Lodo Bear

Disagreeing with J. Neil Schulman

There's a big disagreement currently under way in the libertarian movement over the subject of "intellectual property". The Technology Liberation Front aptly summarizes our current internal strife near the bottom of the page in this little handy guide. After expressing a unified and consistent viewpoint about six different contentious issues, the TLF has this to say about IP issues:

"Cyber-libertarians are deeply divided over IP issues (especially copyright) and this reflects a long-standing division within libertarian ranks on these issues more generally. Some believe IP rights are a natural extension of traditional property rights and/or a sensible way to incentivize scientific and artistic creativity. Others believe no one has a right to “property-tize” intangible creations or that copyright is simply industrial protectionism. And there are many views in between."

The second view (contra copyright and IP in general) is the view I sympathize with, and it has many fine advocates. I believe that the most oustpoken anti-IP libertarian is N. Stephan Kinsella, whose book Against Intellectual Property was and is a big influence on my thinking. But the first view has its advocates too, including no less than good old Ayn Rand, who declared: "Patents and copyrights are the legal implementation of the base of all property rights: a man’s right to the product of his mind." The most prominent pro-IP libertarian that I know of is J. Neil Schulman who advocates a theory of "informational property" that he calls Logorights (after "logos", Greek for "word" or "thought").

I hate to disagree with Mr. Schulman, since he's written some really good stuff, including this defense of Edward Snowden and this defense of Chelsea Manning. While so many others denounce them or dither over what to do about them, Neil calls them heroes and says that the only thing we need to do with them is listen to what they're trying to tell us. I don't personally know many people who would be comfortable openly supporting Snowden and Manning like that, so I want to thank Neil for doing so. So Neil, if you're reading this, let me just say that by openly doing the right thing and supporting the whistle-blowers, you have made it easier for all of us to also do the right thing. I owe you one, and I hope I can pay it forward.

That being said, I still think Neil is wrong on IP, and I cannot rest as long as someone is wrong on the Internet. So, on to the disagreement.

Way back in ye olde 2009, Nina Paley and the good folks at QuestionCopyright.org made a little video called Copying Is Not Theft. Neil disagreed, and wrote a two-part response (part I, part II) in which he declared that copying IS theft, akin to identity theft, or forgery. Do give Neil's stuff a read, so you can understand where he's coming from. Got it all read? Good! Now then, please consider the following hypothetical.

Alice is talking to Bob, and Alice asks Bob, "Have you heard of J. Neil Schulman?" "No", Bob replies, "can you tell me about him?" Alice begins telling Bob all about J. Neil Schulman, and mentions that Schulman has written a book called Alongside Night. Bob asks Alice for more details about Alongside Night. Alice describes Alongside Night to Bob in great detail... in fact, her description includes every word in the book, every punctuation and formatting mark, and even a good description of the cover image. If Bob has a good memory, he now has a full copy of Alongside Night in his mind, and he can use that information to make new copies to give to other people.

Now then, have either Alice or Bob committed identity theft? Have either of them committed forgery, or plagiarism, or counterfeiting, or any other kind of dishonest act? If they have done something wrong, what is the nature of their wrongdoing?

As I see it, the answer to the first two questions is "No!" There has been no dishonesty. Alice told Bob the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and Bob simply remembered everything he heard. This behavior is often criminalized under the title of "copyright infringement", but the substance of the act is simply telling the truth. If we call this a crime, then we are saying that it is wrong to tell too much of the truth. Calling such an action a "forgery" would be equivalent to saying that a high-resolution photo of a painting is a forgery of that painting, which would mean that this massive repository of digitized works is some kind of super-crime, and that this picture of money is a dastardly act of counterfeiting, to say nothing of this huge collection of freely copyable texts. I'm just not seeing the fakery here. So why, then, is Neil saying that it's bad for Alice to tell Bob all that truth?

