The IP enclosure movement

18/04/2012 § 3 Comments

In the news today, a TelstraClear customer has received a third infringement notice under the new NZ copyright regime. This ‘third strike’ (an odd usage in a country without baseball) opens up the possibility of enforcement action by the Copyright Tribunal.

I read something in the last week or so, about the notion of intellectual property potentially opening up a larger discussion of what property is (sorry, no reference — can’t find it). I think this may be right. I won’t go as far as Proudhon and declare that property is theft. However, property is exclusion. We exclude people from using our property, and excludability is one of the criteria for distinguishing public goods from private ones.

We have to remember that exclusion is social enforced. That’s the whole reason you need rules, laws, and ultimately the Copyright Tribunal: you are trying to prevent someone from doing something they are physically able to do. It is physically possible for someone to set up a tent in my front yard, dig a latrine, and camp overnight. But the law (in its majesty) forbids this, and the police will come round and enforce the law if asked.

With intellectual property, it’s the same. This person was physically able to download music (I love the term ‘internet piracy’ — it deserves its own post). The Recording Industry Association of New Zealand, on behalf of the copyright owner, took exception to this and called in the enforcers. They need to have the enforcers and they need to have the rules, or they can’t actually create the exclusion and thus the property.

Eric Crampton asked a really good question last month. If I can lend my CDs, can I lend my back-up files? And if I can lend the files, why can’t I just share them around? The question was very much in the flavour of Zeno’s paradox of the tortoise and Achilles.

This may be the most interesting result of the contemporary focus on IP — as we sort out what it means, will our new understanding spill over into other types of property?


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§ 3 Responses to The IP enclosure movement

  • wellygnome says:

    I’d like to know exactly what 3 files this person downloaded.
    Then I’d like to see when their release date in New Zealand was.
    If they were TV shows protected by some Sky-HBO lock-up, then 3 strikes is nothing more than protectionism for a crap business model.
    It’s using the power of the government to keep a dying revenue stream alive.
    New Zealand, because of the problem of not enough international bandwidth, is not truly connected to the wider world because of data caps which make even legitimate streaming options via VPN (which you can do with NetFlix in under an hour if you can Google) impossible because it would a) chew through so much broadband and eat your cap in a week b) not buffer quickly enough for the YouTube generation.

  • Thanks for hitting that post. It’s one of my favourite recent ones, and I’ve reckoned it’s under-appreciated (by more than I usually reckon my posts are under-appreciated).

    I tend to think there’s a pretty big difference from my camping on your lawn, which prevents you the full enjoyment of your lawn, and my copying the design of your lawn, which doesn’t unless you want to get into weird psychic externalities.

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