The Open Internet Under Attack

The Internet is special because any two people on the ends of the network can connect, with no central authority in the middle having a say in it. Openess has allowed competition in the ultimate free-market. That marketplace of goods, services and ideas has sparked social, political and economic revolution. Centralised political control would destroy what makes the Internet special.

Burdening businesses

Now isn’t the time for new burdens on businesses. The recession is back and austerity not yet started.
ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement obligates online businesses to police the web on behalf of a dying industry of copyright owners.
They say they “need” it, but that sentiment violates the ecomonic rights of the majority for the sake of a minority of special interests.

Acting creepy

Invented by Blair’s authoritarian government, the Communications Data Directive requires ISP’s to record everything you do online.
The “Communication Capability Development Program” is the stuff of science fiction: shadowy figures watching what you’re doing in real time leaving users no space to think, and seek information in private.

Disconnecting your broadband

The Digital Economy Act threatens broadband ISPs with fines and prison, forcing them to take part in a special system of copyright law enforcement. That process could disconnect your family from the Internet and endanger livelihoods and education.
No one should get special rules for their benefit. That is the rule of an elite, not the rule of law.

Neutralising middlemen

Individual Rights exist for every individual, equally

Strict network neutrality is the egalitarian idea that infrastructure providers in the middle of the Internet should offer their networks to everyone on identical terms.
This is well intended but it violates the rights of service providers who put up their own money to build effective networks.
Neutrality will block the development of new services. TV and telephony must be fast, other services, like massive data transfers for astronomers, must be slowed down to preserve the network for other uses.
Owners have a right to manage this their way.

Having your cake, and eating my cookies

It is obvious that web users are tracked by advertisers. “Cookies” used for tracking increase advertising revenues for publishers. Users can choose to stay away, or opt-out of tracking by changing a simple setting on their browser.
The EU’s Cookie Directive obligates websites to implement silly yet expensive pop up health warnings whilst offering little clarity about what those pop ups must look like.
Only a minority of users care about tracking, but the Directive threatens revenue for entrepreneurs.
Meanwhile users are encouraged to consume the benefit of free websites without having the cookies that help to pay for them.

Instead, we believe:

  • Liberty requires one set of objective laws that apply equally to all.
  • Innocent people should be left alone, not spied on.
  • No one deserves special laws that lumber their problems onto others.
  • Proper respect for property includes the right to choose how to employ assets, like networks.
  • Blanket surveillance puts everyone at risk of a miscarriage of justice.
  • We have a right to due process in open court.
  • Patents and copyright enforcement should respect individual rights.


A Field Meets a Brick Wall

A few months ago, Tom Burroughes gave an enlightening talk on intellectual property to the assembled Libertarian Home group at the Rose & Crown. If you have not seen that talk, it’s available with an introduction by Simon, here.

Whilst Tom’s talk was certainly interesting and managed to catch me completely unaware of one of my own personal favourite Libertarians of all time, Lysander Spooner’s position on the matter of IP, what I consider to be the really valuable moment of the evening came from a small break off group’s comments afterwards. Before I reveal this great insight, there’s just a few things we need to take care of first that I feel Tom came just a bit too short on.

It will come as no surprise to anyone in this audience that free markets are an incredibly powerful force for good and that to work they require property rights. The utilitarian argument for property rights accepts this view. Why am I bringing up utilitarianism among Libertarians? Because the entire original reason for intellectual property was utilitarian, to ensure that sufficient profit incentives for content to be created existed so that a rich medium of works would be available for consumption by the public.

That this argument effectively rests on the idea of pragmatism and scarcity as an excuse is an argument I have never found persuasive both for IP and normal property rights. However, it is the utilitarian argument so that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Whether it violates the NAP is another consideration entirely and one that I won’t be discussing here.

So let’s assume that we’ve decided IP doesn’t violate the NAP. What then? Do we suppose to advance absolute IP control and the abolition of fair use? I don’t think anyone wants that nor truly believes that would be a positive move for the relevant mediums. However, it is clear that our current IP regime is hindering rather than helping the advancement of the science and the arts.

