March 13, 2003


Those working for the inflation of intellectual monopoly rights are using colorful rhetoric means. For example words as "pirate", "stealing", "Boston strangler", "dagger in the heart of the DMCA" etc.

So how can the other side fight back? I have a few suggestions.

1. "Enemy of Freedom"

Intellectual monopoly (IM) rights like patents, copyrights, trademarks all give the owner an exclusive right to use. This means everyone else's freedom is reduced. This in turn means that those working for stronger IM are opposed to everyone else's freedom, so they are enemies of freedom.

2. "Great Mastermind of Greed"

The point of this rhetoric figure is the alliteration. This might be used as a honorary title for those individuals who are working most efficiently for the enemies of freedom. Maybe someone could sponsor a yearly "mastermind award".

Why greed? Well, of course, people who create great ideas should be rewarded. Authors, musicians, inventors should get paid. But in unlimited quantity? And with most of the profit directed to publishers? The word "greed" may be defined as "excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness". While the opinions about "reprehensible" might differ, there sure is much excessive acquisition based on IM rights.

3. "Slave Trader"

This is the counterpunch to "pirate". "Piracy" in the original meaning of the word is "an act of robbery on the high seas". This is a serious and violent crime. Copyright or patent violations are illegal, but they are obviously much less serious than real piracy. There is a difference between a kid trading illegal files and a bank robber. So this rhetorical figure serves the purpose to fool the listener.

In the same spirit, a "slave trader" is someone who does not recognize the freedom of the human beings he has enslaved, often by acts of violence. So calling someone promoting owning ideas "slave trader" is misleading exactly in the same way as calling someone violating intellectual monopoly "pirate".

And there is an added bonus in this line of reasoning: Ownership in human beings (slavery) was legal for thousands of years. Ownership in ideas has been legal only for a couple of hundred years. Slavery has been abolished. Ownership in ideas? Not yet, but that might come, if the backlash to extreme intellectual monopoly inflation becomes strong enough.

4. "Intellectual Monopoly (IM)"

Many people are critical of the term "intellectual property". For example, Richard Stallman says that term should be avoided because it is an "unwise generalization".

But on the other hand, there are times when we want to talk about patents, copyrights, trademarks etc. at the same time and need a general term. I agree that there are large differences between patents and trademarks. But speaking of all systems at the same time doesn't necessarily imply ignoring these differences.

The other criticism of "intellectual property" is, again in Stallman's words:

"The term ``intellectual property'' carries a hidden assumption---that the way to think about all these disparate issues is based on an analogy with physical objects, and our ideas of physical property.

When it comes to copying, this analogy disregards the crucial difference between material objects and information: information can be copied and shared almost effortlessly, while material objects can't be. Basing your thinking on this analogy is tantamount to ignoring that difference. (Even the US legal system does not entirely accept the analogy, since it does not treat copyrights or patents like physical object property rights.)"

I agree with that analysis.

So I would like to suggest using "intellectual monopoly" instead.

"Monopoly" is defined as

"exclusive ownership through legal privilege, command of supply, or concerted action".

Patents, copyrights, trademarks all give exclusive ownership through a legal privilege. So using this word seems to be fair enough. And it matches nicely with the term "enemy of freedom".

5. Final word of caution

Use of the above rhetoric counterpunch means should be saved for situations where they are necessary. If someone uses colorful rhetoric like "piracy", "theft" etc. without contributing anything meaningful to the debate, countering with an occasional "enemy of freedom" or "slave trader" might be appropriate.

In most other situations, it would seem to be unfriendly to use the above weapons. And in the case of "intellectual property", with most audiences you are stuck with that term if you don't have time to explain what's wrong with it and what "IM" is supposed to mean.

Update 17.03.2003:

For example, if the "pirate" rhetoric gets upgraded to "terrorist", that might be a good time to strike back.

Posted by Karl-Friedrich Lenz at March 13, 2003 12:37 PM | TrackBack
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