All politicians are Nazis (thoughts on the death of irony)

There’s a fellow running for State Senate not far from where I live, by the name of Steven Zachary. I don’t know much about his platform, but I do know his motto: “Family. Community. Jobs.”

There’s nothing particularly special about that motto. You’ve probably heard variations on it dozens of times already, in previous political campaigns. In fact, when I first read that motto, it reminded me of another motto that’s over 70 years old: Travail, famille, patrie, the motto of Vichy France. Travail (work), famille (family), patrie (homeland): all good things that a politician would want to promote, right?

But there’s a problem with borrowing Vichy France’s slogan: Vichy France was a puppet government, a fascistic regime installed by German occupiers. And not just any Germans, but Nazis, who they actively cooperated with in suppressing dissent and exterminating Jews. Thus, Reverend Zachary’s motto comes off less like the mantra of a trustworthy statesman and more like the snake-oil promise of a quisling. Is Reverend Zachary aware of this resemblance?

Alas, it probably doesn’t matter. Steven designed his slogan to have a shallow appeal, and the irony of a black man sounding like a Nazi collaborator won’t reduce his appeal to the people he’s trying to appeal to. For comparison, consider this magazine cover advocating “the case for Romney”. The resemblance to Soviet propaganda is obvious, even without the side-by-side comparison offered in the link, and yet that picture was on a conservative-leaning magazine in favor of a Republican presidential candidate; these are folks who pride themselves on being anti-Communist! And yet there they are, looking to all the world like the Glorious People’s Revolutionary Central Planners, and loving it.

All the irony has gone out of American politics, and we are poorer for it.

On a related note, Century Link is offering a television service called “prism”, and they’re inviting everyone to see prism tv. It seems they are unaware that in Soviet Amerika, PRISM sees you.

Well, this is strange

A strange thing has come to my attention. There is a website, called Tagged as Politics, that apparently automatically reposts any blog post that has the ‘politics’ tag (hence the title). They reposted my most recent post (you can see their copy here).

Now, I don’t actually mind. My policy is to allow anyone to share and build upon what I do, provided that they are honest and that they respect others’ liberties. The Tagged as Politics folks have done just that. They haven’t altered a word in my post (even the links are intact), they’ve left my name on it, and they’ve even included two very prominent links back to my blog. So I’m not here to complain. I’m just confused as to what they gain from reposting my post… and every other post tagged ‘politics’. Are they trying to assemble some kind of database of political thought? If so, enjoy my post, guys. Have fun with it.

Check Your (Intellectual) Privilege: a book recommendation

I recently finished reading Intellectual Privilege: Copyright, Common Law, and the Common Good by Tom W. Bell, and I’m glad I did. In the introduction, Tom Bell promises to offer a “libertarian view” of copyright, and this libertarian thinks that Tom delivers the goods.

I was actually surprised by how libertarian the book is. You see, in the publicity for the book (like this video), Tom informs us that the book is covered under what calls a “Founder’s Copyright”, in which he and the Mercatus Center reserve only some rights (the rights specified in the original 1790 Copyright Act), and only for a limited time (28 years, the maximum time offered under the original Copyright Act). This is highly preferable to modern copyright law, but not nearly as good as no copyright at all. With that as introduction, I was expecting a wishy-washy “middle of the road” take on copyright. I was unprepared to read Tom saying things like this:

Copyright thus creates both a legal power to censor and an economic incentive to speak, an uneasy but unavoidable conflict that Neil Netanel, a professor at University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law, has aptly described as “copyright’s paradox.”
Copyright’s paradox reaches beyond mere speech, however. Although often described as a form of property, copyright relies for its very existence on violating property rights – the traditional common-law rights that each of us presumably enjoys in such tangible things as our printing presses, guitars, and throats. – from Chapter 1

Barely two pages into the first chapter, and Tom has already described copyright as a censorship instrument and as a violation of property rights. Tom W. Bell is not kidding around, folks. And it only gets better from there.

In case you don’t believe his assertions, Tom carefully spells out why copyright cannot be a natural right (here’s an excerpt where he explains why copyright fails to fit John Locke’s definition of natural rights, and here’s another excerpt where he explains why copyright fails to fit Randy E. Barnett’s definition of natural rights). He gives us a thorough history lesson that shows that, while America’s Founders often tried to “sell” copyright to the masses as a natural right, they never actually treated it as such. He closes Chapter 3 with this doozy of a sentence:

In sum, we should consider copyright an unnatural statutory privilege that violates our natural rights and can claim only as much justification as can the state itself.

Now that’s what I like to read in a book discussing copyright. And if I were writing the book, that’s about where I’d end it, staying only long enough to write a conclusion urging my readers to “smash the state”.

