Measures that force people to cooperate, whether they be legal or technical, are immoral and dangerous, and we should work to weaken, circumvent, and break such measures.

I am against deception and censorship. The highest purpose of communication is to discover the truth (though it has other fine purposes, too). Deception and censorship both wreck this process.

I am against complication. We should make our rules and our relations as simple as we can, then no simpler. We all have a human tendency to accidentally complicate things, and many of us have a nasty tendency to deliberately complicate things. We must push back against both of these tendencies.

And that’s what I’m for and what I’m against. A final note: None of these are unbreakable rules. They all have exceptions. But I believe that these are all excellent general rules, and I use them to guide my opinions and actions.

Still disagreeing with J. Neil Schulman

A short while ago, before formally quitting Livejournal, I wrote a post in which I took J. Neil Schulman to task for his pro-copyright position (I’ve included the full text below the cut). Since writing it, I’ve had a few thoughts that I’d like to add to it.

First off, one thing that I wanted to include, but couldn’t find a place for, was a link to this response to J Neil Schulman by Kyle Bennett. Kyle opens up with this quote from Neil:

For now I would be entirely satisfied if libertarians and anarchists recognized my property rights in the things I create and respected my right to license copies, using no other enforcement mechanism than social preferencing.

He then makes this observation: “”Rights” to me, and I think to a lot of people, implies things that are legitimately addressed by force.” This, I believe, is the crux of the matter.

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