The Origins and Intentions of Copyright

In a victory for media Goliaths, the Supreme Court recently ruled that TV-streaming service Aereo “perform[ed] … copyrighted works publicly” and therefore violated copyright law. The ghost of Grokster haunts us. Napster rolls in its grave. Copyright’s muscular hands have once again strangled innovation.

What is the purpose of copyright law? Conventional wisdom asserts that it protects the rights of authors, spurs creativity, fights plagiarism, and benefits the public as a whole. The Aereodecision, however, clearly benefits big media without advancing any of copyright’s ostensible aims. A look into the origins and intentions of copyright will demonstrate that this is neither a fluke nor a misunderstanding.

The roots of copyright lie in the soil of state-granted privilege. Invented in 1450, the Gutenberg printing press empowered writers throughout the Western world. Authors rejoiced, as their works could now be disseminated as never before. That included potentially seditious or sacrilegious works, much to the chagrin of the State.

To combat the threat, governments cozied up with publishing houses. In 1556 in England, the stationers’ guild became royally chartered as the London Company of Stationers. Along with the charter came a quid pro quo agreement. The company was entrusted with the obligation of “seizing, taking, burning … books or things … contrary to the form of any statute, act, or proclamation.” In exchange, it enjoyed an exclusive monopoly over the printing of all materials — old and new — throughout the kingdom.

Initially organized under the Roman Catholic rule of Queen Mary I, the Stationers Company spent much of its time censoring Protestant works. Upon Mary’s death and the crowning of Elizabeth, religious affiliations flip-flopped. The whimsical nature of the monarchy didn’t bother the Stationers, however. Both the company and the crown reaped the benefits of their insidious arrangement for decades. As University of Georgia law professor L. Ray Patterson puts it, “The power to burn offending books was a benefit to the sovereign (a weapon against unlawful publications), and a boon to the stationers (a weapon against competition).”

When Parliament became more liberal, it allowed the Stationers’ monopolistic privilege to expire. As a result, the Stationers became quite worried. No longer would they enjoy an obscene economic advantage.

Censorship to the point of book burning was not a high priority for the British government. Parliament ignored the Stationers’ initial pleas for statutory protection on the grounds of censorship.

The Stationers recognized that authors needed a publishing company. Dissemination of a work to any degree required a printing press, ancillary equipment, and substantial labor hours. The vast majority of individuals lacked the immense capital required to produce salable copies. With this in mind, the Stationers concocted the argument that authors should own the words and expressions they create.

The Stationers understood that authors eager for dissemination would sell their new property to publishers. Even so, it seemed like a liberal argument. Indeed, as Ludwig von Mises once wrote, “The program of liberalism, therefore, if condensed into a single word, would have to read: property….” Parliament accepted the Stationers’ new argument, and the first Western copyright law soon followed.

Read the rest at the Future of Freedom Foundation…

Sorry, Obama, But Legalizing Pot Is About Jobs

In an interview with Vice News released Monday, President Obama stated that marijuana legalization “shouldn’t be young people’s biggest priority” and that they “should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace.” He then went on to intimate that ending the prohibition of other, harder drugs would be unreasonable. But in truth, what’s unreasonable is the notion that marijuana prohibition – and drug prohibition at large — has nothing to do with the economy and jobs.

Since the time President Nixon officially declared a “War on Drugs” in 1971, the United States has spent well over $1 trillion enforcing drug laws and incarcerating drug offenders. But this is just part of the equation and there are other costs incurred from drug prohibition, namely productivity losses in the labor sector. For the year 2007 alone, the Department of Justice put that price tag at a total of $48 million, in regard to both market and household productivity losses as a direct result of the incarceration of drug offenders.

The reason that these costs are so exorbitant is due in large part to the accelerated rate of incarceration that resulted when the nation’s draconian drug laws were established. Since the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970, the US prison population has surged 700 percent, leading to a populace full of convicts. Today, over one in every four American adults has a criminal record. Not only has this resulted in a number of non-violent criminals stigmatized for their past, but it has severely impacted their future.

Read the rest at Townhall…

Young Voters Aren’t Buying What Ted Cruz Is Selling

Ted Cruz kicked off his presidential run on Monday with a speech at Liberty University. And while the Texas senator hailed liberty as the goal of his campaign, his view of liberty doesn’t comport with that of most Millennials.

Thomas Jefferson defined liberty as “unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.” That is a timeless sentiment with which most young people largely agree. Today’s youth increasingly support economic freedom, individual liberty, and a peaceful foreign policy.

Unfortunately, Cruz only embraces the same limited view of liberty as failed Republican candidates of the past.

Were Cruz truly a principled champion of free markets, he would seek to advance a more open immigration process, thus allowing worthy immigrant workers to freely trade their labor with American businesses. Instead Cruz makes Latinos the scapegoats of his attack on illegal immigration and grandstands about building a wall along the southern border.

Moreover, Cruz isn’t friendly to personal liberties, as are most forward-looking Millennials. The Texas senator wants to restore the Justice Department’s prosecution of non-violent marijuana users in states where it is legal, despite the fact that more than 60 percent of young Republicans support marijuana legalization.

Worse is the senator’s demagogic opposition to same-sex marriage. Almost 70 percent of Millennials support marriage equality.

The Millennial spirit is decidedly cosmopolitan and forward-looking; the principles of liberty happen to be so as well. But Cruz’s campaign seems to prefer a cloaked agenda of freedom for me but not for thee.

Read the rest at Rare…