Now, under some circumstances, we do consider it wrong to tell too much of the truth. After all, how would you feel if your doctor told the whole world the whole truth about what she discovered during your last proctological exam? There are some things that we prefer to keep private, and when we have to reveal these things to someone, we try to constrain them to keep the information to themselves. I see nothing inherently wrong with this; I like the fact that my banker does not automatically tell everyone about my business with the bank, and that my therapist does not disclose what I talk about during my therapy sessions. But how well does this relate to the situation with Alice and Bob? I don't think it fits very well at all; when Schulman published Alongside Night, he did so because he wanted the world to read it, and he continues to want the world to read it, as evidenced by the fact that he's still selling it. So Neil's not treating this as something private, he's making it public... but he's asking Alice and Bob to treat it as private.

No, seriously, look again at what he's asking for in part I. Neil wants "the sole right to offer copies of things that are part and parcel of my personal identity". So if Alice wants to tell the whole truth about Alongside Night, Neil says that she can't because he owns the "logos" to his book, and like his logorights notice says: "This Work is licensed for reading purposes only. All other rights and uses, including the right to make copies, are reserved to its Owner." But since telling the whole truth constitutes making a complete copy, Alice is denied the right to tell the whole truth, and Bob is denied the right to receive it from Alice.

Now, let me direct your attention to the two articles I linked to earlier, the ones Schulman wrote that say nice things about Snowden and Manning. Consider this: what it is that Edward and Chelsea actually did, that got folks so riled up? They told the truth. They told the whole truth, and they did it without permission. They took facts that powerful people wanted to keep private, and they made them public. The powers that be are trying to privatize the facts again, but the reality is that truth cannot be simultaneously public and private. A thing made public is in the public's control, and no one has any power, let alone any "right", to privatize something that has been made public, and this goes double when the person making it public (in other words, the publisher) is the one trying to make it private (by claiming a property right in the information).

It gets even better the deeper you look. Edward Snowden publicly supports EFF and Tor. Judging from some comments he's made, J. Neil Schulman doesn't seem to be a big fan of the EFF, and little wonder: the EFF, while not anti-IP, still supports limits on copyright and related rights well beyond anything that Neil is willing to concede in his theory of logorights. Also, while not totally opposed to copyright, the EFF is completely opposed to DRM - in other words, that "copy protection" that Neil puts on his books and movies when he sells them on Amazon, and then gets mad about when people crack it and start making copies. And then there's the Tor sticker. Tor is a technology that helps people conceal and anonymize their online activity. You know what concealed, anonymous online activity is really great for? Copyright infringement, of course! When no one can see what you're doing, no one knows what information you're copying.

So why is Snowden supporting the EFF and Tor? The answer is: because he needed them. The technology that EFF and Tor make available, and the political causes they support, made Snowden's leaks possible. Without their technical support, Snowden couldn't have contacted the reporters who helped him spread the word, and without their political support, those reporters couldn't have shared the truth about what the Five Eyes are doing. Snowden and his allies are still having plenty of trouble, but they would never have accomplished anything at all if not for the help of tools and policies that enable "piracy". And just to drive the point home, let's look at the case of Chelsea Manning. She could never have spread the word about war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan without the help of Wikileaks. And who is it who hosts Wikileaks's servers? The Pirate Party of Sweden, of course! And why not? Since online piracy consists of telling too much truth (according to the copyright holders), and whistle-blowing consists of telling too much truth (according to the elites), pirates and whistle-blowers are natural allies.

I'm hardly the first person to make this observation, and I'm not even the first one to make this observation in response to Neil's writing. The pseudonymous dL, with whom Schulman has sparred in the past, wrote up this post: The Enforceable Obligations of IP & Copyright in Political Economy. dL's point in that piece was that there's no way to enforce copyright without ubiquitous surveillance. If we successfully abolished the State, but then attempted to enforce copyright or logoright, the resulting enforcement regime would swiftly develop into a new State, equipped with the power to invade privacy, to punish without trial, to control the spread of truth, to cripple our technology, and to tax and restrain competition and trade. No libertarian wants any of that, and even people who hate libertarians hate most of that stuff, too. But all of that is the natural result of copyright enforcement. Any attempt to prevent people from telling too much truth will inevitably hand power over to people who see the truth itself as an enemy.

