Intellectual Property is Fraud (Part 1)

“Intellectual property is a meaningless concept – ideas don’t behave like land and cannot be possessed or alienated. All the intellectual property debates fought in courthouses and among pamphleteers during the 18th century intuitively grasped this contradiction. What became obvious in these debates was that the rights to own ideas would have to be qualitatively different from the rights to own material property, and that the ease of reproducing ideas posed serious problems for enforcing such rights. In parallel to the philosophical debates about the nature of intellectual property, a monumental discourse criminalizing piracy and plagiarism began to emerge. The most famous rant against piracy was Samuel Richardson’s 1753 pamphlets denouncing unauthorized Irish reprints of his novel Sir Charles Grandison. Contrasting the enlightened English book industry with the savagery and wickedness of Irish piracy, Richardson criminalizes the reprints as theft. In actuality his claims had no legal basis since Ireland was not subject to England’s intellectual property regime. And what he denounced as piracy, Irish publishers saw as a just retaliation against the Stationers Company’s monopoly. A year before Richardson’s pamphlets, there were street riots in Dublin against British taxation policies, which were part of a larger political struggle of Irish independence from Britain. By arguing that this Cause is the Cause of Literature in general, Richardson framed the battle over literary property in purely aesthetic terms, isolating it from its political and economic context. But his use of the piracy metaphor recalled Britain’s colonial history and brutal repression of sea pirates. 18th century maritime piracy has itself been interpreted as a form of guerilla warfare against British imperialism, which also created alternative models of work, property and social relations based on a spirit of democracy, sharing, and mutual insurance.”

  • Anna Nimus

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