Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bob Barr Libertarian

Former Congressman Bob Barr has left the Republican Party and joined the Libertarian Party, as reported here and there.

This seems like big news.

This follows much disillusion with the Republican Party through much of the ranks of liberals (classical liberals, libertarians, liberaltarians, market liberals, whatever). There's been increasing talk of allying with elements of the Democratic Party, from both sides.

Also, there was a bit of a coup in the Libertarian Party this year. This was healthy because in the years since 1994 the LP has been clinically insane, increasingly so, due to the influence of anarchists. The real issue is not one of principles vs. pragmatism. It is one of liberty vs. anarchy.

Ed Crane, LP Candidate for US President in 1980 and founder of the Cato Institute in 1977, left the LP back in the early 80s. Cato's strategy of course has been brilliant. Indeed all parties should have an independent think tank, in case they become corrupt or gaga. That's the strategy of the Alternative Libérale in France, which has a parallel association Liberté Chérie.

Is Barr a free pirate? Well, he's strong on liberty, which is a start, but off the mark on intellectual monopoly. So, not yet.

I only hope Bob Barr's association with the Libertarian Party helps move the LP towards liberty.

And I hope the LP sets Barr straight on prohibition, the material root of terrorism.

Bonus: Here's a video of Bob Barr at the 2006 LP National Convention in Portland, Oregon, this summer.

Hat tip for video: Eric Sundwall's diary on Daily Kos

Update: Here's the text of a Dec 15 interview of Bob Barr by David Weigel of Reason Magazine.

Update 2: Here's the audio of a Dec 19 interview of Bob Barr by Charles Goyette of KFNX, Phoenix.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Piracy Paradox

The "piracy paradox". Could this be the story generations tell their children regarding the dead end of intellectual monopoly, much like we tell the story of the "tragedy of the commons" now?

Here's the paper The Piracy Paradox: Innovation and Intellectual Property in Fashion Design by Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman. The abstract begins,

The orthodox justification for intellectual property is utilitarian. Advocates for strong IP rights argue that absent such rights copyists will free-ride on the efforts of creators and stifle innovation. This orthodox justification is logically straightforward and well reflected in the law. Yet a significant empirical anomaly exists: the global fashion industry, which produces a huge variety of creative goods without strong IP protection. Copying is rampant as the orthodox account would predict. Yet innovation and investment remain vibrant. Few commentators have considered the status of fashion design in IP law. Those who have almost uniformly criticize the current legal regime for failing to protect apparel designs. But the fashion industry itself is surprisingly quiescent about copying. Firms take steps to protect the value of trademarks, but appear to accept appropriation of designs as a fact of life. This diffidence about copying stands in striking contrast to the heated condemnation of piracy and associated legislative and litigation campaigns in other creative industries.

Why, when other major content industries have obtained increasingly powerful IP protections for their products, does fashion design remain mostly unprotected - and economically successful? The fashion industry is a puzzle for the orthodox justification for IP rights. This paper explores this puzzle. We argue that the fashion industry counter-intuitively operates within a low-IP equilibrium in which copying does not deter innovation and may actually promote it. We call this the piracy paradox.

Looks like some good Thanksgiving reading. How appropriate since the pilgrims experienced the tragedy of the commons with its concomitant famine. Perhaps some creative soul could write a play about how the Pilgrims dealt with the piracy paradox in their world of fashion, fictitiously of course.... There must be a story line there somewhere.

Hat tip: Volokh Conspiracy

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Net Neutrality and the United States Pirate Party

The US Pirate Party has proposed to adopt Net Neutrality as a core issue.

Faction or party?

If this proposal is accepted, the Pirate Party is no longer a party. It becomes a faction.

Why a faction? Because the "solution" abridges our rights to free speech. How's that? Doesn't it do quite the opposite? Doesn't it open up the internet to allow for more free speech? Isn't everyone agreed upon Net Neutrality and how important it is for the future of freedom on the internet?

Freedom of bits

There is another freedom, the freedom of bits. I may accept any bits I want. I may reject any bits I want. I may send out any bits I want. I may pass along any bits I want. This is our right as much as our right to speak freely. In fact, it is a special case of our right to free speech, our right to free discussion, our freedom to listen, and our freedom of the press. Ones and zeroes are the movable type of today's printing presses. And I may have a network which accepts those bits, rejects those bits, and passes those bits along however I choose, in principle.

Please don't misunderstand. I currently believe that an internet that fosters packet neutrality is destined for continued success. How do we handle bandwidth scarcity? I currently agree that paying for bandwidth on the client side is the best way to go. I'd avoid any ISP that would try, after promising too much bandwidth, to remedy its own mistakes by filtering packets based on whether some source had paid extra or not. It's ugly. I expect more from my ISP. That doesn't mean that I would forbid someone from following a different tack. It's important to experiment. I might change my mind. Perhaps there's a novel context down the road where charging the source of data, not the sink, for bandwidth near the sink makes sense. But if some faction comes in and says, "No, there is only one way of doing things, and you may not filter the bits coming through your network in any way," I disagree. If people want to fork the internet, let them fork it. As with an open-source effort, the possibility of forking, ideally rare, fosters a healthy dynamism. There's nothing wrong with defining criteria for a particular standard on this internet or that, but there's a world of difference between social agreement and government diktat.

