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The Calling of Cultural Liberty · Thursday November 06, 2008 by Crosbie Fitch

It’s good to see Rob Myers observe that freedom is for people – not inanimate objects, not intellectual works, nor the culture formed from them.

It is the human being that is to be free, not their works.

We can chain our books to the shelves of our libraries without compunction for their lack of liberty, but we should not manacle the hands of those we sell them to lest they place what is now rightfully their property in a photocopier.

Rob also enumerates other terms people use and abuse when describing the epiphenomena of cultural liberty, e.g. “Commons”, “Gift Economy”, “Quid Pro Quo”, etc.

I’d suggest that ‘Freedom’ can also be abused as a term (not least ‘free’).

It is not absolute freedom that is the ideal to be pursued, but freedom ethically constrained.

Otherwise, if ‘freedom’ is to be misconstrued as an inherently noble objective, we have such aspirations as “the freedom to choose how my work can be used, and what copyright license I give” and “the freedom to inspect or sequester source code from the author’s premises”.

‘Freedom’ is not a trump card to play when seeking to violate another’s right. It alleges an unethical constraint when asserting one’s rightful liberty against its suspension by the privilege of another.

We may express a desire to have the freedom to park our car on our neighbour’s drive, but the mere citing of an aspiration of ‘freedom’ cannot invoke a right, as if that invocation could then trump our neighbour’s natural right to privacy.

Freedom is a lack of constraint. It is neither intrinsically noble nor inherently ethical.

Ethical freedom is a lack of unethical constraint, and is more succinctly termed ‘liberty’.

We do not have a right to freedom. We have a right to liberty – freedom constrained only by the equal rights of others.

Rob Myers said 5509 days ago :

I have been using “freedom” and “liberty” as synonyms despite coming at this via Mill and Berlin. I agree that the word “freedom” can be misused.

“Liberty” has problems as well, though. Libertarians of the Ayn Rayn variety for example.


Crosbie Fitch said 5509 days ago :

I’d see a pursuit of ‘freedom’ as closer to ‘libertinism’ than a pursuit of liberty as libertarianism, but these words do get stretched a tad.

Given Ayn Rand supported patents and copyright I’d say she was a utilitarian in a libertarian’s clothing.

I’m not saying ‘liberty’ is free of abuse, but it seems a better term than ‘freedom’ if needing to refer to liberty as understood by natural rights libertarianism.

Fire in a Crowded Theater · Wednesday February 11, 2009 by Crosbie Fitch

The example of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre is often used to indicate that free speech should have limits. However, it really needs a little more examination.

We first need to look a little more closely at the difference between freedom of speech and liberty. Freedom is simply a lack of constraint, whereas liberty is freedom subject to a government that protects everyone’s rights equally by prosecuting violations thereof.

So, in a free society the individual is without constraint such that they remain free to violate others’ rights (though obviously not without deterrent or remedial consequence). In a non-free society individuals may be constrained in movement or speech such that their proposed/attempted actions are vetted or censored and may be physically prevented if not approved (such societies also typically make the state privy to the individual’s otherwise private domain).

Back to the example:

  • Free speech = The state does not attempt to prevent you from shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, whether true or false.
  • Liberty = If you shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, neglectfully or with malicious intent, you may be prosecuted for endangering others’ lives, or simply for impairing the audience’s apprehension of the truth of a dangerous fire1.

Free speech means you may not be gagged, nor may your speech be censored, even with the objective of protecting others’ rights.

Liberty means that whilst you have the freedom to do or say anything, you may still be consequently prosecuted to remedy any rights you may have violated in the process.

What rights can one violate through speech?

  • The right to life, e.g. endangering another’s safety by maliciously inducing an unnecessary panic.
  • The right to privacy, e.g. revealing another’s secrets obtained via burglary.
  • The right to truth, e.g. misrepresenting another’s actions with intent to deceive.
  • The right to liberty, e.g. drowning out the sound of another’s voice without good reason.

So, freedom of speech means that you can say or publish anything anywhere (without censorship). However the equal protection of everyone’s rights means that there may be legal repercussions for doing so, including the likelihood that you may be required to cease and, if possible, remedy or reverse such speech or publication to avoid further prosecution. Continued violation may of course eventually require some physical constraint for a limited, rehabilitationary period.

Note that the infringement of copyright should be discounted as completely unworthy of prosecution, let alone a justification for censorship. Such privileges are not to be found in a society that believes in equal rights.


1 If you were aware of a fire, but shouted “Fire!” in a sarcastic way to not only avoid being believed, but also to pre-emptively reduce the credibility of any subsequent discoverers of the fire, then you would still be culpable for endangerment despite being literally truthful.

Freedom of Choice to Enslave · Friday April 03, 2009 by Crosbie Fitch

I occasionally encounter people who’ve latched on to constructing an argument in favour of copyright on the basis that it gives people ‘a greater choice of business model’ when it comes to making money from their art. As if this is self-evidently the best of all possible worlds as it maximises individual choice – and freedom of choice is what it’s all about.

It’s not all about choice!

Fundamentally, it’s all about liberty.

Until recently copyright only effectively constrained commercial printers, thus its suspension of the public’s liberty was not generally noticed – the public had little opportunity to print copies, and so rarely encountered a prohibition against such a liberty.

The ‘free choice’ advocates have this strange notion that ‘choice’ and the ‘freedom to choose’ ethically supercedes ‘liberty’, e.g. “I should have the freedom of choice as to whether to keep slaves. Those who believe they can farm economically without them are free to choose to do so today, but don’t repeal the law and take away my choice to use them.”