Billions that would otherwise be spent on R&D are now wasted fighting frivolous patent trolls and it has become a generally accepted notion in the tech industry that no matter what you do, you will violate many patents without knowing it and may be surprised with a lawsuit at a moments notice. This has led to 2 even more depressing, now standard practices. The first consists of rewarding the trolls by settling with them out of court. This is exactly what the trolls want as it means there is no lengthy, costly legal battle. The second is only open to larger companies with the intention being to build an arsenal of patents with which to scare off any potential troll. However it also means that each of the large companies threatens to wipe each other off the face of the Earth.

Some of you might be wondering how patent trolls can violate patents and are therefore scared off by these arsenals. Almost none of the companies which have made a business out of this actually produce any goods and are therefore known as non practicing entities. Well, thanks to the ridiculously huge volume of these government granted monopolies, that patent you paid thousands if not millions for might violate one held by someone else somewhere and the first you might hear of it is when you receive the ransom in the mail. This is obviously ridiculous and seriously calls into question what the function of the patent office is, if anything.

With this in mind we should look to rebuild IP and in the process truly understand what we are trying to achieve. Our current system mimics a field of potential, infinite in all directions with a single, thin brick wall a few meters wide at it’s center. As the people in the field go around the wall, they are adding to it, building nothing but brick walls with doors in them and charging to use the doors. As time goes on the brick wall gets longer making new arrivals have to go even further afield to find a way around and they too add to the wall when they find such an opportunity.

A new system of IP should be envisioned as an infinite field with an equally infinite long brick wall as the problem already in place from the state of nature. People who use their strength to bring down sections of the wall or those who build ladders from sticks should be rewarded for their ingenuity and allowed to charge for the use of the solutions they offer. They should not be given the opportunity to be rewarded for making the wall more difficult to cross, simply covering sections of the wall with bunting or in an even more offensive maneuver, pretending that a wall exists where none does. We should aim to have the wall covered in ladders and sections that have been brought down to the point where crossing is no longer a challenge and everyone involved can move on to bringing down the next problem that stands in their way.

Whilst it’s certainly not a perfect analogy I thought it was one of the best I have heard for how we should aim to restructure patents and copyrights, focussing more on expressions and solutions then just general ideas, no matter how good they may be.





The cover image, by Paul Stephenson, depicts a medieval cattle grid constructed from stone.

Inevitably I’m bored

© William Warby

There just isn’t anything on the telly! Of course, there is something on the telly, there has been no major disaster of the kind that would stop broadcasters filling the airwaves with something. What I really mean, is that there is nothing of interest to me, and less of it than usual. Everything on TV this weekend, with the possible exception of Maria Sharapova, seems to be there for other people with interests wholly unlike my own – royalists, republicans and people that like horses, boats and that kind of thing. Royalism, repubicanism, horses and boats have never held too much of my interest.

To start with horses, they are on the TV becuase the Queen attended a derby but I just don’t like them. Let me be clear, it’s not that actively dislike horses, I have nothing against horses, it’s just that I don’t get very excited by watching horse racing or horses jumping over fences or whatever. I have ridden a horse, a couple of times, and didn’t particularly enjoy it. The first ocasion I don’t really remember as I was very young. The last horse, described as a compliant old nag by it’s owner, didn’t exactly pay attention to what I wanted it to do. I also worked on a website for a racing TV channel, on behalf of Perform Group in whom I later traded shares. I made a bit of pocket money, which is exactly as interesting as pocket money is always. I also built a database for a show ground in Wales using trusty (I’m being sarcastic) Microsoft Access. That project went rather badly, it was too much to take on at 20 and friends were lost over it, but the technology ultimately did the job. I remember a drama when for some reason the database ate itself and I needed to fish around in backups and reassemble the thing bit by bit. SVN hadn’t been invented yet, and wouldn’t have helped with the kind of monolithic file Access relied on. The problem is that MS Access wasn’t a proper client server application…. but I digress. Horses are just not that interesting, I’d rather be programming.

