I wanted to return to something I blogged on last week.
During her speech at a tech policy conference in DC last Wednesday, copyright advocate / artist Suzanne Vega lamented that those who download music without paying artists are essentially stealing. Calling it a “generational problem,” she seemed resigned to the fact that kids nowadays have this nasty habit, but hopefully, with education, the next generation of users will wake up and do better by artists and society.
Kids today do indeed have a nasty habit. Since Napster, they have been conditioned by public officials, academics, content aggregators, search engines, rogue websites, “consumer advocates,” public interest groups, the media and their peers that it’s OK to download content without paying.
They and their enablers skirt the moral issue (i.e., the expropriation of private property) by surmising that creativity and its output grows on trees, being an abundant resource that flows freely through Wi-Fi connections onto playback devices. Incredulously they ask, “Don’t artists know that in this age where the marginal cost of digital copying is 0, they shouldn’t expect a dime from Internet users? Are they stupid, or what? Duh!”
Beyond “stupidity,” the enablers, especially the “access to knowledge” academics, admonish old-schoolers (i.e., those who respect property rights and actually pay for content they want and value) that no one should have a monopoly on content. It’s immoral. That all information must be free so that society may prosper and become fairer.
“How dare artists be so darn greedy – those exploiters!” they say through gritted teeth.
Well, perhaps Vega would be glad to know that not all kids think this way. My college-bound nephew, Jacob, is one of a growing cadre of young artists / musicians who believes downloading “free” music is flat-out wrong. And he doesn’t do it.
Of course, this idea applies to more than just the intellectual property of music or movies.
Pharmaceuticals. Broadband transmission. Green technology. Medical devices. GMO foods. Software. Transportation. These and numerous other areas of innovation (known and not yet discovered) depend on the morality of private property. That is, they depend on the ability of those who take risk to limit what others can do with their discoveries to realize a fair return on their investment. Intellectual property rights – like copyright, trademark and patent laws – incentivize this investment by allowing creators to protect their work.
Stealing defeats that. It makes it no less wrong if it occurs with O’s and 1’s in the digital realm, in the name of society and the public interest, or for the Kids.
Who’s going to want to come to the table to develop the next great thing if it can be confiscated will-nilly? Answer – not many when that labor amounts to no more than indentured servitude to freeloaders with a false sense of entitlement, or policymakers and academics who want to “spread the wealth.”
I share Vega’s hope that Internet users will someday see the light. If my nephew is any indication, perhaps that day is closer than we think.
Maybe someday even the hardcore redistributionist will see that Creators play a tremendously important role in our society, a role that should be nurtured, not punished. That they have a right to protect their work, and serve society, as they see fit, not as a bunch of petulant poachers and angry academics deem as proper for society.
To suggest otherwise – that is, to subjugate their labor to some “righteous” idea of equity, fairness and freedom – strikes me as un-American. Something that has been tried and failed “over there,” where real freedom does not exist.
Sure, our system of protecting property is imperfect. But it’s far better and more compatible with individual liberty than the alternative – central planning and state-sanctioned confiscation of property by policymakers and the “entitlement class.”
Jam on, Jacob. In realizing your dreams – by creating music that is yours – you serve society. Know that it is the government policymaker, cloaked in the public interest, and Eeyore academics, seeking to make the world “fair,” who are the real exploiters.
Beware when they demand you serve them.