So when it comes to copyright, they effectively say “I should have the freedom of choice as to whether I suspend the public’s liberty to share and build upon my published work. Don’t abolish copyright and deny me that choice”. They believe they have a fundamental right to choose whether or not to utilise copyright, and that therefore copyright should remain on the statute books, policed and rigorously enforced.

There is no ethical basis to ‘freedom of choice’. It is an ethically vacuous concept that just happens to have the word ‘freedom’ in it. One might as well propose that ‘freedom to beat my wife’ was intrinsically laudable on the same basis, i.e. “Beating my wife is my choice, and I should have the freedom to make that choice”.

Rather than choice, the ethical basis of liberty is about the minimal/natural constraint of everyone’s freedom in order to protect everyone’s freedom. Indeed, that ‘protected freedom’ is what we call liberty. There is no room in liberty for beating wives or granting monopolies.

As I said, copyright was a monopoly that only effectively constrained commercial printers (at those printers’ general consent). Unfortunately, copyright law is written to apply to all, i.e. individuals as well as printing corporations. And today we are all printers – human beings and immortal corporation alike.

In ignoring copyright, the people are asserting their natural right to liberty – that they’ve always had. So there is no argument as to whether one should be able to continue to use copyright to suspend that right. Ethically, one cannot. Practically, one cannot. The unnnatural and unethical privilege is being ignored and rendered ineffective before our eyes. This is not something to rectify with a good counter-argument (or by educating the masses with draconian prosecutions of random individuals).

The only dicussions concerning copyright that remain useful are ‘Business models that work without copyright’ and ‘Protecting the public from unethical litigation, cultural spite, and privacy invasion, by abolishing copyright sooner rather than later’.

Make the right choice: Do not accept the enslavement of your fellow man, nor any imposition upon his liberty, as reward for the publication of your art.

IP Without Monopoly · Wednesday April 08, 2009 by Crosbie Fitch

Freedom of speech means you should be able to say or publish anything at any time – without physical restraint or interference, e.g. censorship.

Liberty means there are repercussions for certain speech, especially authoritative publication, e.g. malicious falsehood, violations of privacy, threats to life.

Thus if you publish the knowledge (obtained by a tip-off from a burglar who snuck into Fred Smith’s bedroom via a poorly secured window and peeked into their sock drawer) that Fred Smith has pink socks, then this is to compound the burglar’s privacy violation.

Fred Smith own’s the colour of his socks, but the colour of his socks is not intellectual property, i.e. it can’t be transferred because it is not identifiable as a distinct/independent work and thus can’t comprise property. However, his socks can be transferred of course, as material and intellectual property, given the sock represents both a material as well as an intellectual work. The colour of the socks comprises part of the intellectual work that the socks represent (their shape, design, weave, fibre, pattern, colour, etc.).

If the burglar had taken a photo of the socks then this would constitute IP theft, since the image of the sock captures a large part of the intellectual work the sock comprises, and is also able to identify the intellectual work.

However, no-one has a natural right to a monopoly, whether in the material design of the sock or its visual appearance. Once you’ve bought Fred Smith’s socks (if he wanted to sell them) you can naturally copy them to your heart’s content – and are also as a consequence able to publicise the fact that Fred sold you some pink socks (if you don’t think your reputation will suffer for such an indiscretion). Then again, if by some coincidence you unwittingly produced a pair of socks that were indistinguishable from Fred’s, well, that’s fine too (however you won’t necessarily know that Fred has a pair just like them).

This is how intellectual property works without monopoly. There are still laws against copying intellectual work, it’s just that they’re restored in alignment with natural law, i.e. you can copy what you privately possess, but not that which someone else privately possesses. Your freedom is not unethically constrained by being prohibited from invading or violating another’s privacy.

But most importantly, your freedom is not constrained due to the granting of unnatural monopolies of copyright and patent to mass producers of copies and devices. Such monopolies are unethical and should be abolished.

Without monopoly, intellectual property is natural, along with natural intellectual property rights.

Jim Bursch said 5357 days ago :

Can Fred Smith give his pink sox to his girlfriend Sally Jones on the condition that she can never give the sox to Fred’s rival, Joe Anderson?

Jim Bursch said 5357 days ago :

Perhaps a better way to frame the question is, Can Fred Smith write a love poem to Sally Jones and give it to her under the condition that she never share it with Joe Anderson?

drew Roberts said 5354 days ago :

Jim, I think the question is still incomplete.

Do you mean Fred gives it wrapped as a present and inside of the present he has a letter stating his conditions?

Or does he tell her that he has written a love poem for her but that if she wants it, she must sign a contract with him with certain conditions before he will let her see it?

Or something else?

all the best,


Crosbie Fitch said 5354 days ago :

Jim, natural rights are inalienable, whereas property (private objects obtained through gathering, creation, or exchange) is alienable. That means you can’t contract away your liberty, but you can contract away your property. However, you can make any conditions you like in a contract. Even so, much as many people mistake them as such, these conditions are not obligations.

You could say in a contract “If you work for me for 30 years, I’ll give you a gold watch”, however, that ’30 years’ is a condition, not an obligation to work (slavery), it’s also unlikely to be regarded as an equitable exchange (probably being a bonus, additional compensation).