Boats are a bit more fun. I recall summer days on Milford Haven learning the ropes from my father, and pulling on sheets. I learned about tacking, jibing and goose winging, which I recall being a rather pleasant way to travel, and I learned how to coil a rope neatly. I most enjoyed heading out to the mouth of the Haven which was much more exposed. A longer fetch meant bigger waves and a bit of excitement as the bow crashed into and over waves, then down onto the next wave. Fiddling with the hardware under the jib on that kind of water is precisely what I call exciting. The Queen (she’s comming on TV a lot this weekend) is out on the water today and the news channels are full of people getting excited about being near her on the water a round number of years after she became queen (60), but its the calm waters of the Thames with no big waves expected. Frankly I just don’t get why someone would get excited about that. It seems a little wierd to be honest, and the psychology of it is more than a little curious. I certainly don’t think that looking at boats is much fun and thanks to my father I’ve spent long enough looking at boats to know exactly how much fun it isn’t, yet a lot of people are going to go and watch the boats go by. That includes my neighbour who is doing a good job of pressurising me to go along, and I might for social reasons, but I’d rather be sailing, or programming, than just looking at boats though. I don’t get anything out of just looking at boats.

Royalists are of course out in force. For people interested in monarchy, it’s history etc a round number years elapsing during the reign of a particular monarch is understandably a milestone, like turning 30, but it just seems frankly nerdy to be getting excited about the statistic that only one (or is it two?) other monarchs have been a monarch of England (etc) for the same number of years. Statistics like this don’t have any use to me, you might as well talk to me about the relative luminosity of lighbulbs. Again, I really don’t want to come accross as having a moan, I dont have anything against the Jubilee I’m just not excited in the way a lot of other people are and I find that a bit odd, on their part. One occasionally sees Royal celebratons just as one occasionally encounters horses in central London, but I’m as indifferent to this celebration as I would be about someone taking a ride around Hyde Park. Both events have little effect on my life, and yes that is my criteria for taking an interest. Horses have had a little effect on my life, boats a little more so, royalty has had, if anything less effect on my life than it properly should have done. The Queen is able to veto legislation and there is plenty of it that she should have vetoed.

Sean Gabb writes:

Once the politicians make themselves, as a class, irremovable, and once they begin to abolish the rights of the people, it is the duty of the Monarch to step in and rebalance the Constitution. It is then that she must resume her legal powers and exercise them of her own motion.

The need for this duty to be performed has been apparent since at least 1972, when we were lied into the European Union. The Conservatives did not fight the 1970 general election on any promise that they would take us in. When they did take us in, and when Labour kept us in, we were told that it was nothing more than a trade agreement. It turned out very soon to be a device for the politicians to exercise unaccountable power. The Queen should have acted then. Indeed, she should have acted – if not in the extreme sense, of standing forth as a royal dictator – before 1972. She should have resisted the Offensive Weapons Bill and the Firearms Bill, that effectively abolished our right to keep and bear arms for defence. She should have resisted the Bills that abolished most civil juries and that allowed majority verdicts in criminal trials. She should have resisted the numerous private agreements that made our country into an American satrapy. She should have insisted, every time she met her Prime Minister, on keeping the spirit of our old Constitution. There have been many times since 1972 when she should have acted.

Instead of acting, Sean regrets that:

In 1979, [The Queen] bullied Margaret Thatcher to go back on her election promise not to hand Rhodesia over to a bunch of black Marxists. In 1987, she bullied Margaret Thatcher again to give in to calls for sanctions against South Africa.
And that was it

And it is rather galling to consider that some of these Bills have had profound consequences and really ought to have been opposed by the Queen. I did believe that it’s equally as likely that the Queen has never really thought properly about the Bills she signed as she is to have thought about them and considered that she should support them. I was prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt but I’m reminded that she has been around for 60 years and that is plenty of time for nagging doubts to grow into conscious reflection on the political direction. I respect that she may have acted out of a kind of anti-racist over-reaction, understandably, but poverty and destruction in Zimbabwe should have been a trigger for a complete and rational reevaluation. Yet, at the time same time, it is not the Queen that initiated any of the Bills, nor is it probably any one person in Government, but rather a coming together of malign incentives within Parliament. I have no doubt that Royal Assent is the default setting for a Queen when deciding to act upon a Bill and she would have been persuaded of the correctness of that position since childhood. The blame then is distributed around a system made up of individuals who beleive in one approximate direction of travel and who end up going there, probably unconsciously in a great many cases. The real problem is to challenge and change the underlying ideas of the people who populate the system.

