Why haven't you joined the Pirate Party?

You need to join the Pirate Party of Canada.
Don’t take the “Pirate Party” as a gag party, like a modern day version of the Rhino Party. Look at some of the party names: “Canadian Conservative-Reform Alliance Party” (CCRAP) or Social Credit (was that a Facebook version of Visa?) or the PDA (“Progessive Democratic Alliance” not “Public Display of Affection”).
The Pirate Party isn’t just about piracy or the freedom to get movies from Bit-torrent. It’s about our future-- it may be about the survival of the species and our planet. I kid you not.
Intellectual property-- the concept that an idea is like a physical creation that is boxed; or reproduced and sold for money; or owned by one person at a time-- it’s all a faulty concept rooted in a time when intellect was misunderstood. Those obnoxious ads that runs in front of a video nowadays ask if you would shoplift? Of course you wouldn’t: taking a physical object deprives someone else of that physical property-- that is how property works. Look at a piece of intellectual property such as a movie: If people pay to sit in a room and watch the movie, it’s all legal. If you’re invited into the room, it’s legal. If you sneak in and watch the movie, are you a thief? If watch a movie and you have a lousy memory that intellectual property fades from your mind-- you could keep going to the movies to see that movie again and again: reacquiring the intellectual property like it was the visual version of a bag of popcorn. What happens if you’re like me? I have a photographic memory: I watch a movie and it’s in my brain. I can re-run it or play segments when I’m bored. Did I steal that intellectual property as a side effect of how my brain works? Back to that shoplifting question: there’s one purse and once a single purse snatcher has it, it’s gone for the next person who comes along and wants that purse. Play a movie in a theater for one person or 300 it’s the same movie played to the same room. Intellectual property does NOT work like physical property. When I buy lumber, I can cut it any way I choose. If I made a bench our of some 2x4s, I could sell that bench. If I bought a comic book, I could pop out the staples and wallpaper my basement with its pages. Why can’t I white-out the word balloons and put my own words in its place? Intellectual property storage takes mass and delivery, but the property itself has no mass and can be moved around at nearly the speed of light. Steal it and the original remains intact and unharmed. Sell it and you still have it to sell again. Sell one copy or a million and the price is the same for everyone. Who’s stealing from who?
We have been on a march for thousands of years: the march of discovery and innovation. During the Stone Age, the advances were tiny (a better way of tying a spearhead to a staff, for instance). The pace of innovation has been accelerating. Now, it’s a breakneck pace. People are building on foundations of people who came before them. You don’t need to learn how a computer works or fashion one out of parts-- you only need buy one then create on that platform. If the information is available, you can build on it. Because of the nature of intellectual property, innovation is choked off. If you improve on a drug, you’re violating the pharma patents. If you accidentally parallel someone else’s innovation you can violate someone else’s patent through your your innovation. Squatters on intellectual property can knee-cap innovation and slow the pace by making outside re-use impossible. The Free Open Source Software movement shows how faulty this model is: software developers let out their products with the code attached and available for re-use and alteration. The outcome is a better product. Some pieces of software have rapidly evolved through this process, it’s happened for very little money and it is improving our lives. Many of the underlying communication systems we use every day are built atop of this open source software. If patent holders and copyright holders can rest on their laurels, they don’t have to innovate. Worse still, they can stymie the innovations of others. The capitalist system that got us into this mess cannot be used to get us out of this mess of environmental disasters, economic disparity and general misery worldwide. Tell a person living on parched earth in East Africa that we can't irrigate his fields with desalinated sea water because the precursor research for the technology is locked up in patents held by large companies who would happily spend millions to keep their intellectual property under lock-and-key. Go down to the Gulf of Mexico this Fall and tour the ravaged towns and let them know that we could have tamed global warming if only we could have done a mashup of a dozen technologies held by multi-nationals, but that no one could afford to license all of these technologies solely to experiment and build on top the previous innovations.
