Law in the Internet Society
The following is my adaptation of "The Petition of the Candlemakers," the famous satire by Frederic Bastiat.

A Petition

presented by

the Manufacturers of Media, Designers of Software, and Producers of Other Digitally Distributable Goods,

and from Procurers of Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks, and Other Intellectual Property Protections.

To the Honorable Members of the United States Congress


You are on the right track. You reject these abstract theories of zero marginal cost. You concern yourselves mainly with the fate of the producer. You wish to free him from free competition, that is, to reserve the software market for software industry.

We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a rival who apparently allows production under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of software and media that it floods the market at incredibly low prices; from the moment it appeared, our sales have diminished, consumers gone, and a branch of American industry with immense economic importance is all at once reduced to complete stagnation. This rival, which is none other than the Internet, is waging war on us so mercilessly we suspect it is being stirred up against us by the perfidious Stallman (excellent diplomacy nowadays!), particularly because the Internet does not hound him so viciously.

We ask you to be so good as to increase control on the Internet to constrain and prosecute the distribution of any and all forms of free software, media, or information transmitted digitally, and continue to allow the private ownership of knowledge in its myriad forms. In short, continue limiting the use of all of the electromagnetic spectrum, fiberoptics, coaxial cable, satellite, telephone lines, or cantennas through which a bitstream is wont to enter, if such use might injure the digital industries, which, we are proud to say, have filled both the country's your campaign's coffers throughout recent history.

First, regulating and monitoring use of the Internet is imperative to curtailing the effusion of free software, thereby creating a demand for proprietary software. What industry in the United States will not ultimately be encouraged as a result of the elimination of our pernicious free software? If Microsoft could not protect its Office software, what would support the advertising, packaging, and technical support industries that are currently paid by Microsoft's cash revenues?

If America consumes more proprietary software, we shall see the expansion of jobs in the industries of engineering, programming, marketing, technical assistance, and sales. After all, how else could one pay the costs of such services, lacking revenues from selling a product? These other branches of industry, which provide us so much economic benefit, are neither needed nor patronized by the Internet and its free software spawn, much to America's economic detriment.

We urge you to uphold the patent system, which protects our rightful ownership of the ideas we were the first to file with the Patent Office, regardless of whether or not we had taken the time to develop a working proof of concept. As early as 1880, you wisely foresaw that quickly changing industries, such as ours, cannot be burdened by these trivialities, or we would suffer a death by overregulation. You prudently saw that producers need assurance that they will have a monopoly on their ideas, or the ideas would never be had in the first place. Research and Development does not grow on trees!

Indeed, how could such industries as operating systems, web browsers, investigative news coverage, legal publishing, pharmaceuticals, media players, music, film, or television recover their costs without prohibiting free redistribution?

What other incentive could one have to produce than the hope for a tidy return on one's labor and creativity, ensured by patent and copyright? We must instill fear, uncertainty, and doubt in those pernicious rogues who would use such software as BitTorrent to steal the returns of intellectual labor. Worse yet, youths can evade litigation that would compensate for these losses, further diminishing national industry!

We anticipate some objections; but there is not a single one of them that you have not picked up from the musty web sites of the advocates of free software. Will you tell us that, though we may gain by this protection, America will not gain at all, because the consumer will bear the expense?

Indeed, you yourselves have anticipated this objection. When told that the consumer has a stake in the profusion of communications on the Internet, "Yes," you replied, "but the communications producers must have a stake in their control, so that industry is not unnecessarily destroyed."

"But," one might say, "the producer and the user of digital content are one and the same person. If content and software can be given freely, the user will be more productive. If users are productive, they will be able to produce for others' consumption." Very well, but if you grant a monopoly in the production of digital goods, developers shall expend large amounts of money investing in industry; moreover, having become rich, they will consume a great deal and spread prosperity into other industry by purchasing competitors, thereby re-investing money in the economy.

Will you say that the Internet allows gratuitous gift of humanity like free software, and that to reject such gifts would be to reject knowledge and wealth under the pretext of encouraging the means of acquiring it?

Remember that up to now you have always excluded free distribution of intellectual property because it allows gratuitous misappropriation of intellectual property, turning labor to slavery. You deny these workers a fair wage by allowing them to enter into unconscionable and viral licenses requiring that they provide their work for all to see and appropriate for their own use through the Internet!

To take a final example, when a product loses its state-enforced monopoly and can be competitively sold at near marginal costs, there is a gratuitous gift of someone's labor, which would reduce the need for further investment and employment! The total elimination of our treasured digital industries is sure to result when the donor, like the Internet, imposes on us zero marginal cost!

-- RickSchwartz - 28 Oct 2008

I think this is excellent, Rick.

I envy you the advantage of the material you have chosen to adapt. The Communist Manifesto isn't funny in itself, and the principle of consistency to stylistic commitments inhibits the introduction of jokes, for example, so the effort must rest entirely on the quality of the ideas and their ironic resonance. You allow yourself to succeed with the reader a little more cheaply.

Which you absolutely do. In the first place, you make a crucial advantage for yourself by proper use of hypertext. Marx & Engels, or Bastiat himself--or, to take another very literate source of possible analysis, Adam Smith, whose style (not so uncommon among great economic thinkers as it is among economists) well repays learning to imitate--must make do with footnotes. Because you link correctly, in a style natural to the flow of your prose, your text functions as a real part of the web, rather than as a machine that the reader must operate. I hope everyone else will learn how to write hypertext from you.

Because C.F. Bastiat is not quite as well known as Marx & Engels, and in particular there is no canonical English translation against whose familiar resonances one must occasionally contend, you can allow yourself some basic freedom in the selection of your style. Had you not done so, had you adopted Bastiat's mocking adoption of the style of French legislative oratory under the July Monarchy, you would be as unreadable for contemporary readers as the translation you cite. I am surprised, however, that you deny yourself the pleasure of a manure joke, which even Bastiat--occupant though he be of a more repressed society--need not forego.

Satire is harder than funny is. It is risky to attempt. Bravo.

-- EbenMoglen - 15 Nov 2008



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r3 - 15 Nov 2008 - 15:36:03 - EbenMoglen
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