Noblesse oblige

Lord Tim Berners-Lee says, "What's very important from my point of view is that there is one web," and one ring to rule them all. Will meddlesome regulation lead to capture by the big players? I fear so. My hope lies in technology, decentralization, and competition, not control.

Where a pirate party might focus its attention is on the essentials. While we are distracted, squabbling about Net Neutrality, the government is off auctioning the Wimax spectrum to the big players. It's as if a new Louisiana Purchase has been made, and instead of encouraging millions to homestead the land and thus distributing the land equitably, the government is auctioning it off to the most wealthy and most connected, in huge state-size swathes, and establishing a few lords and ladies, with all the power imbalances that that entails. Let's discuss this as citizens. Why wasn't the spectrum divided up in a more decentralized fashion, perhaps with some element of homesteading? Why did the federal government have to be the sole seller? Do they have the power to do that? Why couldn't citizens themselves have sold it in a variety of ways, some of which might have been guided by a social conscience? Now perhaps we're stuck. And we're stuck, too, with some of the cartelization that may occur because of patent cross-licensing deals. This is some of the nitty-gritty a pirate party might focus on. If Wimax technology is driving the price down to near single digits (8 to 15 dollars) to connect a home in the last mile, let's make sure that there are no artificial barriers to entry put into place, as competition is poised for action. Patent monopoly grants, patent-based cartels, and spectrum homesteading, now there're some essential issues. After all, we pirates do have a history of marauding the radio spectrum :-) One caveat - the issue of property rights in spectrum is not trivial.

A sea of rights

Popular sovereignty is limited by rights, rights so vast we can't write them all down, which is why we have the Ninth Amendment. Government powers are islands in a sea of rights. Our rights are not islands in a sea of government powers. Where is it in the Constitution that we can play the music we like, or go to bed anytime we wish? It's right there in the 9th Amendment. So is my right of free bits. So is my right to freely network. As pirates, let's sail on our sea of rights.

When I first read the Statement of Principles (v. 3.0) of the Swedish Pirate Party, I felt hopeful. When the US Pirate Party website added advocacy of Net Neutrality, I turned disheartened. If this proposal is officially adopted tomorrow, the USPP risks becoming a pirate faction.

UPDATE: I'm not the only one to suggest that pirate parties explore the issue of spectrum rights. Over at Pirate Party International, Ole Husgaard of Denmark writes,
I think we have two problems here that it makes sense for pirate parties to speak about.

The first problem is on the allocation of the radio spectrum. Back when we had a read-only culture (ie. running a radio station was expensive) this would make sense. Today a low- or medium-power radio transmitter is so inexpensive that everybody can run a radio station. But the radio spectrum is still administered to ensure that small personal radio stations are not allowed, so this keeps the read-only culture and stops the read-write culture from entering the radio spectrum. And worse: The allocation of the radio spectrum is probably being used to block certain political viewpoints in an undemocratic way.

The other problem is on the receiver side. You have probably all heard the stories about North Korea where you may own a radio receiver, but only if it is locked so that it can only receive the official national radio station. Something similar is about to happen in the west under the disguise of "copyright protection". This is part of the DRM problem, but worse as some forces want to make the sale and possession of non-DRM receiving equipment illegal. For example, see an old article on the "problems" with GNU radio (a universal software radio that can pick up any signal).

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

"Do What You Want 'Cause a Pirate is Free"

I found some fellow travellers....

For those of you who also like to "run and jump all day", here are the lyrics to this catchy song, You Are a Pirate, from LazyTown.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Free Pirate is born

What is a free pirate?

Free pirate is a political term (that I just made up!). It describes a person who

For more details, I recommend two books:

Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty by Randy Barnett, Professor of Legal Theory at Georgetown University (see pp. 259-260, 355)

Against Intellectual Monopoly (draft) by Michele Boldrin, Professor of Economics at University of Minnesota, and David K. Levine, Professor of Economics at Washington University in St. Louis

Boldrin and Levine write:
For centuries, the battle for economic progress has identified with the battle for free trade. In the decades to come, the battle for economic progress will identify, more and more, with the battle against intellectual monopoly. As in the battle for free trade, the first step must consist in destroying the intellectual foundations of the obscurantist postion. Back then the mercantilist fallacy taught that, to become wealthy, a country must regulate trade and strive for trade surpluses. Today, the same fallacy teaches that without intellectual monopoly innovations would be impossible. Our goal here is to demolish that glass house.
-- Against Intellectual Monopoly, Chapter 1, p. 12

The idea for this blog arose from two recent posts and a movie. In the first post, I used the term Barnett pirate. In the second, the term liberal pirate came to mind. Finally, while watching Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest last Saturday, there was a bit of dialogue where the adjective free was applied to pirate. What can I say? It clicked.

This blog has a wiki, from which I hope a short book will grow.

UPDATE: For more details, see Why I am an Abolitionist