by Gary North
I publish books. I also write a subscription-based newsletter. So, I copyright most of the items I write and publish. Why? Tradition. I can't break old habits.
Copyright law is presently gasping its last few breaths. Picture an old man with a walker, catheter placed firmly where it belongs, struggling down the aisle of an emergency ward in a retirement home. That is the law of copyrights today.
American lawyers went into American courts and got Napster to revise its policies of open sharing of files on private computers. The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times are still in the courts over the Free Republic's Web site, where articles from the press are run in full, accompanied by participants' comments.
What if Napster had been set up in Guatemala? What if the Free Republic had its server in the Dominican Republic? This might cost the respective owners a whopping $25/month. The listed owners might have been, respectively, a trust in the Cook Islands and a closely held corporation on the Isle of Man. American lawyers would not have been in a strong position to pursue these cases. Who would they sue? Who would pay damages? Who would pay the legal fees?
Maybe they would have won. But how hard is it to transfer a Web site? It can be done through phone lines. Two days later, both sites could have been back on line on servers located in Israel or Italy. New anonymous owners would be listed.
The main problem that copyright lawyers face today is the cost of pursuing claims outside of the United States. If the Web site gives away the information, using on-site advertising to pay for the system, and the anonymous owner of the site is in a jurisdiction separate both from the site's Web server and the United States, the cost of gaining a restraining order is vastly higher than the potential financial settlement. When actions are expensive, and pay-backs are low, there will not be much demand.
Could the United States government shut down access to a foreign Web site by forcing the cooperation of an American-based Web site-registration company? Maybe, but the official howling by foreign governments would begin. The Web is perceived as an international communications system, not the plaything of American courts. The longer the Web exists, the louder the official howling will be.
I went onto Google and did a search for these words: copyright, violations, Guatemala, Kuwait. I clicked the "Google Search" button. Two seconds later, the sixth complete document from the top of my screen was this: "USTR Special 301 Review of Intellectual Property." You can read it for yourself. Here, we read the following:
Ambassador Barshefsky also announced placement of 16 trading partners on the "Priority Watch List": Israel, Ukraine, Macau, Argentina, Peru, Egypt, the European Union, Greece, India, Indonesia, Russia, Turkey, Italy, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Kuwait. She also placed 37 trading partners on the "Watch List."
Any interested researcher now has two more search phrases: "watch list" and "USTR." I need not bore you with the details. The World Wide Web offers anyone a series of handy official lists of nations that are not all that interested in shutting down Web sites that publish copyrighted materials.
A standard estimate is that there will be another 200 or so countries that will come into existence over the next 50 years. I think it is safe to say that there will be problems in enforcing copyright law in more than one. I foresee the creation of a cottage industry for Web sites that are located in copyright-challenged countries. I foresee an ever-longer USTR Priority Watch List.
Digits are instantly transferable. It is as easy to access a Web site in one of the Priority Watch List nations as one located across the street. Written documents can be extracted from any HTML page on the Web, converted into ASCII text by the marvelous shareware program, TextPad, and pasted into a file. All it takes is a few steps: CTRL-C (cut) and CTRL-V (paste) from a Web page to TextPad, where you can instantly strip out all HTML formatting with TextPad's "skip-rope" button (to the left of the paragraph button), and then save the file from TextPad to a computer disk. The document can then be posted on another Web page, or e-mailed, or whatever.
Yes, it would be a very good idea to use an access-blocking program such as ZoneAlarm (free from www.zonelabs.com) to keep outsiders from secretly gaining access to all of your computer files, whereby everything that you send by e-mail can be traced, including Excel spreadsheets. This is probably being done to you weekly if you have not taken steps to stop it. I get alerted to an access attempt at least one a week. The day you set up a new computer, install a blocking program.
We have arrived at a digital New World Order. For the first time in the history of man, the gatekeepers of ideas are facing a looming catastrophe. They stand at the official gates and certify the acceptability of the ideas that pass through on pieces of paper. Meanwhile, untenured barbarians are passing safely through gaping holes in the digital walls. I am reminded of the Berlin Wall in 1989 or perhaps Jericho's wall after the rams' horns blew. The gatekeepers remain on duty. Tenure hath its privileges. But the handwriting is on what little of the wall remains standing.
The Internet has become the best example in history of the truth of Ludwig von Mises's observation that whatever the government officially does to manage the economy will result in opposite effects. The Internet was created by the American military to provide government-controlled communications after a nuclear attack. The ARPANET was a classic closed system. Today, its heir, the Internet, is the most open communications system in the history of man. The ARPANET budget of Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), 1965-90, may have been the best money that any government ever spent. Designed for war, it has produced liberty of expression unrivaled in human history.
May 1, 2001
Gary North [send him mail] is the author of an eleven-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible. The latest volume is Cooperation and Dominion: An Economic Commentary on Romans. The series can be downloaded free of charge at www.freebooks.com.