Republicans seem to be mostly keeping their heads down. I haven’t see a single one on TV to be honest, but the endless repetition of pro-monarchy arguments is directed at them, but again are of less interest to me. Oddly, I would have to label myself republican but still maintain an indifferent attitude.

A monarchy is probably not the correct way to run a country. My preference would be to elect Sir Tim Berners-Lee President of the United Kingdom and make him a figure-head with approximately the same powers as the Queen and set up an election process and term of office that ensured he would be able to take a long-view of things while remaining minimally accountable. The idea of electing TBL is not mine, Peter Tatchell suggested it, but Sir Tim has a proven track record in looking at things at a truly large scale and identifying the key technical things that are needed to make an economy and a culture flourish. That is the basic nature of what he did for the internet when he invented the World Wide Web, and he continues to do it. Keeping an eye on the UK and ensuring the wrong things aren’t done would be small beans after fathering the Web. I would love it if he retired from technology into politics proper. My only fear is he would not live long enough to get elected or might die shortly after taking up office, and then there would be a movement to elect someone from an establishment religion to replace him (though TBL is religious).

However, while I must label myself rebublican (because I have an opinion about who should be president, I basically am repubican) I can’t get particularly passionate about it either. With America in mind, I agree with what Tom Borroughes writes on Facebook, that:

there is not much evidence that republics are more free in terms of state infringements of liberty than constitutional monarchies. Libertarians should focus on cutting the size of government. Monarchy is a side issue.


Conceptual accuracy will not persuade ostriches

Libertarianism is a set of accurate political ideas, and objectivism a set of compatible accurate philosophical ones. Like many I was drawn to both by the fact that they made sense and were consistent. Arguments for libertarianism, and austrian economics in particular, would use day to day examples of individual human decisions that I could relate to and use to build up a logical conceptual model of the world at large, and make predictions about that world. A lot of philosophy rejects this kind of jump from the real into the conceptual, but since I had somwhow already rejected the analytic synthetic dichotomy (even before I knew what it was) I very quickly knew I had found some real answers in libertarian ideas. Suddenly, I knew why the world is as messed up as it seems.

If those examples and those arguments were nonsensical or fanciful, or if they held between them logical inconsistencies then I would not have been persuaded by libertarian arguments just as I was not persuaded by 22 years of left-biased media and statist assumptions. Yet the road to libertarianism was a long one, nagging doubts and idle thoughts had to build up over time.

This journey-to-libertarianism isn’t uncommon, it tallies with the experiences of libertarians I have spoken to. What worries me is precisely that this gradual and lengthy process of being drawn into libertarianism is as common as it is, because it seems to me that the French and Greek voters are using a different process entirely.

Sam Bowman produces a graph of rising (real terms flat) spending and writes:

What European voters have rejected is the idea of austerity. The very suggestion that their governments should live within their means is, apparently, unacceptable to the majority of voters in France, Greece and, as seems likely, the Netherlands.


If these voters had been through years of hard cuts and belt-tightening, a backlash would be understandable. But these voters haven’t lived through that yet.

Libertarian have spent time, on this blog and others, thinking about how to trigger emotional reactions that lead to more rational thought. That cause people to stop and think, or to contemplate stronger memes hidden in slogans. That can help campaign against emotive thinking, or help to inform, and might lead to more rational longtermist voting, but if the reason for voting against auserity is because they don’t want to face up to the challenge then that is actually evasion – a desire to avoid thinking about the lack of money – and it’s not obvious to me what could be effective in the face of that.

Voters unwilling to vote with common sense when reality is biting them on the arse are not going to pause and comtemplate nagging theoretical inconsistencies. We need a better strategy.

Open mic review

Thank you to everyone who attended last nights “open mic” event and helped make it a fun evening for everybody. I’d especially like to thank Michael Rudd, Rob Waller, Gavin Webb and Chris Mounsey for each of their talks.