So, in answer to your first question, Fred cannot give his socks to someone in exchange for them surrendering their liberty to give them to someone else. However, he could say, “Here’s some socks, and if after twenty years I never obtain evidence that you’ve given them to Joe, then I will give you a bottle of pink champagne”. Alternatively, Fred could say “I’ll lend you my socks on condition you lend them to no-one else, so if I find out you’ve lent them to Joe I’ll require their immediate return”.

The same applies to the second question. Sally cannot ethically surrender her liberty, or freedom of speech, to share her property. So, Fred can’t place obligations on the use of the gift. Fred can lend her the poem and require its immediate return if he finds out she’s lent it or copied it, but he can’t require the return of the copies she’s made (because naturally they’re her property).

However, because copyright has already suspended the public’s liberty to share (to make copies), Fred can effectively permit Sally every liberty suspended by copyright save that of distributing copies to Joe, which effectively obliges Sally to sublicense her copies similarly. Inevitably Joe will end up with copies from someone, but Fred is likely to have a very tricky time finding out who distributed a copy to Joe and prosecuting them for copyright infringement.

Moreover, because copyright has already alienated the liberty to copy, this liberty can now be the subject of contracts, e.g. “If you give me the exclusive liberty to copy your book, I’ll give you $1 for each copy I make.”

It is precisely because copyright appears to enable people to suspend each other’s liberty (or persuade them to alienate themselves from it), that we then get other contracts such as NDAs that attempt something similar, i.e. persuade people that they can and must alienate their liberty to disclose information. Where they go wrong is in presuming that if copyright effectively alienates people from their freedom to copy or publicly perform original works, then this NDA can alienate people from their freedom to publish any information obtained as a result of their employment. They can’t, or at least they can’t do so ethically. In practice employers and employees (and corrupt/incompetent judges) are easily convinced that subject persons break the law should they break the NDA. NDA’s can of course make unauthorised disclosure grounds for dismissal (since continued employment isn’t a right, and can be conditioned on maintaining confidentiality), but they can’t actually make it grounds for prosecution. Contracts cannot create their own legislation.

Crosbie Fitch said 5354 days ago :

Drew, shrink wrap documents aren’t agreements if the property has already been exchanged without them. They may well be licenses, i.e. provide restoration of liberties (suspended by copyright) not specified in the original exchange (and may be conditional). A license is not a contract. However, a license may be available subject to a further optional agreement that may be contained within. And agreement must be voluntary and explicit. It cannot be inferred by any action, even if that action is only permitted by the license. Even an action specified to constitute agreement can’t be taken as agreement if the person would be inclined to do it anyway, e.g. “By installing or operating this product you have purchased you signify your agreement to pay us $10 per annum”.

One can certainly exchange intellectual property through contract, but (aside from copyright and patent), one cannot exchange someone’s liberty to do with it as they please, after all, if you sell your property to someone it becomes their property.

Liberty vs Temperance - Rematch · Monday April 20, 2009 by Crosbie Fitch

According to the BBC a court in Sweden has jailed four men behind The Pirate Bay (TPB), the world’s most high-profile file-sharing website, in a landmark case.

It’s amusing to note that the BBC shows no bias whatsoever in the inferences it would like readers to draw from the fact that “The Pirate Bay’s first server is now a museum exhibit in Stockholm”. Implicitly, The Pirate Bay has ended and has already been consigned to the history books.

However, let’s just have another look at the BBC’s more serious claim that this is a ‘landmark case’.

I wonder if this case has any precedents?

In other words, given that what we fail to learn from history is that we are doomed to repeat it, let’s see if there’s anything in our history that can inform us as to our future.

I’ve got an idea. What would such a case look like if the news story was remixed to make it appear as if it related to issues that would have been familiar around 80 years ago?

A court in New York has jailed four men behind The Bootlegger Bay (TBB), the nations’s most high-profile speakeasy promotions agency, in a landmark case.

Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Carl Lundstrom and Peter Sunde were found guilty of breaking sumptuary law (per the 18th amendment) and were sentenced to a year in jail.

They were also ordered to pay $4,500 in fines.

Temperance Societies welcomed the verdict but the men are to appeal and Sunde said they would refuse to pay the fine.

Speaking to The New York Times, the chairman of coalition body the Anti-Saloon League (ASL) Wayne Wheeler said the verdict sent out a clear message.

“These guys weren’t making a principled stand, they were out to line their own pockets. There was nothing meritorious about their behaviour, it was reprehensible.”

“The Bootlegger Bay did immense harm and the fine doesn’t even get close to due penitence, but we never claimed it did.”

“There has been a perception that imbibing alcohol is OK and that the temperance movement should just have to accept it. This verdict will change that,” he said.

The four men denied the charges throughout the trial, saying that because they did not actually manufacture or distribute any intoxicating liquour, they were not doing anything wrong.

Speaking on WRUC, the assistant judge explained how the court reached its findings.

“The court first tried whether there was any question of consumption of alcohol by persons upon the premises and that has been proved, that the offence was committed.”

“The court then moved on to look at those who acted as a team to operate the Bootlegger Bay speakeasy promotions agency, and the court found that they knew that intoxicating beverage would be distributed but continued to operate the service,” he said.

William H. Stayton, leader of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment – which is trying to reform laws around alcohol and drinking premises – told the NYT that the verdict was “a gross injustice”.

“This wasn’t a criminal trial, it was a political trial. It is just gross beyond description that you can jail four people for directing thirsty citizens to the places they want to go.”

