Kinsella on Liberty Podcast: Episode 389.
I appeared on Patrick Smith’s show Disenthrall last night (July 15, 2022), along with Larken Rose, to discuss the morality of piracy of copyrighted content. Larken had posted a video earlier the same day (see below) regarding the HBO series The Anarchists, where he criticized the libertarians who were gleefully pirating the show (downloading unauthorized copies to watch for free) instead of subscribing to HBO to watch it legally. Larken is against copyright but still thinks it’s wrong for people to “freeload” like this–he says it’s a “poophead” thing todo. I disagree that it’s wrong and mentioned this in a series of Tweets.
At one point I suggested that not only is piracy and downloading not wrong, but you could make a case that a libertarian activist author who paywalls his books and doens’t put a free PDF of it online is being a jerk, and Larken said something like “I take back my previous comment that you are not a commie!” But when I complimented Keith Knight for releasing his recent book online,1 and said that I release all my work online and CC0, Larken sheepishly said he also puts most or a lot of his work online or without copyright. So does that mean he’s also “a commie”?
After Larken left, Patrick and I discussed another issue, so I am breaking it apart into two segments. This episode includes only the initial discussion about piracy with Larken and Patrick.
Larken Rose video re Piracy:
Youtube of show:
Odysee version of show:
From a Facebook post:
This description is pretty funny:
“At one point I suggested that not only is piracy and downloading not wrong, but you could make a case that a libertarian activist author who paywalls his books and doens’t put a free PDF of it online is being a jerk, and Larken said something like “I take back my previous comment that you are not a commie!” But when I complimented Keith Knight for releasing his recent book online,1 and said that I release all my work online and CC0, Larken sheepishly said he also puts most or a lot of his work online or without copyright. So does that mean he’s also “a commie”?”
“Sheepishly”? Um, okay. But more importantly, someone choosing to give away the fruits of their OWN efforts–which you, me, Keith, and others have all done a lot of–is not the same as implying that someone ELSE has an obligation to give away for free the fruits of HIS efforts, and that he’s a jerk if he doesn’t. Yeah, that’s kinda entitlement-mentality commie-think.
I admire my fellow libertarians, like you, who devote their time and energy and resources to promoting liberty. When someone writes a book that helps to promote or explain the ideas of liberty, I appreciate and admire that. When they make if easily available online in PDF or whatever form, so that more people can easily access it, instead of paywalling it, I admire them for doing that. When you intentionally make it hard for people to get exposed to what you consider to be important ideas about liberty, I think that’s shitty. This opinion is similar to your own apparently merely æsthetic preference that people not download free information. I prefer that libertarian authors put a PDF online so that poorer people and third worlders can easily access it. I assure you this personal preference does not imply anything remotely connected to socialism or communism, and to suggest so is ridiculous.
To be fair, Larken has made a career and online presence by copying and regurgitating ideas from others vastly more intelligent than him.
His defense is merely a projection of that.
Sid Smith I see nothing wrong with repackaging and spreading ideas you got from others. This is of course part of the problem with IP. Larken seems to accept a lot of the standard IP reasoning, like the idea that you “create” things and you are entitled somehow to a return on the “fruit of your labor.” He speaks in metaphors and ill-defined terms like “poophead” etc. and simply assets “well I think you’re a poophead if you download The Anarchists when you could just get it legitimately for a couple bucks.” It’s just an assertion not backed by anything, and it leans on the same reasoning that IP advocates use. He kept analogizing copying pirated files to using someone’s car without their permission. No. This misses the whole point. I’m actually not quite sure why he’s against IP law, given the things he said–the sneering comments about people “free-riding” — as if there’s anything wrong with this! We all “free-ride” on the past and current efforts of others. This is a good thing bout human society, not something to sneer at.
Stephan Kinsella I fully agree with you. I see nothing wrong with it either. I didn’t even mind his book. I’ve just always had a distaste for the guy, for the exact reason you explained.
He has always used really bad analogies and metaphors that he thinks are similar, but are false equivalencies. Which, most metaphors and analogies are, there is always nuance missed through them, which is why I hate when they are used.
The best part of that interchange is the puzzled look on his face when you brought up the poor African who streams something. He doubled down, which was impressive, but I feel he knew the answer, and where you were going but just didn’t want to admit it.
Sid Smith Yes, it’s a weird elitist American- and rich-western-centric perspective that just wants only the rich westerners to be able to learn about liberty and free market economics. I care about liberty for all humans.
Stephan Kinsella I think it’s worse than that. I think he actively doesn’t care about anyone who can’t further his own narrative, it’s evident by what I’ve seen of him being challenged.
This is why I respect you within the libertarian movement. You are one of few people who built their libertarian philosophy, not based upon need to provide income, but based upon logic and reason, because, like you explained in the video, you already make income in a career separate from content. I think this is a more, pure approach to philosophy, because it removes survival bias from philosophy.I hope this makes sense, I can readjust what I mean if needed.
Stephan Kinsella most of my ideas are from other people. Imagine not being able to share them…
Patents “parcel up a stream of creative thought into a series of distinct claims, each of which is to constitute the basis of a separately owned monopoly. But the growth of human knowledge cannot be divided up into such sharply circumscribed phases . . . Mental progress interacts at every stage with the whole network of human knowledge and draws at every moment on the most varied and dispersed stimuli. Invention is a drama enacted on a crowded stage.” –Michael Polanyi, 1944
Stephan Kinsella With all due respect, I didn’t like the reasoning in the debate that it isn’t your problem if someone has a bad business model. Although that is true, it doesn’t get one off the hook for not being a “poophead”, which I define as someone who makes life worse for those around him even though his actions are legal. For example, if someone is drowning in a lake and all one has to do is toss him a life preserver, I would call someone a poophead that didn’t do it for the reason that his drowning, “isn’t my problem. I’m too busy reading my book.” He has no legal obligation to throw it, and it isn’t his problem, but he is still a poophead in my book.
