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Creators v. consumers

January 14, 2013 - Harry Eagar
The suicide of Internet hacker Aaron Swartz turns out to be a sheep-goat separator.

'Sfunny. Libertarians and rightwingers generally pretend to be in favor of private property rights, libertarians often to the practical exclusion of any other rights -- unless you wave the Internet at 'em.

Then, it's communism for all.

I don't get it.

It always seemed to me that the creation and protection of intellectual property was one of the high points of capitalist organization; and it didn't happen until recently or easily. Charles Dickens, who lived not so long ago, was a prominent victim of poachers and crusader for legal protections for mental capital. As was Irving Berlin even more recently.

To me, it's clear as clear. Schwartz was a thief. Or, rather, not merely a burglar (although he seems to have been that, too) but an ideological patron of the idea that intellectual property should be seized and distributed to each according to his needs without compensation.

Some years ago, I believe it was around 1998 during the height of the boom, I attended a speech on Maui by the chief executive of the company that was pushing Napster. I've forgotten his name but not his message.

It was the same as Abie Hoffman's "Steal This Book." I was appalled. But not one of the three or four hundred other people in the room twitched.

I suppose I was probably the only content-creator in the room, and they were all consumers.

It is only stating the obvious that we creators are going to lose this one. We are outnumbered at least a hundred to one, and victory will go to the big battalions.

This debate, such as it is, has been going on as long as we have been a republic. Thomas Jefferson opined that the greatest benefactor of society was the man who introduced a new crop plant; and he walked the walk: He smuggled upland rice seed out of northern Italy in his coat pockets, a crime that was punishable by death.

As it happened, upland rice cultivation didn't catch on in America, but the model for Internet poaching was established centuries ago with the smuggling of silkworm eggs. Later, in our own history, the Massachusetts postal clerk who devoted his spare time to developing the Concord grape had his work stolen from him.

I've had my work stolen thousands of times. Strictly, my employer's work, since my employment agreement assigned my creative work to the company. Because of the thefts, the company was financially penalized, and my compensation was reduced.

So I do not see Aaron Swartz as a hero, as some do. I see him as a thief.


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