Michael Rudd had the challenging task of opening the night on the back of my announcement that “heckling is strongly encouraged”. His talk on Gold could have been the least original talk interrupted by the most well-informed of heckles, but Michael’s clever twist and openess made for an interesting personal story and informative practical talk. I must now decide, without the benefit of any actual advice at all, whether to go and short gold.

A crowd of new faces allowed me to set up Rob Waller as some sort of socialist boogeyman, but he quickly clarified his libertarian credentials and delivered a thoughtful commentary on the deceptively simple slogans and brands employed in left-wing marketing. I would say more about this, but I think actually it’s worthy of an article on it’s own. If you want to now what was said, Rob Waller has posted his notes.

Gavin Webb used the opportunity to announce his plan for a new EC registered political organisation, or in other words a new party. First Gavin explained how libertarian thinking can be applied practically to sometimes dreary but essential local issues and how it is important to avoid being purist. This triggered a few heckles and some jokes at the expense of the anarcho-capitalists and Rand got a bit of beating too. The heckling morphed into an extended discussion on the topic of legal accountability and whether a political party can be engineered in a way that releases members to be free to express themselves. I’ve asked Gavin to write more on these topics for publication.

Chris Mounsey addressed the group last, which was a shame because the numbers were lower at this point and his talk was a really important one. Chris’ concern was that libertarians are often dismissed as nasty selfish objectivist boogeymen or nutters who want people to die on the streets. This is obviously untrue and it is important that we not only defend ourselves by rejecting aggressive claims upon our lives and livelihoods but present alternative, cheaper, better and morally cleaner solutions. Chris presented the history of National Insurance and described the nineteen-naughties boom in Friendly Societies that it obliterated.


So, did we successfully reproduce Speakers Corner and see in practice the science of good heckling and the incorporation and management of heckles by the speakers? I think so far we haven’t, because the jovial atmosphere was qualitatively different from the blend of humour and ernest seeking of truth that you can see at work at Speakers Corner. While the speakers undoubtedly found the heckling tough, and hecklers took it seriously, I have doubts about the utility of the format as a kind of fun media training excercise.

It was, however, an awful lot of fun in it’s own right.


A new libertarian party must hit the ground running

Enthusiasm abounds for Gavin Webb’s initiative to start a new libertarian party here in the UK. So far it is just a mailing list sign up, a register of interested parties, but social media is buzzing with the inevitable and exciting question of the name.

A name must work hard for any new enterprise, but is the least important part of the overall plan. Also it is largely a consequence of the rest of the plan, since it must communicate the plan to the public. That plan is the subject of much less discussion.

If your plan is to provide a vehicle for individual uncoordinated cat-like candidates who want to run as “independent libertarians”, if that is all you want, then you should call the party “independent libertarians” and stop reading this article, but consider one thing before you go. Your ambition is made harder by your previous relationship with secretive cabals that cannot keep their noses clean. You will face questions and will have to spend time dealing with them. How are you going to manage to do that if you only exist on paper? If there is no manned office no phone line and no full time book keeper or admin staff to ensure things are in fact run properly?

Incidentally, this plan exceeds the level of ambition of Wirral First, who do not seek to influence the wording on the ballot, and it is worth taking a look at the way Bob and Josie already raised concerns on the Wirral First blog. Ken and Malcolm seemed to have handled that proportionately and with subtlety, but how long will the peace last in an election environment, and can a minimalist party sustain the processes and beaurocracy required to protect against the regrettably real risks of malfeasance?

The reason it cannot do that is simple. You can’t keep extra resources on hand just in case, when the only value your whole organisation is adding is the occasional bit of paperwork once or twice a year for candidates. In commercial terms, the product you are selling is less valuable than your minimum running costs, oh, and the market is tiny.