We cannot risk that happening. We can't trust anyone with the power to suppress the truth. If we would be free, we must be informed, and if we would be informed, then we must let information flow. We must deny to anyone and everyone the power to control our computers and police our communications. And if that means making copyright or logoright or any other kind of IP completely unenforceable, then that's the price we have to pay. I'm not willing to let Big Brother watch me whenever I want to watch a movie.

Now at this point, pro-IP folks like Neil bring up economic concerns. Things like this:

"Or, I spend four years of my life and a half million bucks of my family’s dough — including fourteen cuts in an editing bay — making a movie. Then I put it up for sale on Amazon.com as a Video on Demand. Someone with software to get by any copy protection Amazon.com has takes my movie and presses it into DVD’s for sale in kiosks in Hong Kong... and, once again, as a Torrent. Now before I even get the chance to sell my movie for commercial distribution — which might get me back the cash, talent, and time invested in making this movie so I can afford to make another one — people are getting the benefit of my blood, sweat, toil, tears, and cash... and I am prevented from self-financing my next movie."

Well, if money's what you're worried about, there are plenty of folks with good suggestions. Folks like Mike Masnick, Kevin Kelly, and Nina Paley. Nina Paley is especially worth listening to: she made a movie, called Sita Sings the Blues, and went many thousands of dollars into debt making it, and let everyone copy, share, publish, archive, show, sell, broadcast, and remix it without having to ask permission, and somehow still made a net profit! That being said, let me tell you how I really feel when I hear someone ask how they're supposed to make money from art without the help of copyright:

If you can't figure out how to earn a living without denying people the right to tell the whole truth, then YOU DO NOT DESERVE TO MAKE ANY MONEY. And if the only motive you have to make art is to make money off of it, then I DO NOT WANT ANY OF YOUR ART.

Now, let me quote one last sentence of Neil's:

"The first claim of authorship of something I write is my byline attached to the writing. In a novel this is on the cover and title page. I write a dedication and acknowledgments, giving the work a purpose and a pedigree. On the copyright page is a claim of ownership — in land terms the posting of a “No Trespassing” sign, to stake out the boundaries of ownership."

And finally, let me quote Woody Guthrie:

Was a high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said: Private Property,
But on the back side it didn't say nothing —
This land was made for you and me.
Lodo Bear

Why I copyleft - a forlorn love letter to the public domain

I recently updated my profile to include my personal copyright policy: everything I make is automatically copyleft. Deciding to do so actually took me a bit of time, because there was another option that I still find very appealing: making all of my things public domain. I wanted to do that and I still want to do it, and I shall now attempt to explain why I want what I want and why I'm not doing what I want to do.

But first, what do I mean by "public domain"? There are at least two different definitions for this term.

The first definition of "public domain", according to the great body of all knowledge, is whatever is not covered by "intellectual property rights" [sic]. This is the definition we're all probably more familiar with. But there is a second definition. Consider the disclaimer from the bottom of the Crypto Museum's website. I quote:

"To the best of our knowledge, this site only contains information that is either available in the public domain or that is unclassified or that has been officially declassified. Whenever possible, the source of the information will be credited in the References section at the bottom of each page. In some cases the classification status of an object is not entirely clear because there is no list of classified objects available in the public domain." (emphasis in original)

Here, "public domain" basically means "not classified", or, in other words, "known to the public". If this essay by Crosbie Fitch is correct, then this definition is actually the older one, and I think that it is the more logical definition.

If you disagree, please consider this: what happens when you "publish" something? To publish is to make something known to the public. When something is made public, it is in the public's realm and under the public's control. Does this not make it part of "the public domain"? Published material certainly can't be called "classified". J.K. Rowling may own the copyright on Harry Potter, but millions of people have read those beloved books, and no one can take the words away from them. Harry Potter is in our hearts and minds, and claiming to "own" the "expressions" in the HP series is ridiculous; how can you own what you have given away millions of times over? So really, all published works ought to be Public Domain. If you want to keep something private (a state which I'm going to call "Private Domain"), then don't make it public, or in other words, don't publish it.