Moving away from technology think about post-modern art, rap music and the concept of the mash-up. We have a crazy amount of media in our world: TV shows, movies, music, print, Internet traffic. All of these torrents of information are out there. What if Andy Warhol was sued for coloring a Campbell’s soup can? Should we throw rapper in prison for sampling a couple seconds of music? Should the guy who re-did the Shining trailer as a comedy get a criminal record? There is an inherent confusion in the concept of intellectual property. You can buy it like lumber. You can go to jail for stealing it. But you can’t slice and dice it once you own a copy of it? This model does protect creators, in theory. But it only offers significant protection to the large corporate interests. When was the last coffee shop concert where police swept through looking for illicit recording to protect the artist on the stage? When the CD levy went into effect, it ensured that money that the likes of Sarah Maclachlan lost through illegal burning of her music was recouped. But, it make it that much more expensive for the indie artist with a stack of burnable CDs and a slim profit margin.
The current system looks for way to keep the creations of people under lock-and-key. It doesn’t find a way to let it out. The RIAA and MPAA are focussing on penalties and litigation. They need to take a page from Youtube. Youtube scans its content for intellectual property. It does then do a ‘content match’ and couples a video with advertising to drive revenue to the creator of the said intellectual property. Instead of bottling it up, it monetizes it.
The RIAA’s penchant to sue people for downloading is putting a chill of copying CDs. If they succeed, then the reams of old intellectual property they have is still salable and profitable. They can sit tight and sell more copies of old Rolling Stones CDs. Which song resonates more? ‘Satisfaction’ or some indie song that doesn’t get air time? Because they can perch on old material and regurgitate, the record industry doesn’t need new material. It’s the dead zone of pop music that’s hitting sales, not downloads. It’s a dead zone because it’s cheaper to re-issue old music than it is to nurture new talent. The same is true from Hollywood. Once they have a franchise, they milk it for the last drop. The concept of intellectual property is making for a stagnant and boring marketplace: the big players are holding position through litigation; and the upstarts are shouted out by the big guys. If there were a best-before date on content, then companies would not be able to keep spitting up the same-old, same-old. They would have to keep going out there to find new talent. And the rip-mix-mashup crowd could mine the expired content for their own usage.
The Pirate Party’s overhaul of intellectual property concepts is the central plank of their platform. The RIAA’s attacks on downloaders is their desperate attempt to keep the status quo even if they have to criminalize a lot of their audience. Because downloading is hard to track down, they will have to strip out our privacy to get to the downloaders. In other words, to be certain that you’re not breaking the law, RIAA, MPAA and similar organizations want to have easy access to the flow of your communications as well as your hard drives (those on your MP3 player, your phone and your computer). This surrender of privacy is one-sided: they want to cruise through your emails and your iPod, but you are not allowed to know who is doing, why and for what purposes. Once they collect this data, they can use it for whatever purpose. They should use it solely for the pursuit of criminal proceedings, but they are not bound by that limitation, once they grab that data it’s their intellectual property. They could use it to craft a better demographic understanding of their users (eg. “people are willing to go to jail for this song, we should make more like it”). At the very least, I don’t like the idea that my crude joke to one friend could get ‘out there’ and I have no freedom to speech-- the freedom to speak to this one person or that one person and control my own speech as I choose. If the RIAA and MPAA have their way, the freedom of speech I will be allowed to retain is the right to not speak.
The Pirate Party isn’t about eye patches, it’s about taking the blinders off. It’s about freedom of speech, the preservation of privacy and changing our laws to foster innovation. In Victoria, we’re doing a first meet-and-greet to see who’s in the community. You should join the Pirate Party (http://www.pirateparty.ca/sign-up). You should join us: Monday August 16th at 7PM - Cook St. Starbucks - Victoria BC.

Feel free to reproduce this post in whole, in part, or how you choose.


dkillion said…
Excellent post. I and my associates at the Victoria LIbertarian Book Club - http://www.meetup.com/victoria-libertarian-bookclub/ - recently discussed this subject as we read "Against Intellectual Monopoly" - http://levine.sscnet.ucla.edu/general/intellectual/against.htm - Although the authors' arguments are mostly utilitarian, they are very persuasive. I'm glad to see you supporting the cause.
dkillion said…
Excellent post. I and my associates at the Victoria LIbertarian Book Club - http://www.meetup.com/victoria-libertarian-bookclub/ - recently discussed this subject as we read "Against Intellectual Monopoly" - http://levine.sscnet.ucla.edu/general/intellectual/against.htm - Although the authors' arguments are mostly utilitarian, they are very persuasive. I'm glad to see you supporting the cause.

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