The value you add could be any goal that enough people want to achieve. You might target national elections and leverage subsidised postage to reach voters with the ideas. A longer term strategy might be to target council elections to gain experience and a record in power, and research specific policy changes that can be applied at the local level. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding local politics disinteresting but that is a reasonable way to proceed. Personally I saw the priority as getting the message out about national policy issues and challenging the regulation, surveillance, Keynesianism, taxes, prohibition and puritanism imposed by Westminster and Brussels. This means simply a strong brand, a media team, and a decent presence in national elections. The old LPUK was just too small to maintain a media team and seriously tackle elections, and I always wished for it to get bigger.

Whatever the strategy, you need an infrastructure to support the credibility of everything else you do, and to support a decent bit of anything you will need to add more value than registering the name.

I am handily reminded of this post which I originally left who-remembers-where several months ago. I assume I’m quoting myself accurately:

The party can build credibility by professionalising itself, which means obtaining a core operational team of paid staff. These people would work full time for the party as co ordinators. They would ensure quality in the communications, project manage the IT and other work that needs doing, handle mail and campaign materials, ensure that campaigns and activism happens, do the books and get them online, as well as being on hand to respond rapidly to the news agenda by calling on the right activists and alert them to what needs doing.

We’re a bunch of amateurs- literally unpaid volunteers messing about and feeling our way through the process- we need to recognise that and supplement ourselves by buying in support we need, Aren’t we supposed to like markets ?

Of course, the fact that the bulk of the party have other jobs in the real world is a strength, so I suggest the NCC and the leadership are not full time roles and are probably not paid, with the exception of the Treasurer.

I added the emphasis to “do the books…” so that it doesn’t get lost among the long list of other value adding activities that these two staff would perform. Let’s drill into those others a bit more:

Professionalising – setting up the processes and procedures that protect the campaigning activities from the consequences of amateur errors. With the deepest respect for Chris and the other NCC members of the last party, making media appearances unprepared and failing to reconcile the accounts are consequences of not having the time to dedicate to politics on top of a real-world job.

Co-ordinating – listening to what members and activists want, getting to know them and bringing them together in groups with the right skills to make the agreed strategy happen.

Ensure quality in communications – producing content, moderating blogs and social media, preparing leaflets and media statements, and being on hand with enough spare capacity that moderation and editing don’t become a creativity crushing bottleneck for volunteers. Also, ensuring that they or someone else is able to prepare properly for media appearences and to seek out more appearences.

Handling mail and materials – “where exactly is that 20ft long banner with the party logo on it? Does Dick have it?”. Also getting stuff printed cost effectively and ensuring it looks great all takes time. Handling correspondence likewise, and membership queries require care and consistency.

Campaigns – party staff would not stand for election, at least that is not the purpose of hiring them. Their role is to facilitate and remove impediments like Scrum Masters for candidates. They would find or act as election agents, chase nomination papers, and make sure that at election time we have candidates and they know what to do. Of course, they could also stand if they have the time. Hopefully they will not have the time.

Activism – exactly the same but for all the people involved who aren’t candiates. Get members together and ensure they have what they need to make an impact on the public. This part happens at or between elections.

Bookkeeping – one employee would act as tresurer, the other would have plenty else to do but 1-4 times a year would act as a second pair of eyes on the accounts. The NCC would also need to take a more active role and someone would need to co-sign cheques, or at least monitor bank statements.

Respond rapidly to the news agenda – had this issue and this blog experiences exactly the same thing: if your volunteers all have real-world jobs (and it is a strength that they do) then who is going to be able to drop everything to write 500 words on the benefits to society of Fracking, or the evils of the war on drugs just because events have driven them unexpectedly into the news? The old party missed dozens of opportunities to react positively to the news agenda and promote libertarian ideas.

So, if none of that sounds useful then that’s fine, whether it is useful depends on the choice of strategy which must be a consensual decision. If it does sound useful – purposefully, for your strategy, not for your ego – then it is time to start finding members in serious numbers. The list above is the sales pitch for the idea of having paid staff, the price of even part time staff could easily hit £40,000 a year (remember those taxes!) and to have a chance of funding that we would need to find a couple of thousand people willing to pledge a decent membership fee to an unproven organisation. Then we’ll need to double the membership target to take into account the problem of collecting on pledges.

