Monday, July 12, 2010

Kevin Carson: Intellectual Property Eats Itself

Back in the days of slavery, advocates for that institution pretended to regard it as a normal form of property. But far from simply desiring that whites should be free to own black slaves or not as they saw fit, or to dispose of this “property” as they saw fit, they made it clear by their actions that their real goal for was slavery to predominate and spread as an institution. This meant restricting the individual slave-owner’s right of disposition of his own “property” through even voluntary manumission of his own slaves — because it would undermine a social order based on slavery as its dominant institution.

Likewise, the Copyright Nazis have made it clear their real goal is to defend “intellectual property” as the institutional basis of the corporate economic order — even if it means undermining, by the terms of their own law, the right of individuals to dispose of their own “intellectual property” in ways that undermine IP as an institution.

The ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Artists and Publishers) recently sent out a fundraising letter announcing its campaign against Creative Commons and the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

“Many forces including Creative Commons, Public Knowledge, Electronic Frontier Foundation and technology companies with deep pockets are mobilizing to promote ‘Copyleft’ in order to undermine our ‘Copyright.’ They say they are advocates of consumer rights, but the truth in these groups simply do not want to pay for the use of our music. Their mission is to spread the word that our music should be free.”

Umm, Creative Commons is a set of options for a copyright holder to license his own work. No one may license anything under Creative Commons except what he holds the copyright on. So apparently, ASCAP doesn’t believe in the right of copyright holders to license their own “property” as they see fit if it undermines the predominance of proprietary business models.

This follows a recent campaign by the International Intellectual Property Alliance for the U.S Trade Representative to put several countries on a “special 301 watch list” because their governments have adopted open-source software systems like Linux in preference to purchasing proprietary software. Such action supposedly undermines “intellectual property.” So even though open source-software is, by the Copyright Nazis’ own laws, a legitimate form of private property licensed under the terms of copyright law, governments are obligated to purchase more expensive proprietary software in order to avoid undermining the proprietary business model. Cough cough Davis-Bacon cough.

The Copyright Nazis, despite all their rhetoric, don’t simply regard “intellectual property” as a normal form of property which the owner may dispose of as he sees fit, or own or not own as he sees fit — any more than the slaveocracy of 150 years ago saw slavery as a normal form of property among many.

The Copyright Nazis, like the slaveocrats, see copyright as the institutional basis of a social order, to be defended even at the expense of restricting the individual copyright holder’s right of free disposition over his own “property.” The slaveocracy opposed the right of slave-owners to voluntarily manumit their own slaves, even though this would follow as a matter of course if it were a normal form of property, because it undermined slavery as the institutional basis of social order. And the Copyright Nazis oppose the free licensing of one’s own copyrights, under the terms of open source licenses, because it undermines proprietary culture as the institutional basis of the corporate economic system.

As for their agenda of publicly challenging the EFF, I say bring it on! As it is, the mainstream press simply reports the position of groups like the MPAA and RIAA, along with some quip from Joe Biden, with no indication that there’s even a debate — the “other side” is just a bunch of freeloading teenagers who want to get free stuff.

If ASCAP publicizes this as a fight, it will require the press to report — for the first time — that there IS a fight, with at least a boilerplace paragraph stating what it’s about. Even reporting that there ARE such organizations as EFF, that challenge the maximalist copyright position on a principled basis, will be a first for many mainstream news organizations.

Just goes to show, once again, that we’ll eventually display their bleeding heads on our battlements.

Intellectual Property Eats Itself

C4SS Research Associate Kevin Carson is a contemporary mutualist author and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: An Individualist Anarchist Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. Carson has also written for such print publications as The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty and a variety of internet-based journals and blogs, including Just Things, The Art of the Possible, the P2P Foundation and his own Mutualist Blog.

Response to ASCAP’s deceptive claims

Last week, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) sent a fundraising letter to its members calling on them to fight “opponents” such as Creative Commons, falsely claiming that we work to undermine copyright.*

Creative Commons licenses are copyright licenses – plain and simple. Period. CC licenses are legal tools that creators can use to offer certain usage rights to the public, while reserving other rights. Without copyright, these tools don’t work. Artists and record labels that want to make their music available to the public for certain uses, like noncommercial sharing or remixing, should consider using CC licenses. Artists and labels that want to reserve all of their copyright rights should absolutely not use CC licenses.

Many musicians, including acts like Nine Inch Nails, Beastie Boys, Youssou N’Dour, Tone, Curt Smith, David Byrne, Radiohead, Yunyu, Kristin Hersh, and Snoop Dogg, have used Creative Commons licenses to share with the public. These musicians aren’t looking to stop making money from their music. In fact, many of the artists who use CC licenses are also members of collecting societies, including ASCAP. That’s how we first heard about this smear campaign – many musicians that support Creative Commons received the email and forwarded it to us. Some of them even included a donation to Creative Commons.

If you are similarly angered by ASCAP’s deceptive tactics, I’m hoping that you can help us by donating to Creative Commons – and sending a message – at this critical time. We don’t have lobbyists on the payroll, but with your support we can continue working hard on behalf of creators and consumers alike.

Eric Steuer
Creative Director, Creative Commons

* For background on ASCAP’s anti-Creative Commons fundraising campaign, see Boing Boing, Techdirt, ZeroPaid, and Wired.

Response to ASCAP’s deceptive claims

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