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Embracing Information Anarchy

January 17, 2005

I've been reading through a book I came across in my city library called The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and Control is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System. The author is from NYU, and his name is Siva Vaidhyanathan. In a section titled "Intellectual Property is Neither," Siva states:

Intellectual property is distinct from "real" property because it is not naturally scarce. If someone steals my car, I am left with no car. Yet if someone photocopies my book, I still have a book. The fundamental purpose of intellectual property law is to create artificial scarcity.

Siva has dealt with this issue before, most notably with his book Copyrights and Copywrongs. He has a blog and he often writes for OpenDemocracy.net. I find his views interesting, even if he is not as ideologically consistent, at times, as I would expect.He holds the standard anti-IP view that States grant monopolies to creators, inventors, etc. via IP law, and therefore reduce competition. He appears to grant credence to the founders' version of copyright protection (which he refers to as "humane regulation") and the intentions therein, and that is, to benefit publishers - not creators - for a certain span of time, and thereafter confer these benefits to the public by way of copyright expiration. Interestingly, he mounts an argument that the founders envisioned that copyrighted works should live on in the public domain, after the monopoly price, or "tax," was paid on those works. The founders, he says, thought this limited tax period was sufficient, and the monoploy protection period just long enough in order to perpetuate incentive for further developmental works. He calls the reconstruction of the original copyright idea and its resulting information oligarchy a "Hobbesian black market of culture and information."

I sense myriad trouble spots in the book, including his apparent affinity for democracy while being an anarchist, and also, his focus on the definition of real property early on, while stating elsewhere that the "humane regulation" of traditional copyright is unobjectionable. In addition, he supports the RIAA and its wicked suppression of property rights:

I actually applaud the music industry for filing civil lawsuits against copyright infringers. And I do this because I think copyright should be worked out in the civil courts. I think that when you sue somebody, you're at least giving that defendant a chance to due process, a chance to defend herself. And that's healthier than trying to make all of the regulatory decisions within the technology itself.

His argument seems to forget that there is another side, one where the Feds and myriad special interest groups have a huge interest in maintaining the status quo on IP, and using the power of the courts and federal agencies to do just that. Lastly, he churns out some wonderfully provocative comments on the anti-tradition types that steadfastly opine "all technology changes everywhere improve on the last batch," and refers to notions such as Virginia Postrel's "dynamism" as "technofundamentalism." There is definitely some tasty meat within the pages of this book.

All in all, this books seems worth plowing through further. I am anxious to read his chapter on the peer-to-peer revolution and the RIAA. Here's a fascinating FAQ on his book that I highly recommend.

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