It is the same thing with the drive-in movie theatres that were mentioned. The people who watched them without paying made the companies change their business model to using sound from the people’s own car speakers instead of projecting it. If a company had installed an amazing sound system that costs $100,000, that is no longer possible to use and a person with crappy car speakers has to suffer with those instead. The people who watched without paying have made the lives of those around them worse, even though what they did should be legal and the business model isn’t their problem. Them not making the business model their problem, is why they are poopheads.
Erik Malin “I didn’t like the reasoning in the debate that it isn’t your problem if someone has a bad business model. Although that is true,”
Correct. It is true.“it doesn’t get one off the hook for not being a “poophead”, which I define as someone who makes life worse for those around him even though his actions are legal.”I agree. But Larken did not establish that there is anything wrong with downloading information. At most, you could argue there is a mild obligation to support and not freeload off of those whose work you support and benefit from, if you can afford it. David Kelley argues a variant of this in his book on benevolence: https://www.amazon.com/Unrugged…/dp/1577240006 . I do not disagree with this. One ought to support those who are doing good work we benefit from and want to see continue. But this does NOT mean you have any obligation to buy into some stupid fascist monopolistic copyright-based extortion scheme. Let’s say I feel like kicking a few bucks–say, $5–towards the documentarians. Why should I buy a $20 HBO subscription? Esp. when almost none of that will go to them anywya. It’s just an inane argument.Remember, Larken is the one who stepped up and decided to make a whole video making a positive moral pronouncement: that it is shitty for people to download the Anarchists for free. He is making a positive claim, and he bears the burden of proof. He has not satisfied it.“For example, if someone is drowning in a lake and all one has to do is toss him a life preserver, I would call someone a poophead that didn’t do it for the reason that his drowning, “isn’t my problem. I’m too busy reading my book.””I agree but this is not analogous at all to my argument.“He has no legal obligation to throw it, and it isn’t his problem, but he is still a poophead in my book.”the fact that it’s shitty to be so callous in that context, does not mean that it’s shitty to download a pirated movie file. Not-saving the drowning person does harm him. But downloading public information harms no one.“It is the same thing with the drive-in movie theatres that were mentioned. The people who watched them without paying made the companies change their business model to using sound from the people’s own car speakers instead of projecting it.”No they didn’t. They didn’t “make” them. The theater owner decided it was worth it to incur the costs of exclusion to sell more tickets. There is nothing immoral at all about free-riding; we all do this all the time. The implicit presumption here is something is wrong with free-riding. Bullshit. If I drive down the streets of a rich neighborhood I might enjoy looking at their nice homes, architecture, and gardens. I am free riding. So the hell what?“If a company had installed an amazing sound system that costs $100,000, that is no longer possible to use and a person with crappy car speakers has to suffer with those instead.”So what? That’s life.“The people who watched without paying have made the lives of those around them worse,”I disagree 100%. If I put up a big outdoor movie screen in my front yard and play a movie on it for my kid’s birthday party, and people right across the street can see it, they are *doing nothing wrong*. If I have a nice rose garden and neighbors love to see it, they are doing nothing wrong by admiring and enjoying looking at it. I am making it possible for them to “Free-ride.” THEY are not the ones doing anything wrong by taking advantage of something I made possible for them!! Suppose I put up a little box and say “please donate $5 if you like my rose garden to help me defray costs.” This is a bit typical libertairan povertarian beggar and pathetic, but suppose a few people chip in. But others don’t. they are doing nothing wrong if they say “you’re fricking weird if you think I’m going to donate to your goddamn rose garden, why don’t you mind your own business and I’ll spend my money as I see fit, don’t expect me to subsidize your grifter ass”” even though what they did should be legal and the business model isn’t their problem. Them not making the business model their problem, is why they are poopheads.”You have not argued that people downloading files are shitty. You have only said that some things that are legal are also shitty. We all know this. But not everything that is legal is shitty!
AGAIN, you and Larken have the burden of showing WHY downloading publicly avialable information is in any way wrong or shitty. You have not met it. Your arguments seem to be vary metaphorical, intuitionist, vague, non-rigorous, not well defined, incoherent. For example you think there is an obligation to charitably support people like this. Fine–maybe there is; it doesn’t mean you should buy an HBO subscription! And you seem to think free-riding is immoral. It’s not!! Larken even said some poor kid in Chad living on $10/year is being shitty for having the temerity to download and watch some Western documentary without paying for it! Outrageous! This is the result of this IP mentality, thinking you have some claim over the “fruits of your labor” or your “intellectual creations,” as Larken seems to think, which is completely wrong.
Erik Malin Suppose it’s before the smartphone era, we only have feature phones like blackberry etc. I come up with a touch-screen phone like the iphone. I sell it and I put up a sign, “I invented the smartphone; I demand that no one else make a similar phone, this is stealing my creation; even though I can’t stop you legally (since unfortunately in this libertarian society there is no patent law!) I think everyone will see that it would be ‘shitty’ of you to compete with me by making an Android smartphone. after all if you do that I’ll face free market competition and won’t be able to charge monopoly prices so I’ll suffer.” I mean would this bullshit make any fucking sense? Larken is arguing for a private, ostracism-based version of copyright. Why not patent law too? IT’s all ridiculous.
- Keith Knight, ed., The Voluntaryist Handbook: A Collection of Essays, Excerpts, and Quotes (2022; pdf). [↩]