Remember that battle over SOPA, in which the world’s largest websites beat back a congressional threat that would have changed the Internet forever? It was pretty obvious within a day after this Pyrrhic victory that the existing laws in place were enough to give the government the power to wreck the digital world. But how would it happen? How would government end digital freedom? Well, the excuse is obvious. It is “intellectual property.” This phrase serves the same purpose for would-be censors that “terrorism” does for warmongers. It is a way to ramp up government control while kicking sand in the faces of those who would oppose such control. Are you for terrorism? Are you for theft? It’s rather easy to detect normal theft. One day, I have a planter on my porch. The next day, the planter is on your porch, and it got there without my permission....Now imagine a different scenario. One day, the paragraph above appears on the website for Laissez Faire Books. The next day, it appears on your Facebook page or blog. But it is not thereby removed from lfb.org. Instead, it is copied. A second instance of the paragraph has been created, taking nothing from me. My paragraph still exists. And let’s say this happens 10 billion times in the course of a few minutes, as can happen in the digital world. Is this a case of mass looting, or is it a mass compliment to me? Copyright law sees this as theft. But how can that be? The whole merit of the digital world rests on the remarkable scalability of everything digitized. That’s the basis of the economy of the Internet. Its capacity for inspiring and achieving infinite emulation and sharing is unparalleled in history. It’s what makes the Internet different from parchment, vinyl or television. Remove that, and you gut the unique energy of the medium. Intellectual property law became universal only about 120 years ago. It was gradually expanded over the course of the century, invading the digital realm in the 1980s and expanding its coverage ever since. How do you make copies illegal in a medium that specializes in its capacity for sharing, multiplying, linking and community formation? You need totalitarian control.
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Whiskey and Gunpowder