Video: ACTA and Libertarianism

Last weekend we found ourselves in Amsterdam’s Leidesplein just as the Europe-wide ACTA protest rolled into the square. We found a volunteer for a spur-of-the-moment on-the-spot interview. One week later, I collected my own thoughts on ACTA and committed them to video, posted above. This is what I had to say:

First I’d like to clarify the moral dimension. As an libertarian objectivist I do believe there is such a thing as a best moral code to live by. Other libertarians believe morality is entirely personal, but what we all agree on is that politics and morality should be considered one at a time. It takes some of the emotion out of the debate if you can agree that piracy is morally questionable, certainly controversial, and then start with a fresh mind to consider the political and legal consequences of piracy

ACTA primarily targets internet service providers and the owners of online communities. If you believe that morality is about making choices, then it’s difficult to get upset with these groups. They are not choosing to pirate videos, nor are they making and selling them. They are third parties to the piracy.

Film makers on the other hand are doing a bad job of selling films online legally. An Open Rights Group report showed that compared to physical DVDs online movies are overpriced and many good movies aren’t even available yet. No wonder then that people pirate movies: piracy is a better way of getting movies. It seems to me that movie makers would prefer to impose themselves onto ISPs by commissioning the force of law. They want the ISPs to help get rid of a competitor that they could try to outsell in the marketplace.

If ISPs were to break this law, then the ultimate sanction is that they go to jail. This seems uncivilised at best. Afterall, putting people in jail is a form of violence, and remember these are third parties.

Governments should be in place to protect liberty. Not make slaves out of business owners, just because their customers might be acting immorally. The one moral principle libertarians agree should be part of politics forbids that kind of thing. That’s the “non-aggression principle”. Political institutions should uphold that principle, without transgressing it themselves – as ACTA does.


  1. It is no good pretending that the film makers can compete with the pirates. They can’t. Most kids on the internet have a simple rule of refusing to pay for anything.

    The big corps can see the writing on the wall for their businesses if they cannot persuade government to clamp down and I think they eventually will. That, of course will end internet freedom forever because the corps will effectively own it and the independents will be squeezed out.

    I know you have qualms about intellectual property theft but not to support ACTA would be to effectively impose your morality on everyone else because you will have to end up supporting the force used by the state to get its way.



    1. Ken I completely disagree. Film makers and Music Producers can compete with Pirates.

      Pirate content suffers from a number of flaws. For example neither the quality nor the security of the pirated products can be guaranteed. So to find decent pirated content can be time consuming. From my personal experience pirated content is rarely worth the hassle — so I don’t bother.

      Also the rise of services like NetFlix and Spotify show the future of these industries. Netflix is an absolutely amazing service that is both cheap and easy to use.

      My general feeling is that many in the industry simply don’t want to adjust to a changed market. People no longer want to consume content when and in the way that they did. Cheap on demand content is the future. Concepts like cinemas, dvds, etc are dead. The big players can try and use government to crack down on Pirates. But ultimately the problem is not the pirates it’s the fact that content producers are not supplying the market in the way it wants.



    2. Ken. Your final paragraph doesn’t parse. But I’ll restate my position for clarity.

      Whether or not we like piracy. Those that support ACTA are imposing their commercial whims upon third-parties.

      I think there is some role for copyright and patent law, and am undecided as to what that should look like, but it should not resemble ACTA.



    3. Good video Simon.

      To me piracy is most definitly immoral, no matter how it is dressed up it is stealing but this act is also wrong in that it is holding third parties responsible rather than the actual violators.



  2. Well it looks like I’m losing the pro-piracy argument. If you want the argument more coherently than I can make it, read here.

    But on the more important issue of governments trying to control the internet, I hope we are all united, because this could go one of two ways.

    On the one hand, we could continue with the free and anarchic internet that has evolved over time (linux, wikipedia, wordpress, help forums etc)where all the best and most active forms of mutualism are enacted on a daily basis.

    The other possibility is that we could end up with and some kind of state licensed, interactive Sky TV or information super highway where every word is censored and every key stroke is recorded.

    Governments and big business want the latter because such a model is controllable and the technology can be monetised. Barriers to entry can be created to protect profits.

    I am absolutely convinced that the next world war will be fought over the control of cyberspace and what we are seeing now is only the initial skirmish.

    The result of this war will determine the degree of individual freedom for generations, perhaps forever. Sadly, I suspect that, in the future, we will look back on this period of internet freedom with wistful astonishment.

    So this is not a moment to sit on the fence because you want to protect Brad Pitt’s paycheck.

    I’m with Assange, Anonymous and the Pirates!!!!!



    1. Sorry Ken but I just can’t agree on piracy. It is not just ‘Brad Pitt’s paycheck’ (funny how all the pro-piracy people always mention the top earners, like how all the occupiers always go on about the top 1%) at the end of the day it whether we continue to repect property rights or not (and yes I don’t think it makes a difference if it is tangible or not- if it is immoral to walk out of store with a CD in your coat pocket then it’s just as immoral to download it without paying.) and an economy based on free exchange- If you think product x is worth the price buy it, if not don’t or wait for it to be reduced, don’t just help yourself. That way leads down a very slippery slope….



  3. This was a very good and interesting video explaining clearly what ACTA is. This will help raise awareness and hopefully be part of a successful campaign to stop it.

    Ed Joyce



  4. Hi Andy

    if it is immoral to walk out of store with a CD in your coat pocket then it’s just as immoral to download it without paying

    Not at all. You are not stealing, you are copying something, an act that has been going on in music since the technology became available

    Now I agree that when the original music is supplied, part of the terms and conditions of sale are that it should not be copied and the producer should, of course, have the right to sue you for damages based on such a breach (though of course to do so has been practically impossible, and long before the internet).

    You are saying that the state should weigh in on the side of the media corporations and make the act of copying a criminal offence which seems to me a strange view for a libertarian to take, particularly when you take into account all the unintended (or intended) consequences for freedom of speech.

    Incidentally, internet file sharing has made the music scene a great deal more vibrant than before, with lower barriers to entry for the talented and much more live music. Without it, we would be being fed an unremitting stream of X factor pap from the media moguls.



    1. I think this is a problem in the same category as abortion. You can’t stop it, trying to is bad, people will continue to talk about stopping it and regard it as an unsolved problem, but the correct response is to resist trying to fix it until either:

      – It sorts itself out e.g. the music industry adapts
      – A principled and acceptable solution is invented e.g. cheap amazingly good devices with DRM.

      Of course, neither may ever occur, but that is okay. It might not ever be possible to safely remove a foetus from a mother and implant it in a surrogate, or to find enough surrogates, but that is not a reason to ban abortions. Likewise, being unable to invent good DRM is not a reason to approve of ACTA.

      Two wrongs don’t make a right.



      1. (one important diference with abortion, is that mothers have a right to self-determination that makes an abortion fundamentally moral, though tragic, while copying stuff is fundamentally wrong, but not really very tragic generally speaking)


  5. PS If you have a moral objection to breaking the contract you made when you bought the music there is a simple remedy.

    Don’t share it.

    But imposing your personal morality onto others through statute law is not acceptable, even in order to protect property rights (as you see it).



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