Christianity and IP

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Some time ago,
I had to decide whether or not to use a friend’s original copy of
Windows on a used computer. As a Christian, I actually had to pray,
"Lord, what do I do?"

I resolved
that particular internal dilemma in the short term, when I realized
the computer had originally been bought with Windows. So effectively
I was just reinstalling what had already been paid for. That was
as far as my conscience would go then, but I started to examine
the whole issue:

No matter how
bad his business plan or his wheels are, unless he is a complete
imbecile, one thing we can be sure of is that by the time 25 years
are up, he is going to be running the biggest business on planet
earth. Big enough, probably, to influence politicians enough to
add another 25 years to the patent monopoly.

"Pirated"
wheels are everywhere, of course, as people need them. The news
corporations, whose printing or airwave monopolies are granted in
similar manner, report regularly that people have been killed by
"dangerous pirated wheels," that they are a menace to
society and a threat to the "legitimate" economy. Believing
this, most of these "pirates" have vaguely guilty consciences,
half believing themselves to be thieves while throwing up a few
weak excuses. Many decent people with clear (but also ill-informed)
consciences and limited means, just walk everywhere. There are calls
for the government to provide these people with wheels to make "society
more just." There has been some delay however, due to a related
lobbying corruption scandal involving affiliates of the Wheel Maker
set to benefit from the resulting government contracts.

As we imagine
this scenario, I wonder how many would join me in hoping that there
would be at least some, with clear consciences, who see right through
the whole scam and make just as many wheels as they want and share
or sell them freely to their friends?

Think about
it. Do you really believe that every wheel became the moral or "intellectual"
property of the inventor?

It was there
all the time in God’s creation — the "inventor" just discovered
it. Certainly of course, any wheels he made himself were his own.
But if one was purchased, in the absence of a special agreement,
or even if a wheel was just visually observed — would there be anything
wrong with duplicating wheels with one’s own materials?

The real advantage
the wheel inventor had was being first. He could have made some
money just from that. If he was also a good wheelwright, maybe he
could be in big demand. But he certainly should not have been able
to build a global monster corporation all because the force of the
state backed his monopoly.

Now let’s get
up to date:

When a CD is
purchased, money is put down and a product is received. I submit
that there is no proper lease/non-distribution agreement. If there
was, it would indeed be dishonest to violate an agreement voluntarily
entered into.

A key moral
issue here is the legitimacy of any agreement.

Most governments
recognize something called "constructive notice." For
example, this means that if a business sticks "LLC" or
"Ltd." after its name and you become a customer or supplier,
you are taken to have agreed that the owners can dodge their debts
to you ("limited liability") if it asks the government
for permission (declares bankruptcy, etc.). There may be other reasons,
but to incorporate for this reason is an immoral choice made by
the owners to join in this alliance with the State. It is perfectly
possible to operate without incorporation and there are good-sized
businesses which do not. In the US at least, churches are free to
operate without incorporation also and an increasing number do so.

Another form
of "constructive notice" is the small print that comes
with a product like a CD. Does this constitute a real agreement?

Of course not
— it is one-sided. You could equally write "sold, absolutely"
on your own sales receipt and call that an agreement. On the internet,
the same goes for "click here to accept terms." With no
less moral legitimacy you could, prior to purchase, send an e-mail
stating your terms and that if they did not prevent the transaction,
take it as agreed to.

It is perfectly
acceptable in private business to enter into proper, signed or verbal,
nondisclosure agreements. Software enhancements are often done in
this way. But mass sellers do not require this, it would hit mass
sales and it is practically impossible to obtain agreements preventing
purchaser's friends or third-parties accessing and copying software
or music/video.

This is the
basis of a big-business/big-government alliance that affects many
areas of life and business. It is one pillar of our modern hierarchical
corporate state — along with forced limited liability, monopoly
central banking (huge loans to favored corporations with money created
from thin air), zoning, "eminent domain," land use control
and of course taxes, regulations and mandates. These and other factors
have created the trend of big business getting bigger along with
its ally, big government.

Economically
and politically this is "fascism." Contrary to socialist
PR, fascism is not the opposite of socialism. Superficially, socialists
do point out the errors of big business. However their solution
is not liberty, but merging everything into one mega monopoly corporation
in the vain idolatrous hope that it will not behave like one, if
it is renamed "government." One corporation to rule them
all is not the solution to corporate abuse.

So now let
us look at another key moral issue at stake: If I sold you an item
without a special agreement, is that not final? Does it not belong
to you, rather than the government or to me? Certainly it does and
you would have every right to do with it as you please. At a minimum,
I would expect a sharp rebuke if I tried to control what you do
with it afterward.