If you opt for a minimal strategy I suggest you set out your plan and stick to that plan in a tightly controlled way. People will naturally look to the new party and expect it to do something and do it better than before. They will expect to be able to see it do better in public and for it to be transparent for members. There will be an initial period of enthusiasm and the temptation will be to raise the game to meet your new-found ambition that is, to slip accidentally into doing the kinds of thing I talk about above but without staff to support it. That has been tried and didn’t work, we put all our trust in the hands of one person because we could not afford the time to do it get involved in governance issues, and then though incompetence or malintent the govenor let us down. Don’t slip unconsciously into enacting the same business plan, set your strategy, find your volunteers and stick rigidly within the limitations of your particular plan.

The other way to slip into repeating the same failed plan is to hope to start off on the back of enthusiasm. Sorry, but have you seen how many people in the Rose and Crown had their enthusisam for party politics burnt out of them in 2011? Even if you find fresh energy now it will need to sustain new problems and new crises.

“Staff” means “support”, like the wooden stick of the same name. “Amateur” means doing it unpaid, but it also means doing it for the love of it. Can your love for it really match the usefullness and sustainability of paid support? Don’t risk falling out of love with a brand new party, do it on a serious basis from the beginning.





* the photo is from AgileCamp and is by Luca Mascaro. Agile is a management method for small self-organising teams of very smart people.

Video: Intellectual Property: a dilemma for Libertarians

Tom Burroughes walks us through the libertarian, and some wider, arguments for and against the institution of Intellectual Property, including copyright, patents, trademarks design rights and secrets.

For anyone without means to enjoy the video, Tom has provided the following summary:

Libertarians place great importance on the institution of private property; private property is inseparable from liberty in general – freedom and “self ownership” are one and the same. Property is important for the benefits it makes possible: an extended market order, competition, privacy, a widely dispersed form of control over the means of production, and so on. Some of the arguments for property focus on the consequences. And some defences focus on a more normative approach, as in the natural rights tradition that argues that property is, as John Locke or Ayn Rand argued, a logical consequence of the idea that humans own their lives and need to be able to own the things that enable them to survive and flourish as free people.

But despite this, the issue of intellectual property is a difficult one for libertarians. On the “pro-IP” side, if one regards property as essential for fostering creativity, then there appears a strong case for encouraging people who develop creative works, be they novels, inventions, trademarks or whatever, to be able to own these things and derive an economic benefit from them for a period of time, if not indefinitely. This argument also draws on ideas of dignity and fairness: a novelist who has worked on a novel is entitled to try and insist on the exclusive right to sell their work for money. Even once a novel or some other work has been published, it does not immediately fall into the “public domain” where people can copy it at will since many people will still not have encountered this work and it seems unfair to deny the creator the chance to sell it for money, at least until a period of time has elapsed.

But there are big criticisms. To begin with, can an idea be “owned” in any meaningful way? Physical property such as land is what economists call an excludible good – only one person can stand on a patch of land at one time, say, whereas an infinite number of people can read a passage of a book without denying the owner of it use of this work. Physical goods are, in this sense, scarce, and we have property to ensure peaceful control of these things, but in the real of ideas, there is no such scarcity. Also, IP represents, on this argument, an attack on freedom. If I own a computer, and a supplier of software bans me from using it in certain ways lest I violate IP, then I am being told how to use my own physical property. In short, IP limits freedom. Also, like any state enforced right, there are issues of rent-seeking (not to mention the phenomenon of the IP “troll”). And IP is harder to enforce in the age of downloading and the internet. Even if IP has some merits, those merits are declining in today’s world. And some anti-IP folk deny that IP even is good for invention, arguing that many ideas and works will be developed anyway even without patents and copyright.

The talk does not suggest that there is a definite “right” or “wrong” answer, although having considered many of the arguments, I am more favourable to IP than I had expected when I started to explore this issue. It is hugely relevant: patent fights, for example, are frontpage news concerning firms such as Apple. And copyright fights feature regularly in the music and movie business.

I’d like to thank Tom once again for taking the time to prepare this excellent talk and for coming out of his way to deliver it to us. In addition, Tom has provided the full-text of the talk based on his notes which has been promoted to a spot in the site’s navigation.