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Eben Moglen and Leftist Opposition to Intellectual Property

  • Eben Moglen
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In my post An Open Letter to Leftist Opponents of Intellectual Property: On IP and the Support of the State, I noted that both conservative and libertarian IP advocates, and leftist IP opponents, all accept the idea that IP is a type of property right. The leftists oppose IP for this reason–because they are opposed to private property rights; and the libertarians favor IP because they are proponets of property rights. I noted Richard Stallman and Eben Moglen as examples of the former.

I just listened to Moglen’s speech (google video link). He’s smart and has some good insights and criticisms here and there. But, although some hail the speech as “absolutely brilliant,” Moglen seems has no coherent underlying or principled theory other than vague anti-corporatism and an inconsistent belief in “free speech” combined with the idea that in today’s age, this means free software, almost free hardware, and free, unlimited bandwidth–he says this is everyone’s “birthright” (as socialist Finland believes, too–it recently enacted legislation making broadband access a legal right). I didn’t jot down all the problems I noted when I listened to it, but, for example, he opposes regulating the EM spectrum as a property right–he seems to think it has been treated as private property since the federal government nationalized it decades ago, and he seems not to realize that despite technological advances there is of course still scarcity and thus the need for property rights; he seems to be in favor of copyright, and even some form of patent (if I did not misunderstand his comments); he speaks of upholding the Jeffersonian goals of the Constitution’s IP clauses, which is both naive and positivistic; he tosses off confused comments about how the nature of economics has changed. He is rightly extremely cynical about the corruption and incompetence of Congress, even though he does not seem to oppose the state on principle or even its IP law and its positivistic Constitution, and even though he seems to want to trust the same state to provide everyone with unlimited, free bandwidth as their “birthright”, and to use the power of the state to outlaw the charging of price for bandwidth services (in this he seems to go beyond even the net neutrality advocates goals).

If only the leftist opponents of IP would shore up their views with a more realistic view of politics and the nature of the state and a better appreciation for the indispensability of private property rights and Austrian economics.

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