Alas, this simple concept does not appeal to monopolists and censors, so they invented "intellectual property" to lock up parts of public knowledge. Within the Public Domain, they created a new state which I shall call the Plundered Domain. The Plundered Domain consists of all public information that others force us to treat as if it were private. It's an inherently unstable and illogical state of affairs, but people seek to perpetuate it because of the opportunities it gives for control and profit. In our time, the Plundered Domain has steadily grown, swallowing up more and more of the Public Domain. Mike Linksvayer has a good writeup here, showing how the reach of copyright has continuously expanded, entrapping ever greater amounts of information within the Plundered Domain.

So when Zacqary Adam Green post an angry rant in response to an appeals court saying that putting out-of-copyright works back into copyright is totally okay, I don't get quite as angry as Zacqary, because how can I get mad at copyright for doing what it's always done? "Intellectual property law" has never served the public; it is a tool for plunderers.

In response to this terrible state of affairs, many people set out to formally reject the principles of the Plundered Domain and make their works truly public. Some declared their work to be "no rights reserved", some adopted a BSD-style license, and some got really snarky, like Woody Guthrie:

"This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin' it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do."

The trouble is, it didn't quite work. Microsoft and Apple happily swallowed up BSD-licensed code but neglected to publicize their alterations, instead preferring to embrace, extend and extinguish the free alternatives to their proprietary systems. And poor Woody got it even worse: five different organizations still claim copyright over his songs, hoping to control the music he had sought to liberate.

It was not enough to refuse the Plundered Domain, and it was too dangerous to go against it. The lawmakers would not be denied. People needed a new solution. Then some cheeky folks had a thought: if we can't afford to ignore the law, and we can't afford to change the law, and we certainly can't afford to break the law, can we still subvert the law? Can we use the power of the law against itself?

One of these cheeky folks was Richard Stallman, who created the GNU General Public License. Under the terms of the GPL, you could use information, and modify and share and sell that information, and everything else that you'd be able to if the information were "public domain", except for privatizing the information. GPL'ed stuff stayed under the GPL for as long as it stayed under copyright. In the words of Rob Myers, it was an "ironisation of copyright law", taking the means of the law to achieve opposite ends.

Sadly, the GPL wasn't perfect, so it's needed two major revisions, but even worse than that was Stallman's decision to not apply it uniformly. He also made the Free Documentation License (which sounds nice, but Debian rejected it for not being a truly free license, and Wikipedia rejected it in favor of the superior CC-BY-SA) and the Verbatim Copying License, which is brief, simple, and utterly wrongheaded.

But in spite of human flaws and frailties, the principle of copyleft was established, and it has held true. Under the GPL, free software has flourished, with GNU/Linux being the shining star, and under CC-BY-SA, free knowledge and culture have flourished, with Wikipedia being the shining star. The copylefters successfully created a new domain, which I shall call the Protected Domain. Within the Protected Domain, free people can stay free, safe from the grasp of plunderers.

Now, none of this is to say that I'll never make anything "public domain". Lots of folks whom I admire have done so. Folks like Peter Saint-Andre and Nina Paley and Mike Linksvayer and Rick Falkvinge and the previously mentioned Zacqary Adam Green. There's value in releasing stuff under a totally liberal license, and I will do so for some of the stuff I do. But under our current system, I don't consider that to be a safe default. It's sad to say it, but we need protection from the laws we live under, and in practice, the best protection has come from subverting the laws to work against themselves.

Perhaps someday, when the Plundered Domain has been destroyed and the Protected Domain is free to be merely Public again, I shall look back on all this with a laugh. For now, I copyleft. You are free to use any information I give you, but not free to take away others' freedom. And that's how it should be.
Lodo Bear

Not born free, but made free; or, a brief explanation of my approach to liberty

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, notable dead French man and author of The Social Contract, wrote this pithy line: "L'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers." Translated: "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains." It's a nice sentiment, and it implies a call to arms. We should be free, for it is our natural state, and when we see people in chains, we should do something about it!

