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Lots of people I like, have a lot of time for Professor Lawrence Lessig, the “cyber law guru”. Which is a bit annoying for me, because I must confess that I really can’t see it. Not only that, but it’s doubly and triply annoying because I have to admit that my anti-Lessig rap sheet is really pretty thin. All I can convict him on are three relatively minor misdemeanours:

  1. Guilty of numerous acts of journalistic fellatio on people I can’t stand. Eric Raymond is not “a founding father of the future”; he’s a jumped-up code monkey with far more ill-thought out exercises in amateur sociology to his credit than actual inventions. The Cathedral and the Bazaar is not “a compelling essay about what makes the movement tick”, it’s a tendentious attempt to rewrite The Mythical Man Month which bears no relationship whatever to any actual software project, and certainly not to Linux.
  2. Frequent culprit in using “to code” as a transitive verb meaning “to write a computer program”, a usage which dictionary.com tells me isn’t exactly wrong, but which to me sounds like jargon and undeniably carries an air of the wannabe.
  3. He’s a lawyer; I am, as I mentioned below, an antinomian

Actually, come to think of it, I can add a felony to the rap sheet; I strongly suspect that, if you were to trace it back, about seventy per cent of all the irritating windy bollocks about “net communities” and “the emerging cyber frontier” which you read about if you subscribe to a number of trendy journals, has its original source in Lessig. So perhaps I am on sounder ground than I thought.

In any case, Lessig’s big thing is copyright; he’s agin it. Blah blah blah, what a terrible strawman, I know. But basically, he wants to see things go into the public domain (which I also like) and he thinks it’s terribly important and a horrendous restriction on our rights if they don’t (which I think is ludicrous). He has a bee in his bonnet over two hot topics of intellectual property law; Mickey Mouse, plus Open Source software. Presumably he is all over Linux, which satisfies both of his concerns; it’s both Open Source software and a Mickey Mouse operating system. I’ll deal with both of these concerns in forthcoming posts. But I’ll first set out my stall on the general issue of intellectual property law:

Basically, intellectual property is a hot potato for the libertarians; half of them think it’s a free speech issue, and are in favour of no copyright laws, while the other half think it’s a property rights issue and are in favour of really really strong copyright laws. Since I’m an Antinomian rather than a libertarian, this isn’t a problem for me; it’s in fact a perfect example of how my political philosophy cuts through such issues like a knife. Recall from the post linked above that the slogan of this weblog is “Strong Laws, Frequently Broken”, and you’ll see the obvious solution; we should have strong copyright protection, indefinitely extendible, and everyone should treat this copyright protection with approximately the same degree of respect that they did back in the heyday of Napster (don’t expect that link to work for long, btw). In other words; if you don’t like the law, break it already, and don’t feel you have to tell me about how guilty you don’t feel.

In fact, thinking about it, the whole Napster thing is massively positive for a variety of reasons. As you might recall, D-Squared Digest’s main argument for keeping the current laws on cannabis is that it is entirely salutary for young people to be made into criminals for completely arbitary and harmless acts, because it teaches them the healthy disrespect for the law which is a cornerstone of a free society. The prohibition on swapping music files also achieves this, so we like that too. Making copyright a crime also has two big advantages as a way of teaching this lesson:

  • Unlike the drug laws, the copyright laws are unlikely to fill our jails to breaking point, because nobody can be bothered to enforce them (largely because they don’t form a useful pretext for harassing black people). In general, the worst you get even if you’re the CEO of Napster, is a court order telling you to stop it.
  • Unlike the drug laws, the file-swapping prohibition doesn’t discriminate against the stupid. Before the netcomments comments got swept away, someone pointed out that criminalising drugs tends to mean that stupid people bear the brunt of the cost of the salutary social example, and given that the stupid tend to have a pretty tough time of it anyway, this seems a bit unfair. Well, the prohibition on file-swapping probably if anything singles out those of above-average intelligence (or at least, those who use computers a lot; there is probably some correlation). So it teaches us that even smart kids can end up on the wrong side of the law.

More on this later, I’m sure … in the meantime, the author asserts his moral rights. His moral responsibilities, on the other hand … are up for negotiation.

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