“There is a lot of anger in New York City right now. Drinking is an institution here and while I can’t encourage people to break the Volstead Act, I’m not following it and I don’t agree with it.”

“Today’s events make the consumption of alcoholic beverages a hot political issue and we’re going to take this to Congress.”

Here’s the history we’re doomed to repeat:

In 1921, 95,933 illicit distilleries, stills, still works and fermentors were seized. in 1925, the total jumped to 172,537 and up to 282,122 in 1930. In connection with these seizures, 34,175 persons were arrested in 1921; by 1925, the number had risen to 62,747 and to a high in 1928 of 75,307 (Internal Revenue, Service, 1921, 1966, 1970: 95, 6, 73). Concurrently, convictions for liquor offenses in federal courts rose from 35,000 in 1923 to 61,383 in 1932.

The law could not quell the continuing demand for alcoholic products. Thus, where legal enterprises could no longer supply the demand, an illicit traffic developed, from the point of manufacture to consumption. The institution of the speakeasy replaced the institution of the saloon. Estimates of the number of speakeasies throughout the United States ranged from 200,000 to 500,000 (Lee, 1963: 68).

Here’s the outcome, and our future:

It is difficult to assess the relative numbers of the wet and dry partisans during the last few years of national prohibition. In terms of strength, however, the wets surely had the edge which less than two decades before had belonged to the drys. The new wet strength showed up at the National Convention of the Democratic party held in Chicago in 1932, where Mayor Cermak of that city filled the galleries with his supporters. And, though Franklin D. Roosevelt had wooed the dry vote for some time, he now came forward on a platform which favored the outright repeal of the 18th Amendment. Accepting his nomination, he stated:

I congratulate this convention for having had the courage, fearlessly to write into its declaration of principles what an overwhelming majority here assembled really thinks about the 18th Amendment. This convention wants repeal. Your candidate wants repeal. And I am confident that the United States of America wants repeal (Dobyns, 1940: 160).

While dry leaders looked on with disgust, Roosevelt was elected president and Congress turned a somersault. The repeal amendment was introduced February 14, 1933, by Sen. Blaine of Wisconsin and approved two days later by the Senate 63 to 23. The House followed four days later, voting 289 to 121 to send the amendment on to the States (Lee, 1963: 231).

And the allegorical analogue of The Pirate Party? The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA):

The job of total repeal was accomplished with the help of the determined AAPA during the succeeding year. Their lawyers assisted the states in preparing bills for conventions and release of various forms of political propaganda, thereby enacting a serious satire on the 1919 campaign launched by the Anti-Saloon League. Notwithstanding their high and enduring constitutional principles, on December 31, 1933, with repeal a reality, the AAPA ceased to exist and sent its files to the Library of Congress. “Having attained its objective . . . the Association resisted the temptation to linger on as a ‘sentinel of American liberty’ ‘’, the New York Times observed in the organization’s obituary (Dobyns, 1940: 132).

A ‘sentinel of American liberty’ eh? Would you find such an organisation in the US today? The land of the free?

The Free Software Foundation is close, but it doesn’t campaign for the abolition of copyright (yet).

At least we can take heart that abolition is not far away, that day when the people’s natural right to cultural liberty has been restored, to freely share and build upon published works.

The question is, at what moment in the American Prohibition Era did the allegorical Bootlegger Bay case occur? I suspect it would have occurred around 1925 when by that time in New York City alone there were anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasy clubs. Given repeal occurred 8 years later, that puts the date for the abolition of copyright somewhere around 2017.

Not long now…

Crosbie Fitch said 5346 days ago :

Also see 21st Century Prohibition for another observation of similarities between copyright and the prohibition era by Jeffrey A. Tucker.

Rob Myers said 5345 days ago :

I’m off to make some bathtub culture…

Steve R. said 5345 days ago :

The New York Times today has an editorial “Unreasonable Search”. The Times writes concerning the pending US Supreme Court case, “On Tuesday, the court hears arguments in a suit brought on behalf of a 13-year-old girl who was strip-searched based on a fellow student’s false report that she had possessed ibuprofen pain-relief pills.” From the perspective of the “liberal” news media such as the New York Times there is moral outrage when someone, is denied due process. Yet when it comes to the unreasonable search of a data stream based on the simple presumption that there may be an illegal activity, the Times is all for it. Total hypocrisy.

harleyrider1978 said 5345 days ago :

Look at todays tobacco prohibition as the smoke easy becomes the speak easy of yesteryear…….All based upon the lie that second hand smoke harms people……..heres OSAS on shs/ets

[Text redacted] by all means comment, but please link to rather than paste large texts from elsewhere, especially if only tangentially related - Crosbie Fitch

A Pirate's Code - 21st Century Edition · Monday April 27, 2009 by Crosbie Fitch

A moral code for those engaged in the PIRACY of intellectual works, in accord with the philosophy of natural rights as expounded by such 18th century luminaries as Thomas Paine (Father of the American Revolution):

  1. Spread mankind’s good works of art and knowledge to the four corners of the world.
  2. Create and publish your own work, enjoy and share each other’s, use it, build upon it, thrive and prosper.
  3. Pay others to do good work as you would be paid to do yours.
  4. Restore everyone’s liberty – accept no surrender, deny privilege.
  5. Guard our apprehension of the truth against those who would impair it.
  6. Respect each other’s privacy – abet no burglary, remedy theft.
  7. Protect life, for all, as equals.

