Intellectual Property is a legal invention that has for the majority of its time served one purpose, and served it well:
to make the rich, richer and the poor, poorer.
Patents, copyrights, trademarks, all of these legal fictions came about under particular historical circumstances. They are not "natural" or immutable facts of human existence. When it comes to defending intellectual property, as with any other form of property, it is always those with the most money, whose rights are enforced, while those without often have their rights ignored.
For any person who recognizes this fact, there is a moral problem when it comes to independent artists, local businesses, self-employed people, et cetera, with regard to IP. These people do not have the thousands and thousands of dollars to pay legal experts. Poor people always have to settle for less because they do not have as much opportunity than their more privileged counterparts, whether it is in Art, Music, or "business" of whatever kind.
Poor folks can not afford flashy advertising campaigns, they can not afford marketing techniques, they can not afford wide distribution infrastructure, and often times they can barely afford to even have their "business" legally recognized at all. Poor folks can not afford to perform music for free, just for "exposure". Yuppies with hobbies, can, though.
How are poor people to deal with the issue of copyright, of intellectual property? This is a question that is always lurking beneath the surface of the anti-IP conversation, but is rarely ever addressed directly.
All the disadvantages that poor people face, make it very tricky to know what is morally right. It is an inherent moral Good to share knowledge with all the rest of humanity. It is an inherent moral Good to do unpaid work. It is an inherent moral Good to give things away for free and to help others. However, when poor people do this, the disadvantages they are under are multiplied even more. For poor people, doing the "right thing" might mean wasting away and dying. For poor people, the system is set up as a zero sum game for them, the system is set up in a dog-eat-dog way. So how are poor people to act?
In all my decade or so of being a strong supporter and advocate for various parts of the anti-IP movement, I have rarely heard an answer to this. I say rarely, but I can not actually think of a single time it has been addressed. My memory might be failing me though, so I say "rarely".
It is often said that the experience of being poor, of struggling, makes a person humble and generous. It is often said, likewise, that being born into wealth or comfort makes a person miserly and selfish. How ironic, if this is true then, that those who struggle in poverty are the ones who need most to act selfishly, and that those who live in comfort and ease ought to act selflessly.
There have been many attempts and theories on how to solve this problem, which is supposedly a cause of ever-increasing inequality. Is it really the case that inequality is just the result of individual people making immoral decisions, though? Or is the ever increasing inequality we see the result of specific structural problems in our politics and our economic system? The two may not be mutually exclusive, but addressing the latter seems like a much more viable way to address inequality than addressing the former.
For a long time, Religion was used to try to teach the rich to be generous, and for all people to be less materialistic. Some religions even went so far as to teach that all people should live in poverty and deprivation, as this brings them closer to God. In the past century, there have been all different kinds of secular "social consciousness" movements, that have attempted to chastise the practices of consumerism and greed, while if not merely sympathizing with but often romanticizing poverty and deprivation.
I have found most of these secular "social consciosness" movements putrid in their condescension. I call myself a Buddhist, and I believe in the virtue of learning to not be attached to worldly possessions, poverty is nothing to romanticize. Poverty is different than being frugal, selfless, or ascetic. Poverty is a condition forced onto people, and it is absolutely not an inherent good.
Poverty can make people bitter, jealous, antisocial, violent even. In general, poverty causes enormous stress and deteriorates one's health. I've met plenty of poor people who are just as greedy as rich people. I have met plenty of poor people who would steal the shirt off another poor person's back before they give a nickel to anyone else. I've met poor people who would push another poor person into traffic if it got them a few dollars.
Conversely, many wealthy or well-off folks aren't necessarily greedy or selfish at their core. Many of them are generous, many of them feel great remorse and sympathy for poor people. I wouldn't argue against the fact, though, that wealth - especially in outrageous quantities - warps people's perceptions, and that it can lead to a person being all-around horrible. However, living in debilitating poverty can also turn a person horrible.
I guess I might be getting off topic a bit, but I feel like it is important to mention all of this. In this text, I am trying to ask what is the role of Anti-Intellectual-Property in politics, in activism, from 2021 onward? I could be excessively provacative, and say that most of Anti-IP is just Yuppie virtue-signalling. I could be cruel and ask what we expected from a movement that was pretty much a confluence of apolitical academics and professionals, and teenagers who wanted free movies. I guess I can't say this.
I like the movement. It is one of the things that first drew me in to thinking about politics, economics, etc. The Anti-IP movement was probably one of the first political or social movements that I very strongly identified with. It is hard for me to admit the sense of directionless, of futility, of naivete that I see in it now.
Adbusters has become a punchline; the poster-child for crypto-centrist consumer-scolding. Occupy got beaten to a pulp and everyone voted for four more years of Obama, even after he bailed out the companies that destroyed the economy and implemented Mitt Romney's healthcare policy. The old archive.org netlabel scene is a dustbin. Forums are dead. Blogs are dead. Chatrooms are dead. Even search engines are almost dead, since the majority of content is distributed on monopoly platforms via algorithm-curated News Feeds. Aaron Swartz is dead.
Media-sharing, or so-called "pirating", has been rendered pointless in an era of ubiquitous, extremely cheap or free online streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu and Youtube. Anonymous and all of the oldfags left 4chan to let it become a dating app for Nazi LARPer's. The Free Software Foundation got Me-Too'ed. Donald Trump was president. Epstein didn't kill himself.
We had the largest protests and marches in American history against police brutality, against sexism and xenophobia, and to try and stop the climate catastrophe, and yet the 45th and 46th presidents did nothing but cut corporate taxes. The Covid-19 pandemic killed eight hundred thousand people, and all Congress did was print more money to bail out the largest corporations in the country.
In December of 2021, as I am writing this, what is the Free Software movement? What is the Anti-IP movement? Is the right question what were they? Were they just pet projects, little hobbies for people completely unserious about making any real change in the world? These movements did accomplish things, just like the Right to Repair movement and the movements around local, healthy food. But it took so unbearably long, and it feels like its getting closer and closer to being too late. All the social problems that movements organized around are now moving at such a pace that it almost feels like every time a movement can coalesce around a single objective, a whole new set of problems has come up.
I guess I wrote this piece to try to answer the question: how are poor people supposed to relate to intellectual property? More broadly, how can poor people act in line with an ethics of egalitarianism and liberation?
Ethics itself is a weird thing. It is not the place of someone who faces no dire ethical dilemma to say what is right and wrong. Yet at the same time, when we are faced with an ethical dilemma, we often don't have time or the clear-headedness to think in a precise way about how we respond.
Am I just going to be Socratic about this whole thing?
Wouldn't that be annoying?
I am kind of annoying.
~Elucidated Voyyd, Dec,17,2021