But, there's a problem with this line of thinking: humans are not born free.

Consider, dear readers, a newborn child, such as the one portrayed in this image. This hypothetical child of ours, freshly ejected from a hypothetical womb, is quite helpless. They cannot move on their own power. They can only communicate via a weak moan, a generic cry for help. They can't feed themselves or wash themselves. They can just barely see or hear anything. They can't even think properly; their brain is still forming. Is such a person "free"? I don't think so! They're utterly dependent on their parents for survival, and especially on their mother. And just to top it all off: a newborn child is still attached to their mother by an umbilical cord. Man is born in chains.

Now, at this point, you may be feeling depressed about the prospects for liberty ("Our natural state is not liberty, but dependency!") or you may be writing me off as a crank ("Dude, are you seriously comparing us all to infants?"). Well, I may have some good news for you if you're thinking along either of those lines. To see this good news, just take a look at yourself. Once upon a time, though not so long ago, you were the helpless mewling baby popping out of the womb. And now just look at you. You've come a long way! You should feel proud of yourself. You can feed yourself and wash yourself and go wherever you want to go and communicate complex ideas. You're powerful. You're free! Now ask yourself this: is there anything unusual about this great transition you've made?

No, this isn't unusual at all! Everyone does it! Everyone goes from red-faced tit-suckling slug to tool-wielding abstract-thinking biped. Well, not quite everyone, unfortunately, but so many people complete this process that it's considered entirely unremarkable. It's just "growing up", an expected part of normal life. Parents want to see their children become independent.

In other words, Rousseau was partly wrong. We are not born free, but we are born with the capacity to become free, and becoming free is something we're all expected to do. No one should live their whole life in chains. And yet, so many do. Here, Rousseau was right, and here, we have a problem.

I call myself a libertarian because I value liberation. I want to see people become free, to achieve independence. I don't want to see any adults get treated like children. I don't want to see anyone forced to rely on anyone else. Dependency in any relationship can only be healthy if it's temporary. But there is so much dependency in the world, and so much of it designed to be permanent. This is unacceptable. It's time to start cutting cords and breaking chains.

I want to be free, and I want everyone else to be free, too. If you aren't free now, then I want to make you free, and I hope you'll accept.
Glowing Circles

A little insight from QM

I recently had a deep philosophical discussion with a friend from Persia. I always enjoy such discussions, and I found this one especially pleasant, because it seemed to give insight in how to live a better life. Oddly enough, this insight stemmed from quantum mechanics.

Quantum mechanics has many formulations, such as the path integral formulation (in which a particle, in moving from point A to point B, covers every possible path between the two points) and the many-worlds formulation (in which our universe is a superposition of an infinite number of universes, with one universe for every possible outcome of an interaction between quantum particles). These and other interpretations of quantum mechanics are all aimed at explaining that devilish feature of quantum mechanics known as the Uncertainty Principle. Simply put, at a sufficiently small scale, anything can happen, and there's no telling what will happen until it's already happened. Infinite possibilities, only one actuality.

Of course, when we move from the diminutive quantum perspective to the more familiar large-scale perspective known as normal life, we discover that statistical physics will have its say, and we face a new reality: the Second Law of Thermodynamics. There are many ways of stating the Second Law, but I like John Keynes's version best: “In the long run, we are all dead.” Batteries drain, stars burn out, black holes suck everything up, and if you random walk long enough, you always end up going the same direction: down.

On the one hand, freedom to choose from an infinite pool of possibilities, and on the other hand, complete slavery to an inevitable eventuality. During my discussion with my friend, it occurred to me that somewhere in between these two extremes is a funny thing called free will.