Toward the understanding of this modern pirate code

The seven exhortations of this pirate’s code ascend in precedence.

For example, if burglary is necessary to save life, it deserves warrant, but if considered only to ascertain the truth of a wagered outcome, one may do nought but persuade its possessor to divulge.

Most relevant to this code and the moment of our times is the cultural repression and persecution of the people. This arises from the venal surrender of the people’s liberty through its derogation by 18th century privileges of monopoly such as copyright and patent. The exploitation of these anachronistic privileges by merchants so favoured by the state, especially publishing and industrial corporations, now have them enforcing and prosecuting them against the public to preclude even individual acts of cultural expression competing with them in their mass production of copies and devices.

Monopolies are and have always been a mistake (see Boldrin & Levine). They favour one merchant at the expense of the many1 (mercantile privilege at the expense of individual liberty), and so are diametrically in opposition to a fair and free market – a market in which people are free to exchange their labour and property without unnatural constraint.

The misguided apologists for such monopolies claim them to be socially beneficial in encouraging the creation and distribution of art and knowledge (to promote the progress of science and useful arts). So, at least the aspirations are agreed. However, the key difference in principle is whether the people’s liberty should be sacrificed to this end (despite scant evidence it provides the means). The modern pirate agrees that his liberty should not be so sacrificed, that his natural right to liberty is inalienable. It can neither be surrendered by himself as citizen, nor his government he empowers to protect it. There is no contract, nor law that can take it away, and nothing so offensive as the allegation that the people voluntarily and democratically surrendered their liberty in a social contract.

Cultural and technological liberty is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. It is preceded by 19th and 20th century natural rights issues of equality (racial, religious and sexual discrimination), life (genocide, execution, torture) and liberty (slavery, segregation, temperance). Today, in our age of information technology and instantaneous diffusion, individuals are struggling for the liberty to share and build upon our cultural and technological heritage. The public as pirate is struggling against the anachronistic monopolies of copyright and patent, against the yoke of corporations who have amassed these privileges into effective subjugation of the people.

We must therefore restore law to respect and protect the individual’s natural rights. This was the mission and intention of Thomas Paine and other founding fathers of the United States, and directed the writing of the US constitution.

Not being natural rights, and so neither recognised nor sanctioned by the constitution, both copyright and patent should be abolished, to be replaced by law that properly secures authors’ and inventors’ exclusive right to their writings and discoveries. The government should be strictly limited in this and should not use it as an excuse to assume unconstitutional power to grant transferable monopolies such that these may benefit the corporations that covet them (and the legislators who enjoy the latter’s lobbying). Other nations/jurisdictions should also confine their legislation to the protection of natural rights rather than the granting of monopolies.

It should also be noted that the loss of monopoly, whether through being rendered ineffective by piracy or legislation, does not warrant compensation, so there is no justification for any levy or tax to that end, nor even as a separate means of bypassing the marketplace for the government to procure art and knowledge on the people’s behalf. A free market, as should have existed for the last three centuries, is sufficient and proper.

1. Spread mankind’s good works of art and knowledge to the four corners of the world

Our mission as an emancipated collective is to promote the progress of science and useful arts by shedding light on the world around us, and ourselves as human beings.

2. Create and publish your own work, enjoy and share each other’s, use it, build upon it, thrive and prosper

Our individual mission as free men is to contribute our own light, to recast the light of others, and thus to be free to stand upon the shoulders of others who have contributed theirs before us, so that we may cast a brighter light further into the shadows.

3. Pay others to do good work as you would be paid to do yours

There is no taint or stigma in commerce, in exchanging our goods or labour, nor in accepting reward for our art, nor in rewarding others. Indeed, to thrive and prosper through our creative talents is an achievement to be proud of, and just as we should have the liberty to exchange our labour, to seek reward for our creativity and insight, so we should respect that liberty and aspiration in others. Cultural liberty is not about creating a non-commercial ghetto, but about being emancipated to share and build upon all human culture, whether for love or money. It is time to end the so called ‘permission culture’.

So make no mistake concerning commerce, there’s nothing inherently wrong in being a merchant. The wrong is in privileging merchants with our liberty, for then pejoratives of pirates and piracy are the inevitable result as those named as such assert their natural liberty. As Richard Stallman puts it: “Free as in free speech, not as in free beer”.

4. Restore everyone’s liberty – accept no surrender, deny privilege

We are impelled to work toward abolishing the unethical privileges of copyright and patent. In the interim we neutralise the privileges we have through copyleft licenses, or otherwise relinquish them. This is not a mercenary pursuit of cheap promotion, but a philanthropic manumission of our fellows. Similarly, we do not accept even the voluntary surrender of others’ liberty as a reward for the publication of our work. The monopolies of copyright and patent, being properly recognised as unnatural and unethical privileges, must be rejected as intolerable to the members of an egalitarian and emancipated civilisation.

5. Guard our apprehension of the truth against those who would impair it

The natural right to liberty is delimited by the natural right to truth. Cultural liberty does not encompass the freedom to present another’s work as one’s own, nor to modify another’s work and present it as theirs. Consequently, the author’s derivative right is to accuracy in attribution (whether explicit or implicit), not to attribution per se. Credit is a matter of respect, not an obligation to be jealously prosecuted.

6. Respect each other’s privacy – abet no burglary, remedy theft

Privacy is also under threat in this time, as its invasion by the state (and the corporations that lobby it) is considered necessary for the policing of citizens’ communications, to detect infringement of monopolies. Consequently bogeyman excuses are co-opted to obtain sanction for this unethical abrogation of a natural right even more fundamental than liberty.