That’s not where Tom ends things, perhaps because Tom is not an anarchist. But whatever Tom isn’t, I can say what he is: he is very thorough, rather humble, and quite dedicated to finding a solution to our problems with copyright. And he spends much of the book talking about solutions: both ways to make copyright less odious, and ways to make it unnecessary or irrelevant. Since the governments of the world don’t seem likely to crumble any time soon, it’s likely that copyright will be with us for some time to come, so Tom Bell’s pragmatic solutions might be just what we need to deal with it.

To make copyright less bothersome, Tom describes a legal theory called “copyright misuse”. The idea here is that, since copyright is necessarily a violation of common-law rights, anyone who invokes copyright rights does so at the expense of their own common-law rights. In other words, you can either have common-law protection (which covers your person, property, and promises) or copyright protection (which grants you exclusive rights in distributing your expressions), but not both. He discusses several legal cases where this doctrine has developed, and describes how a more general application of this principle would make copyright less noisome. Take DRM and EULAs, for instance. Both of these are limitations on what a user can do with copyrighted information, justified on grounds of property right or contract. Under the theory of copyright misuse, both of these would be illegal; a copyright holder could limit users’ rights either by copyright or by contract, but not both at the same time, so an EULA that ordered anything besides “Don’t violate copyright law” would be null and void unless it didn’t apply copyright at all, and DRM could not be used to prevent a user from doing anything not forbidden under copyright law. As Tom notes, when copyright and common-law rights combine to oppress, “we should respond by limiting the former and respecting the latter” (from Chapter 7). Tom then goes on to propose an addition to the Copyright Act, which he calls section 107(b), and which reads as follows:

It constitutes copyright misuse to contractually limit any use of a copyrighted work if that use would qualify as noninfringing under § 107(a). No party misusing a work has rights to it under § 106 or § 106A during that misuse. A court may, however, remedy breach of any contract the limitations of which constitute copyright misuse under this section.

This would formally recognize the doctrine of copyright misuse in the relevant legislation, and give abused users a firm defense against copyfraud. And I really must tip my hat to Tom Bell, for how thorough he was in drafting this proposed bit of legislation. You’ll have to read Chapter 8 to see just how much thought he put into this. And in Chapter 9: Deregulating Expressive Works, he proposes another expansion to the Copyright Act, section 301(g):

(g) Nothing in this title annuls or limits any common-law restriction on the use of a fixed work of authorship if that work has been dedicated to the public domain.

Tom believes in the strength of common-law protections (and so do I), so Tom wants to encourage artists and innovators to use common-law methods instead of copyright. Section 301(g) would explicitly allow them to do so even after abandoning copyright. Not such a bad way to encourage folks to contribute to the public domain, if you ask me.

But Tom doesn’t stop there. See, Tom takes seriously the idea that there might exist a “market failure” in the production of expressive, creative works. It’s this market failure that copyright supposedly exists to cure. But instead of legislation, Tom Bell proposes that we look for other ways to cure the market, including improved technology and novel common-law solutions. Chapter 11 is titled “Outgrowing Copyright”, and right there, I must give Tom credit for a hopeful vision. While so many copyright reformers talk about finding the right balance in copyright, Tom talks about finding ways to do without it. Rather than ask “How much do we need?”, Tom asks “How can we get to a point where we don’t need any?” I’d love to here more of this kind of talk from Larry Lessig and Cory Doctorow. Step up your game, guys.

In fact, if you’re the sort who thinks that we can and should find the right balance in copyright legislation, I recommend you read Tom Bell’s analysis of the difficulties involved in doing so, found in Chapter 6: Copyright Politics: Indelicately Imbalanced. I think I can sum up the whole chapter nicely in one sentence from it:

Copyright policy combines all the elements of a public choice tragedy: concentrated benefits, diffuse costs, and state power.

In other words, if you’re waiting for the lawmakers to properly adjust the settings on copyright, you’ve got a lot of waiting ahead of you. There’s a reason they’ve screwed it up thus far, and the reason is that they don’t see any reason to bother getting it right. Hoping for a fix of copyright is probably a pipe dream, even with Tom’s proposed additions, so we’d be better off looking for an escape from copyright, instead.

The book’s conclusion is titled “The Packet-Switched Society”, and it includes a brief discussion of what makes the Internet special and how this offers us a way to render copyright superfluous, changing it from a “necessary evil” to just plain evil. It’s a good conclusion to a good book, and I hope you all will read it. Buy a copy, borrow a copy, whatever you must do. There used to be a draft freely available online, but Tom has since taken that down… but thanks to the Internet Archive, you can still read it! So check it out and give it some thought. You’ll be glad you did.

And to any copyright maximalists who are reading this, let me just say: Check Your Privilege!

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 Antiwar.com, 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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