To me, the essence of free will is actions with consequences. Do what you want, then deal with the results of what you just did. Do actions have consequences on a quantum scale? Not really. Whether or not we can actually describe a particle as “making choices” it's usually free to undo those choices. Particles and anti-particles routinely pop in and out of existence, creating and annihilating themselves over and over. No consequence is permanent. On the grand scale, there is only one consequence, death, and all the actions in the universe lead only to death. Somewhere in between the two, there's us.

Like the universe, we're heading down. We're growing old and dying, slowly moving towards an inevitable future. But like individual particles, we're free to walk around. We don't have to head down; we can head in a different direction, and – this is the important part – keep heading there. Repetition is the ticket to getting things done. Any good athlete will tell you that success is not the result of any one action, but millions of actions directed towards one goal (in the case of our hypothetical athlete, these actions consist of such things as eating or not eating certain foods and long hours of working out at the gym).

Going back to the path integral formulation, imagine that you can move any direction you want, but you can only move in small steps. You've got to keep going that way. In the many-worlds formulation, all the worlds are possible, but it's hard to go from the actual world to the distant possibility of the desired world. You have to step through all the worlds in between.

There is an old German saying that goes: “You have to take life as it happens, but you should try to make it happen the way you want to take it.” Remember that. Live, act, do...and then deal with what comes next. That's how to live the better life. And now you can say you've learned something from quantum mechanics.

P.S. Cool article: We are Iron Man! For the heavy metal/comic book/literary mystery fan in all of us.
Lodo Bear

I live again!

I'm back! After two long, hard, mostly Internet-free and thoroughly wonderful years in France, I am once again on American soil, writing to you not as a full-time missionary, but as a regular Latter-Day Saint.

It's been a long time since I've really swam in the deep, churning waters of the Internet. I hope that this virtual human sea hasn't become much more treacherous since I left it.

Anyway, my life has changed, but not in any direction away from "busy". My last three days in France were entirely packed with last-minute appointments, last-minute shopping, and transportation troubles. The transportation bit was especially a bummer. I was misinformed about how my last voyage into Paris would go, so I first failed to meet the elders from Sarcelles who were there to meet me (I had no idea they were there) and then I took the wrong train and nearly got lost. I eventually found my way back and the nice elders from Sarcelles hauled my luggage as far as the Le Vesinet - Le Pecq train station. Then it was up to me to haul them to the mission home alone. Oof! I ended up showing up late and missing my last shopping day in Paris. Too bad! I made the best of the situation, helping out the office elders with their chores and swiping a few fun books from their stocks. I had my final interview with President Staheli, my final dinner and testimony meeting with him, his wife and all the other departing missionaries, then we went to bed (not that we slept, but that we were in bed), and the following morning, it was time to fly home.

I have still not got the hang of these American keyboards. France has "AZERTY" instead of "QWERTY" and you have to use the shift key to enter numbers and periods. Qs you cqn i;qgine, this ;qkes for s;e pretty funny typos> (that's what French keystrokes come out looking like on an American keyboard.)
Panda Fall

Writer's Block: Misdirected Mail

Have you ever replied to or cc'ed someone on an email that was definitely not intended for their eyes? Or received one that was about you but wasn't meant for you to read? What was the email about and how did you react?
I received an e-mail from my sister, in which she was replying to my mother's message but decided to send it to me because it contained news (my sister is in South America and has very limited e-mail access, so I'm always happy to receive such things). Unfortunately, this e-mail also contained the text from my mother's message, which had information on my parents' then-secret search for a car to give to me, and the cat was out of the bag.

As a missionary, I was told to never include confidential information in the e-mails I sent home. After this incident, I understood why.
Lodo Bear

Giant Crystals!

I was about to do a search for "giant crystal cave" when I noticed the things that popped up in my auto-complete box:

giant monster
giant rabbit
giant rabbit movie
giant robo
giant scorpion
giant space creature
giant spider

It reads like a Who's Who of Godzilla villains.

Anyway, this is why I was looking for giant crystal caves. Old news, to be sure, but very cool stuff. I can see Superman chilling out in a place like that.