An individual’s private domain is thus out of bounds to those who would restore and assert their cultural liberty. Invasion (burglary) and violation (theft) of an individual’s privacy remain as acts to be abhorred, whether their material or intellectual work is removed or communicated as a result (irrespective of authorship). However, we may of course invite others into our homes, and confide our secrets to them, even make them privy to our private works, but we can only rely upon their respect for us to constrain them to discretion. We cannot bind them to silence with the law, nor can they alienate themselves from their liberty. Thus they cannot surrender their freedom of speech in a non-disclosure agreement (though they may make silence a condition of continued employment or future reward).

An author’s and inventor’s exclusive right derives from the individual’s natural right to privacy.

7. Protect life, for all, as equals

All men are born free and equal, and have four key, natural and inalienable rights: foremost life, followed by privacy, truth, and liberty. It is to preserve these rights for all as equals that we collectively create, empower, and elect a government to protect them.

Thus we have a duty to protect the life of others, and that includes desisting from speech that incites violence, whether against individuals (Salman Rushdie) or classes (sex, race, religion), or endorses abuse (of suspects and other non-consenting adults, or those unable to give consent such as minors).

It should be recognised that corporations are neither human beings nor equivalent to individuals and consequently have no natural rights, though they may benefit from the collected rights of their constituency, e.g. effective privacy of collectively owned buildings.


1 “Monopolies are sacrifices of the many to the few.” James Madison in a letter of October 17, 1788

What is a Pirate? · Wednesday April 29, 2009 by Crosbie Fitch



  1. a. One who robs at sea or plunders the land from the sea without commission from a sovereign nation.
    b. A ship used for this purpose.
  2. One who preys on others; a plunderer.
  3. One who makes use of or reproduces the work of another without authorization.
  4. One that operates an unlicensed, illegal television or radio station.
  5. (chiefly 21st century Internet) One who asserts and defends natural rights.
    A pirate asserts and defends the natural right to liberty typically through file-sharing (qv 3. unauthorised reproduction) contrary to publishing corporations’ amassed privilege of copyright.
    A pirate asserts and defends the natural right to privacy typically through technical measures and by campaigning against its invasion by state or corporations (whether to detect copyright infringement or to profile individuals to better target advertising to them).

Modern Usage

Over the last year Phorm has been the subject of a smear campaign orchestrated by a small but dedicated band of online “privacy pirates” who appear very determined to harm our company. (from StopPhoulPlay by Phorm, Inc.)

So, now you know what a latterday pirate is, and how Phorm has used the epithet privacy pirate consistent with its contemporary definition.

j dudley said 5334 days ago :

Isn’t this Orwellian NewSpeak? The classical definitions of a privacy pirate – taking what is not yours – would seem to apply to Phorm. Phorm have then redefined ‘privacy advocate’ as ‘privacy pirate’, creating a smear campaign against their critics – and then create nonce definitions to pretend that their critics are the pirates, and that their critics are running a smear campaign.

Your definition [5] confuses ‘natural rights’ (GNU) with piracy (The Pirates Bay). You do not have a ‘natural right’ to take what belongs to others, whether or not you wish you did. GNU is clear on that.

Crosbie Fitch said 5334 days ago :

> The classical
> definitions of a privacy pirate – taking what is not yours –
> would seem to apply to Phorm.

I don’t think there is a classical definition of a ‘privacy pirate’ (a neologism if ever I heard one). A pirate is generally one who interferes with merchants’ business (directly or indirectly). If Phorm is in the business of analysing individuals’ web browsing to better target advertising to them, then a privacy pirate would be someone who interferes with their access to this ‘private’ data.

> Your definition [5] confuses ‘natural rights’ (GNU) with
> piracy (The Pirates Bay).

Natural rights are natural rights. They are self-evident and aren’t defined by GNU or TPB.

> You do not have a ‘natural right’
> to take what belongs to others, whether or not you wish you
> did. GNU is clear on that.

The natural right is to privacy. Property derives from that. So the government is created to help protect your privacy against invasion or violation (theft).

So it seems that a pirate interferes with a merchant’s monopoly and with a merchant’s invasion of individuals’ privacy.

yungchin said 5290 days ago :

@j dudley: when you say “You do not have a ‘natural right’ to take what belongs to others”, you imply that copyright is a natural right.

Let’s check that: if you publish a poem on your website, and I copy it to mine, did I take what belongs to you? It’s still on your website. Rather, I violated your copyright – if there’s a law that defines that.

@Crosbie Fitch: I don’t understand how merchants in exercising their copyright invade our privacy? Could you put that in less formal terms?

Crosbie Fitch said 5290 days ago :

I don’t think I said that they invade our privacy through exercising their copyright. I suggested that ‘pirate’ was the label merchants applied to those that interfered with their commercial activities, e.g. by infringing their reproduction monopolies or thwarting their monitoring of individuals’ browsing of the Internet.

In the latter case, the individuals were under the impression that their web browsing was private to them, their ISP and the websites they visited. To many users, Phorm’s monitoring of the websites they visit is seen as an invasion of their privacy.

I didn’t actally say Phorm was invading anyone’s privacy, nor was I attempting to define this situation as a clear example of privacy invasion. It would have been though, if Phorm hadn’t voluntarily been made privy by the ISP, or the ISP had a privacy policy that promised no disclosure.

