Copywrongs

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Furthermore,
there are a very few cases of legal action in the magazine world
because of this disparity. The little ‘zines have no hope beating
a rip-off and shrug it off after a perfunctory threat; the Biggies
rattle their corporate-lawyer sabres and nearly anyone above ground
quietly bows.

Crap. As Don
Marquis put in the words of Archy the Cockroach, "Creative
expression is the need of my soul." And Archy banged his head
on typewriter key after typewriter key all night long to turn out
his columns – which Marquis cashed in. Writing as a medium
of expression will continue as long as someone has a burning need
to express. And if all they have to express is a need for second
payments and associated residuals, we’re all better off for not
reading it.

The point of
all this vulgar praxeology is not just to clear the way for the
moral question. The market (praise be) is telling us something.
After all, both market human action and morality arise from the
same Natural Law.

Is not a producer
entitled to the fruit of his labor? Sure, that’s why writers are
paid. But if I make a copy of a shoe or a table or a fireplace log
(with my little copied axe) does the cobbler or wood worker or woodchopper
collect a royalty?

Property is
a concept extracted from nature by conceptual man to designate the
distribution of scarce goods – the entire material world –
among avaricious, competing egos. If I have an idea, you may have
the same idea and it takes nothing from me. Use yours as you will
and I do the same.

Ideas, to use
the ‘au courant’ language of computer programmers, are the programs;
property is the data. Or, to use another current cliché,
ideas are the maps and cartography, and property is the territory.
The difference compares well to the differences between sex and
talking about sex.

My ideas are
pieces of what passes for my soul (or, if you prefer, ego). Therefore,
every time someone adopts one of them, a little piece of me has
infected them. And for this I get paid, too! On top of all that,
I should be paid and paid and paid as they get staler and staler?

For when the
Corporation tosses its bone to the struggling writer, and an occasional
steak to the pampered tenth of a percent, it receives an enforceable
legal monopoly on the editing, typesetting, printing, packaging,
marketing (including advertising) and sometimes even local distribution
of that book or magazine. (In magazines, it also has an exclusivity
in layout vs other articles and illustrations and published advertisements.)
How’s that for vertical integration and restraint of trade?

And so the
system perpetuates, give or take a few counter-economic outlaws
and some enterprising Taiwanese with good smuggling connections.

Now for the
central moral question: what first woke me up to the problem that
was the innocent viewer scenario. Consider the following careful
contractual construction.

Author Big
and Publisher Bigger have contracts not to reveal a word of what’s
in some publication. Everyone on the staff, every person in the
step of production is contracted not to reveal a word. All the distributors
are covered and the advertising quotes only a minimal amount of
words. Every reader is like Death Records in Phantom of the Paradise,
under contract, too; that is every reader who purchases the book
or ‘zine and thus interacts with someone who is under contract –
interacts in a voluntary trade and voluntary agreement.

And God or
the Market help us if we now try to act on the ideas now in our
mind or to reveal this unintended guilty secret in any way. The
State shall strike us – save only if Author Big and Publisher
Bigger decide in their tyrannous mercy that we are too small and
not worth the trouble.

It is a creature
of the State, the Vampire’s little bat. And, as far as I’m concerned,
the word should be copywrong.

This originally
appeared in The Voluntaryist, July 1986.

November
15, 2010

Samuel
Edward Konkin III (1947–2004) was the author of the
New
Libertarian Manifesto
and a proponent of free-market anarchism.

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