This is why
encryption keys, serial numbers and hardware/dongle dependency for
mass-market software, while permissible of themselves, are invariably
a manifestation of an un-free market. It goes against the nature
of things that can be easily duplicated. A business model that does
not take into account the reality that, with a click of a mouse
(or at most a few lines of code) data can be duplicated, is just
not sound. It inevitably involves threatening customers that the
government will act against them, should they decide to investigate
the software code of their purchase, or make any changes to (i.e.,
"crack") the program they have purchased or been given.

Sellers are
on a more solid moral foundation when selling subscriptions for
support, upgrades and enhancements from one convenient, reliable,
up to date and virus-free source. Just like the Linux operating
system vendors, some of whom are running moderately sized profitable
businesses. As a reaction to the UN-free, proprietary legal environment,
this software functions under a license called the Gnu Public License.
This and also the Creative Commons license effectively turns the
law back on itself. This is a most commendable development which
ensures users' legal right to copy, share and improve freely. It
is also true that the hostile legal environment can limit market
discipline, with mixed motives among often voluntary programmers
— i.e., not always just to satisfy users.

But
if a seller does go the "proprietary" route (acting as
if it owned the data on other's computers) and the software gets
hacked/cracked (as it surely will), it really is their own fault.
They are then left to hope the majority (sometimes a 10-1 plus majority)
who are cracked software users feel satisfied, scared or guilty
enough to send some money or make a purchase anyway. But if a seller
tries to put users under surveillance by requiring personal details
they really have no business with; or forces them to seek permission
every time they upgrade their computer — users are going to resist
all the more.

Is it really
right to blame hackers/crackers, who are not committing some actual
harm like stealing money from an account or damaging a system? If
it is simply duplicating software and bypassing serial numbers,
are they not merely adjusting code on their own computers and sharing
it with others? It is true there are some criminal and morally confused
elements among hackers. But so it is with any unjust law — call
to mind Prohibition in the USA… this attracted criminal elements
as well as ordinary people.

Even supporters
of "intellectual property" become especially annoyed by
the obnoxious, tyrannical coercion of the government/corporate monopoly
and the fascist police state methods required to enforce the granted
monopoly. To give recent examples: putting Internet users under
surveillance; demanding private records from ISPs; then threatening
or prosecuting 12-year-old girls on the "evidence," and
setting up anonymous "rat on your neighbor" call lines.

The moral discussion
of "intellectual property" often brings up the word "stealing."
More recently, corporate fascists have claimed "file sharing
is communism."

If we believe
in private property then we must accept that what is ours is so
absolutely, to modify, share or do with as we wish — whether it
is bought and paid for, or is given by someone who owns it. Furthermore,
if someone chooses to make music publicly available through a radio
or computer — without first getting a valid personal, voluntary
agreement — then morally it is our choice what we do with it, including
recording and sharing. Nobody forced them to make it publicly available
on a radio station or the Internet

If they do
not want anyone to copy it, let them keep it in the privacy of their
own studio. This is exactly how concerts and cinemas operate and
is one answer to the concern as to how artists can make money. Public
appearances do generate big money for artists. For artists, the
wider their recordings are distributed, the better known they become
and the more people will likely attend a concert.

Also, if voluntary
contributions can work well for many subway "buskers"
and street musicians, there’s no reason this cannot work for other
musicians. Low cost downloads and CD’s are another option, especially
considering that a CD can be produced for pennies. Why would anyone
want an mp3 copy if a high-quality original is cheap?

Yet, those
in favor of intellectual property constantly trumpet, as the supposed
moral high ground, that the big idea is to save the "entertainment
industry." But what is really so good about a few huge corporations
owning most of the media; elite media bosses choosing what is available
to view or listen to; and a few big superstars. Below this artificial
corporate hierarchy are the vast majority of musicians and artists.
No matter how good they are, they are on the bottom because they
haven’t been chosen by the elite. The only dream of many is the
remote chance, like winning a lottery, that they will be chosen.
In the present corporate hierarchical pyramid system, everyone is
spoon fed by and controlled from the top.

Some people
want to live and make a living in this environment and others just
do not realize that this is not a normal state of affairs. Some,
who may have climbed a way up the corporate wage-slave ladder, or
depend on one of the corporations in some way, may hate what I am
saying, because it is an immediate term threat. But when big media
giants downsize, this is good not bad: the tentacles are unwinding
and more "slaves" are released to do something more productive
— like maybe start their own business or make their own music. Let
us all start looking at the big picture and let things "rip."

I had one very
satisfied customer whose computer I had just repaired who turned
sour on me after the train of conversation led to these matters.
He was a seventies producer who now frittered away his time on fanciful
projects while living on residual income from a few hits back then….