Compare with an example only involving individuals: the case of a couple who hire a courier to deliver receipted invitations to their wedding. If the courier provides a merchant with details of each recipient, then this would be seen by the couple as a dishonourable indiscretion on the part of the courier – it would not be a privacy invasion by the merchant. On the other hand, if the merchant had stolen a copy of the courier’s guestlist whilst they weren’t looking, then it would have been.

So you see, copyright doesn’t necessarily come into it. However, in addition to profiling for advertising, the protection of copyright is one of the other motives that might lead a merchant into taking the opportunity to monitor users’ Internet use, e.g. to collect evidence of infringement for future prosecution.

yungchin said 5288 days ago :

Ok, thanks, now I get it. So these are two different kinds of pirate in one definition – the copyright-violaters and the privacy-protectors.

To me it’s confusing to bundle the two different concepts into one definition. And I agree with the first comment here: it seems in your example the privacy-infringer is Phorm; so it is more intuitive to define them as the privacy-pirates.

Note that protecting your privacy is typically not illegal under current law, whereas breaking copyright is.

As for the “copyright-pirates”: given that old-school pirates do infringe on our natural rights, I think it’s perverse to call copyright-violators pirates.

Crosbie Fitch said 5288 days ago :

> Ok, thanks, now I get it. So these are two different
> kinds of pirate in one definition – the copyright-violaters
> and the privacy-protectors.

Yes, though I’d say liberty-protectors, rather than copyright infringers. :)

> To me it’s confusing to bundle the two different concepts
> into one definition.

I sympathise, but I am simply noting there is some coherence in both uses of the term ‘pirate’.

Those who assert their natural rights are pirates (in merchants’ eyes), whether to liberty or to privacy.

> And I agree with the first comment here:
> it seems in your example the privacy-infringer is Phorm; so
> it is more intuitive to define them as the privacy-pirates.

But, Phorm is the lawful merchant. The pirates are those who thwart their mercenary and unethical, albeit legal trade (trampling over the public’s natural rights to liberty and privacy).

> Note that protecting your privacy is typically not illegal
> under current law, whereas breaking copyright is.


> As for the “copyright-pirates”: given that old-school pirates
> do infringe on our natural rights, I think it’s perverse to
> call copyright-violators pirates.

Pirates may well have had psychopaths among their number throughout the long history of this term, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have always been more libertine than libertarian. And let’s not forget, ‘pirate’ is a label chosen largely by the monopolist. As with ‘queer’, libertarians might as well wear the label of ‘pirate’ with pride and demonstrate its sound ethical basis (see A Pirate’s Code – 21st Century Edition).

yungchin said 5288 days ago :

> I sympathise, but I am simply noting there is some
> coherence in both uses of the term ‘pirate’.
> Those who assert their natural rights are pirates (in
> merchants’ eyes), whether to liberty or to privacy.

To me that doesn’t make the definition less confusing :)
I’d say that the merchants are terribly confused in their
choice of the label “pirate”, and adopting their choices just
furthers the confusion.

> But, Phorm is the lawful merchant. The pirates are those who
> thwart their mercenary and unethical, albeit legal trade

I understand that this is so under the definition you propose,
but I was contesting the intuitiveness of that definition :)

> Pirates may well have had psychopaths among their number
> throughout the long history of this term, but that doesn’t
> necessarily mean they have always been more libertine than
> libertarian.

This implies we associate different connotations with the word
piracy… very difficult to find any agreement then :)

A Stevenson said 5176 days ago :

J Dudley: What is not scarce, what can be replicated infinately at no extra cost, nobody has the right to exclude others from. The creators have the right to be credited for their work… and that’s it.

Piracy and Copyright Tricentennial · Wednesday April 29, 2009 by Crosbie Fitch

According to the OED one of the first uses of the term ‘pirate’ to describe unauthorised reproduction of a published work was penned by Daniel Defoe:

1703 D. Defoe True-born Englishman in True Collect. I. Expan. Pref. sig. B3v, Its being Printed again and again by Pyrates.

It’s almost as if by such selective quotation the OED prefers people to interpret Defoe’s sentiments as “Help! The bastards are pirating my poem! Call the navy!” But, then how could the OED possibly be biased in support of copyright and against piracy?

In 1701 Daniel Defoe published The True-Born Englishman, and then in 1703 in a later edition included an explanatory preface:

As to Answers, Banters, True-English Billinsgate, I expect them till no body will buy, and then the Shop will be shut. Had I wrote it for the Gain of the Press, I should have been concern’d at its being Printed again and again, by Pyrates, as they call them, and Paragraph-Men: But would they but do it Justice, and print it True, according to the Copy, they are welcome to sell it for a Penny, if they please.

So, rather than making a furious complaint, Defoe appears to be saying “If my motive in writing this was to sell it to a printer in exchange for their ‘protected’ royalty, I would have been upset at any unauthorised reproduction. Instead, people are welcome to sell it for a penny a copy1, as long as those copies are fair.”

It sounds like Defoe had a good grasp of a more principled approach to publication. Perhaps we might even deduce that Defoe was the first author to welcome pirates as good for publicity and promotion?

He goes on to recognise that commerce is the objective of pirates, and supposes that if no-one buys then no-one will write. But he then sardonically suggests that this would mean that none of his detractors would publish their response, given no money in it – insinuating his detractors put money before principle.

