Astron Argon

On the Problem of Intellectual Property in Thelema

Comments on: Rethinking Intellectual Property:
History, Theory & Economics

Stephan Kinsella of the Ludwig von Mises Institute

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Anyone who participates in the world of ideas and the generation of human letters strives to share those ideas and find the occupation of this as an ideal career option. And in a small community, such as the Thelemic community, profitability on publication or the demand for professorship is quite limited if not wholly nonexistent; right from the outset. The ideas themselves may be the product of the more noble strivings of the human soul in the greater quest for virtue in life, but their importance to human evolution has become all too obscure in our contemporary, materialist and consumer-oriented society. Stephen Kinsella’s observations on the libertarian movement that developed from Renaissance thought and leading to the American Revolution have a profound bearing on the Thelemic and larger Occult movement today.

That ideas can be owned is a severe restriction on the development of human knowledge; a restraint against the will of society; individually and collectively. If I can’t use ideas readily available to me in order to contribute to and develop those ideas without first having to pay a fee or royalty, one of the worst forms of restriction is at play—censorship.

In previous decades libertarians viewed intellectual property as a boring and technical area of the law, the province of legal specialists. They also assumed it to be a legitimate, if arcane, type of property in a capitalist, free-market society. After all, it's in the Constitution, and Ayn Rand blessed it. But we don't ignore it anymore, and we don't take its legitimacy for granted. We can't. The injustices of IP have multiplied in the Internet age and are staring us in the face.

The advent of the Internet, digital information, and easy file-sharing and duplication have been met with ever-more draconian enforcement of the state's IP law, and with incessant lobbying for legislation to make IP stronger and last longer. Just as the state wants to tax everything that moves, intellectual properteers want to cover ever-more subjects of life with IP protection. But everyone — the young, students, and libertarians — copies files, and we all regularly hear stories about insane patent and copyright lawsuits. Single moms and college students are sued for file-sharing. The IP barons seek three-strikes-and-you're-out laws banishing accused offenders from the Internet for life. They seek international enforcement of their national monopoly rights, to harass street vendors in third-world countries. The legislators, who are in their pockets, have already outlawed the possession of devices that might be used to crack encryption codes. Their propaganda — in TV commercials, video games, magazine ads, and unskippable warnings at the beginning of DVD movies — hectors kids and college students about how uncool it is to copy.

By way of examples from our own experience, in two specific incidents, we are prevented from publishing on the web, two works, one by Crowley and Motta, and one by Motta alone (and that we ourselves have commented upon). These two men are dead, but have had their legacy victimized by organizations that have a legal hold on these documents and are engaged in thwarting the will of the two authors as much as restricting the flow of Gnosis to publication.

We hear regularly about multimillion- or even billion-dollar patent lawsuits, and about the millions of dollars spent by corporations on patent attorneys and litigators just to cross-license with each other, leaving smaller companies outside the walls of the barriers to entry erected on these patent arsenals. In the name of IP, books are banned, movies are ordered destroyed, singers are prevented from singing, car owners prevented from photographing their own cars, churches are prohibited from having Super Bowl parties, and imports of watches and reimports of drugs are blocked. And a little mouse keeps getting his life extended, thanks to copyright — from the original 14 years to over 100. Trumped-up charges of IP infringement are used as an excuse by the government to investigate political opponents. IP may still be arcane, but it's not boring anymore. Scary and outrageous, maybe, but not boring.

In the hypothetical, let’s say that I’ve evoked a certain, well-known spirit that then speaks prophecy of an import for the entire human race. But I refuse to allow the publication of the prophecy without first exacting a fee from my readers. One of them pays the fee, but then publishes that prophecy on the Internet. Do I really have the right to stop this? Do I own these words from this spirit? In actuality, I became the original censor with the claim to property right for this communication. And what the spirit freely gave me, I then coveted; by placing an artificial value upon it.

And should this be any surprise? Copyright is rooted in censorship. No wonder it still leads to censorship today. Patent law finds its origins in mercantilist monopoly grants, and even legalized plunder — letters patent were used to legalize piracy in the 16th century — making it ironic for IP to be used against modern-day "pirates" who are not real pirates at all.

Once IP is seen this way, the scales fall from one's eyes. It's a transformative moment in one's libertarian life, akin to the moment when one finally admits to himself that even the minimal state is criminal and thus adopts anarchism. Realizing that IP is not part of a free-market order makes possible a reassessment of aspects of libertarianism, economics, or social thought hitherto neglected or seen confusingly through the IP haze.

We have become conditioned into a mercantilist culture that is more popularly known as the military-industrial complex with a government seen to engage in corporate socialism. Living within such a system has fostered a conditioning onto our minds that can limit what we see; not unlike religious conditioning. But what's worse, Thelemites number at best, three thousand people in a world of nearly eight billion; an anthill in contemporary society. For those to waste so much energy scouring the web to see if anyone is re-publishing their writings is not only moronic, but only serves to keep Thelemic philosophy on the fringe–it's plain counterproductive. And what possible economic hurt could these 'copyright enforcers' be aggregating?–nada!

The history of IP is illuminating. For example, it was not simply invented by infallible, well-intentioned, protolibertarian framers of the Constitution, but originated in censorship and mercantilism. Seen in this light, IP is seen as another mercantilist-corporatist state intervention in the free market. And one simply must have a sound, coherent, and libertarian understanding of property rights, the nature of homesteading, and the nature of contractual exchange, to understand the IP issue. Or, rather, in wrapping your head around IP, you hone and deepen your understanding of property rights, and make new connections. In so doing, new insights become possible, indeed inevitable.

ndeed, one of the most important spiritual practices is to get around taboo; that which is conditioned into us and of which we may even be unconscious. One way to do this is to rethink why one publishes. Does one publish to bring recognition to oneself? Or is one more concerned with the ideas that one has generated; seeking intercourse with other idea generators? The former is more a parasite; a shut-up, more interested in mundane rewards, with the latter being a creator interested in the ideas themselves.

Moreover, IP is really virtual property; as unreal as say the planet Klingon; and would you buy real-estate on that planet? All creativity is but a rearrangement of current materials and ideas (such as words and letters); supporting the idea that there really is nothing new under the Sun. This even applies to the arts; if I as an artist record a song I wrote and then put it on a CD and sell it, and someone else comes along liking my song and copies my CD to re-sell it, have I really been harmed? No! All that's being sold is the plastic ware; that's a material product.

Indeed, the larger distribution of my song would only serve to make me more popular. I can then sell 'authentic–from the composer' versions of my song. This is why the Grateful Dead has always authorized all bootlegging of their music. So one may ask, what if they take my song and put their name on it? Well, eventually, such ignoble behavior will cost such a manufacturer/distributor credulity, which in turn will make it very difficult for them to sell their wares.

But really best of all, I don't have to waste my time and energy looking for copyright cheats and I don't have to deal with the tremendous self-destruction that worrying about copyright cheats will bring to me. I would in effect, come to a greater state of personal liberty. And I might hope that others continue to copy and distribute my work; that my work might reach that many more ears. Please notice, there are no copyright notices on these websites.

For more on this, cf. our egroup conversation:

Appending the A.'.A.'. Editorial

Love is the law, love under will.