Popular support
can free up the system, and millions of file sharers are doing just
that. The more things adapt to this free market, the more ordinary
artists can find free market ways to earn money — if they are good
enough. Aside from live concerts, once prices come down to a reasonable
level, original CD’s or fast convenient downloads will sell like
hot cakes and there may be little demand for "piracy,"
so-called. Music lovers can have much more music for their money.
Compared to current output, standards and trends could only improve.
Large media giants would be obsolete and the artists could all make
more money in accordance with how much they are enjoyed, without
the oppressive middlemen.

Finally, we
have been talking about morality a lot, so what does the Bible say
about intellectual "property"?

The answer
is… nothing.

That is, you
will not find any scripture, Old or New Testament, referring to
"intellectual property." You will find a lot against the
power of the State, however. I recommend a thorough, slow reading
of 1 Samuel Chapter 8 and beyond to start with. This will show you
that government is not God’s idea at all. According to this chapter,
it is idolatry and slavery, tolerated by God rather than endorsed
and given a strict limit of toleration at 10% of surplus. Governments
today are close to 50% and in some cases beyond.

Those who love
rules, regulations and generally directing other people’s affairs,
should think about whether they are willing to use violent force
against people who do not want such direction. Or in the case of
artists, against their customers, who may wish to do as they choose
with that they have purchased.

That is the
nature of government — violence. Can't see that? Then, as a totally
innocent person, try publicly ignoring a minor bureaucratic order
you disapprove of and are satisfied is unsound and unjust. Then
ignore the court that fines you. Then resist officers coming to
take your goods. Finally, resist the police who come with guns….
Get the point now?

Normal people
would not personally use violent force against others who do not
follow their whims, ideas and opinions. Nor would they personally
invade a person’s house, armed to the teeth, and demand money —
even in the name of assisting a poor person they profess to "care"
about (i.e., the "social justice" doctrine). Christians
then, should stop supporting, voting and campaigning for a gang
to do it for them. They should not be accomplices and in "covenant"
with such people — including politicians. A good start would be
to avoid mainstream media documentaries, debates and "news"
advocating one person’s "expert" opinion being imposed
on another by force and/or through another person’s money being
confiscated.

The threat
of violence and the force of the State (if the State is to exist
at all — there was none for 450 years under the Old Testament ideal
— see Acts 13:19–21) is to be reserved for actual wrongdoers, not
to control the innocent. This limitation is always mentioned in
the major New Testament references to civil rulers. Politicians
and rulers are not authorized to decide what is right and wrong
— that comes from God alone. Nor do they have the God-given authority
of a parent over a child or a master over a slave.

That doctrine,
once again widely held, used to be called the "divine right
of kings." Both the English and especially the American revolutions
were fought over it — and thank God it was then defeated. But, unlike
early church teaching, many of today’s Christians claim we should
obey rulers totally; that the State is effectively a manifestation
of God in the flesh — unless and until the government actually makes
us do something wrong (as they understand it). This might be a doctrine
for a slave on a plantation, but not for free people made in the
image of God to "reign in life as kings through… Jesus Christ"
(Romans 5:17). We are told plainly "do not yield yourselves
as slaves to men" (1 Corinthians 7:23) and that, "the
rulers of the ungodly lord it over them… but it shall not be so
among you" (Luke 22:25). The whole book of Galatians is dedicated
to the concept that even the God-given rules and regulations of
the Old Testament were temporary and now obsolete, how much more
the secular/pagan rules of modern governments.

Romans chapter
13 was abused by Hitler to neutralize Christian resistance and was
written on the floor of the totalitarian Roman tax collection offices.
I recommend reading that most misquoted of scriptures again several
times, prayerfully. If it is not clear to you what a "wrongdoer"
is, go and read the Ten Commandments — you’ll find them in Exodus 20.
Where do Christians get the idea they can decide right and wrong
for themselves, or worse, ask corrupt politicians to decide? What
has right and wrong to do with wearing seatbelts, obeying speed
limits or thousands of other rules and regulations and why do so
many support the use of force against the innocent in these ways?

Romans says
there is "no authority except God’s" — that is, if it
is not God’s law it has no proper authority (but we should be prudent…for
the Lord’s sake and our own…) Only in so far as the state is punishing
an actual wrongdoer should we support (including by taxation) any
action from our conscience rather than just prudently comply due
to the threat of official "wrath."

Regarding prudence
in the face of an immediate tax demand, Jesus enlightened his disciples
when He said in Matthew 17:26 "the children of the king don't
have to pay taxes… but we don't want to make these tax collectors
angry… pay the tax for you and me."

January
28, 2009

Paul
Green [send him mail] was
born in the UK and currently works from home there as an independent
emergency callout specialist for home and small business computer
users. He is married with five children – all at home –
and the three of school age are homeschooled. Over the years he
has also traded the financial futures markets and worked as a one-stop
advertising copy writer/ voice-over artist/ music and jingle producer.

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