Defoe therefore effectively recognises that for some purposes some people will write irrespective of reward (and that for others they will not).

So, with the Statute of Anne in 1709, we have roughly three centuries of piracy and copyright behind us. Hopefully, that’s the way it will remain.


1 This seems serendipitously resonant with my pet project 1p2U (in development) to enable people to pay bloggers a penny for each article they publish (which can then be philanthropically pirated without shame or fear of prosecution).

David said 4350 days ago :

In other contexts Defoe was strongly opposed to literary piracy, and in fact he was one of the promoters behind the Statute of Anne. The True-Born Englishman was a piece of political propaganda, and for this purpose Defoe might well say, if only rhetorically, that he was primarily interested in getting his message to the widest possible audience.

Crosbie Fitch said 4350 days ago :

Yes David, Defoe (like many, many others) was also seduced by the power to prohibit unauthorised copies, even though in some cases, as in this one, he recognised the benefits of ‘piracy’ or the unrestrained proliferation of a free press (albeit fair and true).

Further reading: Commentary on: Defoe’s Essay on the Press, United Kingdom 1704

A Pirate Asserts and Defends Liberty · Wednesday April 29, 2009 by Crosbie Fitch

As per the fifth definition of Pirate: A pirate asserts and defends the natural right to liberty, here is some prose in apparent agreement from one George William Curtis, 1824-1892

The end of all scholarly attainment is to live nobly. If a man read books merely to know books, he is a tree planted only to blossom. If he read books to apply their wisdom to life, then he is a tree planted to bear glorious fruit. He does not think for himself alone, nor hoard a thought as a miser a diamond. He spends for the world. Scholarship is not only the knowledge that makes books, but the wisdom which inspires that knowledge. The scholar is not necessarily a learned man, but he is a wise man.
If he be personally a recluse, his voice and influence are never secluded. If the man be a hermit, his mind is a citizen of the world.

If, then, such be the scholar and the scholar’s office, if he be truly the conscience of the State, the fundamental law of his life is liberty. At every cost, the true scholar asserts and defends liberty of thought and liberty of speech. Of what use to a man is a thought that will help the world, if he cannot tell it to the world?


Data Abuse Laws Abuse Liberty · Saturday September 05, 2009 by Crosbie Fitch

“Laws should be tightened to give judges the option to jail people found guilty of serious abuses of personal data”, the UK’s Information Commissioner has said.

How can an individual possibly abuse data? Even if the data represents collection of personally sensitive details?

Data is inert and immutable, it is not a living being, nor is it part of one.

You may feel that the fact you have a particular disease or political viewpoint is a little piece of you that is wandering the digital cosmos, but that’s superstition. The facts you reveal about yourself, that you confide to others, are your speech, not your person, and they leave your body, loosed from your control the moment they leave your mouth. You remain unable to bind others to secrecy, to gag them, with your confidence. You can only trust them to remain discreet. If you don’t want anyone else to disclose your secrets, don’t reveal them to anyone else. You can’t reveal them and yet claim the supernatural power to constrain their further dissemination. Of course, with a corrupt government, you may well beg and be granted the privilege of doing so.

Individuals have never naturally had the power to prevent others’ indiscretion, so simply because with more information people can be more indiscreet, why does this principle fly out of the window? If anything, the fact that despite their lip service, government and military agencies find it very easy to play fast and loose with the data in their care should reduce the temptation to criminalise the negligent or indiscreet individual, not increase it.

Why is the ‘Information Commissioner’ singling out individuals for incarceration as punishment for their indiscretion (their natural liberty and right to communicate the knowledge they have been made privy to), instead of the membership organisation that had been entrusted with the care of the information leaked by one of its ex-employees? Regulate the organisation to discretion by all means, but don’t penalise and incarcerate individuals for breaching the trust of their employer.

From a natural rights perspective, the principle should be that individuals are to be entrusted with the care of sensitive information, whereas corporations are to be distrusted. This means that individuals are not to be prosecuted for failing that trust (they are subject to reputational consequences), whereas corporations may be regulated to adhere to a duty of care and consequently may be appropriately penalised for negligent or vicarious disclosure.

This is the information age, the age of instantaneous diffusion. Anachronistic privileges such as copyright that pretend the power to constrain dissemination are revealing their ineffectiveness in front of us, and yet instead of confronting the reality they’re failing to hide, the authorities are still attempting to reinforce them with ever harsher penalties against the individual, and in the case of ‘personal’ information, creating new ‘non disclosure’ laws to punish them.

The fact that people must communicate to live has been recognised for millennia and is why we have this principle of freedom of speech. See Fire in a Crowded Theater for its only ethical limitations.

The only reason secrets do not travel is because the people entrusted with them are inclined to be discreet, not because those who’ve confided them have any natural right to gag those they tell them to.

Can anyone expect justice from Judge John Stobart who said “while there may be some members in this organisation who do not deserve to be protected by the law, they should be able to expect that officers within the organisation will not abuse the information provided to them.

A judge who believes some individuals do not deserve protection by the law? That is breathtaking – an abuse of justice far worse than the abuse of information he purports. Abandon all human rights ye who enter his courtroom.

One may well hope that any sensitive information provided to a membership organisation would be kept confidential, and one may well wish to be able to sue that organisation for negligence if through incompetence they fail, but that doesn’t extend to suspending the liberty of its (ex)employees, whether fining or incarcerating them. They have the potential opprobrium or approbation of the public and their peers to look forward to.



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