In Liberty No. 176 there are two quotations from Herbert Spencer, the first claiming new knowledge as private property, and the second discussing the probability of independent discoveries as a reason for limiting the inventor’s monopoly. I regard Mr. Tucker’s reply in the same number as being satisfactory, but there is perhaps occasion for a review of the alleged property in ideas and of copyright in every form, from the point of view of individual possession as true property versus societary invasion of the individual to establish an alleged property.
My thoughts are my property as the air in my lungs is my property. When I publish my ideas, they become the property of as many persons as comprehend them. If any person wishes to live by imparting his ideas in exchange for labor, I have nothing to say against his doing so and getting coöperative protection without invading the persons and property of myself and my allies. We will take care, if we can, that he and his party do not invade our houses, stop our printing-presses, and seize our books. Mr. Spencer is welcome to all the property in ideas that he can erect and maintain without government. No one can speak or write, and yet have the same advantage as if he were silent, plus the advantage of a market for his lecture or his book, even if he sell but one copy. But whatever he can do by contract, coöperation, and boycotting,—that is, by the means of equal liberty,—let him do at his pleasure.
When Spencer claims the
exclusive use of his original ideas, I am interested to know how he purposes of enforcing such claim. I do not admit it. The mere fact that the idea was original with him does not have an effect to debar me from using it after he communicates it to me. I do not invade any privacy, but, when he either sells or gives me knowledge, it is mine. It is simply impossible for him to have property in me,—in the restraint of me so that I must not use my pen, my paper, and Mr. Tucker’s type with Mr. Tucker’s consent;—that is to say, all this is impossible without tyranny. The terms equal freedom, if construed to mean an equal degree of freedom and an equal degree of denial of freedom,—that is, less than full freedom,—become a mockery of what I understand by equal freedom. I understand by it no privileged order of persons, no privilege except by personal consent. And here is the point: if I undertake to limit my conceivable action, I do so in the exercise of my freedom to choose or refuse alliance with others. Further, while choosing as wise and congenial to outlaw the robber, the thief, and the murderer, in asking only voluntary adhesion to the Anarchistic compact we recognize that adhesion is an exercise of freedom. I would be understood that property, in the alleged invasion of which I may be taken, is to be given no idealistic extension. Otherwise I will not sign the compact, for the terms equal liberty will mean no more than reciprocal invasion.
This result follows: there are two associations where there would have been one. Owing to Mr. Yarros’s association demanding for authors a prohibition upon printers, perhaps many authors adhere to it; but the printers will probably adhere to the same association as myself. I can understand that men who feel that their property is invaded will retaliate, but I do not understand how the authors are going to retaliate successfully against the printers and readers. I know that the pensioners regard their incomes as property and are prepared to keep themselves saddled upon the taxpayers, and it is possible that some pensions have been given for services which some of the taxpayers would willingly contribute something to reward, but only as a voluntary contribution. On a claim to exact the pensions, the issue depends upon the decision of those who pay them.
Anarchism has to face the claims of people who have put the evidences of past labor into government bonds and land investments as well as patent and other royalties. It is very important then to settle the question: what constitutes property?
I take a copyrighted book and copy it. I give or sell the copy to another. He reads it. He might or might not have bought the author’s edition if I had never existed to draw his attention to the work. All that I do in the matter is done in my own room and with my own property.
The author does not know of my action, and cannot, by any inspection of his property, discover that any part is missing. Does not the analysis show that the claim of immaterial literary property is a claim of property in other men’s production? True that but for the author the book would not be there for me to copy, but true also that I have not contracted with any man to give him a power of thrusting his partnership upon me, he doing something which has cost him certain labor and in return taking a general injunction upon us all, from which it is not impossible that he will make ten thousand times the amount that his labor would have made. This, if we permit, he makes out of us by the combination of a certain amount of labor with some fortunate idea and our belief in allowing immaterial property. Do we not all see that here are the elements of exploitation of man by man? And under Anarchism will not the authors’ association be so small and the free copyright association so large that the former will find it expedient to disband on making some terms for consideration that will give the author a reasonable return for his labor, not at all a recognized right to make all he can by the means of a social prohibition? His own individual prohibition would mostly be impotent.
To steal is to take by stealth,—without the knowledge and consent of the owner. As long as Spencer has an idea in his brain, it is his, and it is not mine until it is in my brain. I do not get it by stealth if he publishes it. I shall then print his idea in his own words; make an exact copy of his book, with his name on the title-page, if it suits me best to do so.
If the printer may not copy new books, of course the shoemaker may not copy new shoes. But that would be the denial of liberty. The equality would be in the denial and frustration of liberty, not in the liberty. There is also denial of property where there is denial of liberty. The new shoe or the new book has superseded the old ones, and the shoemaker or printer with materials and tools in hand must copy what is in demand or starve. If he be not permitted to use his tools and his material in fashioning any goods that he knows how to fashion, and chooses to fashion, his liberty and his property are frustrated at one stroke. The old forms are no longer marketable. The choice is between these two: making him the slave of the man of new ideas or leaving him a free man. If the man of new ideas kept his new ideas to himself, the shoemaker or printer would at least have work, for the public would be content with fresh supplies of what it had before.
Ask for some agreement or arrangement which will secure a reward to the inventor or author, but do not ask for recognition of exclusive property in ideas when they have been made common, for that is falsehood, contradiction in terms. Ask for reward in any form rather than by the stale, execrable device of preventing production,—a method radically contrary to liberty.
Liberty for the printer and the shoemaker puts them in the same boat, though there is the difference that a copying of Herbert Spencer’s works or any other books, from title-page to finis, means a flat denial of property in restrictive privilege, whereas the shoe may be invented by another, no one knows how soon. The argument of Mr. Tucker is a
settler: that one who has seen an invention is debarred in that respect from becoming an inventor. It may be seen also that the author by writing a certain book has probably cut some one else out from writing a different book with successful results.
This leads to another consideration. If the author is entitled to property in his so-called
book,—a projection and exploitation, not really proper to him but a power of society,—then he may be held responsible for all damage done by his
property running at large. The liberty of the press will be a serious thing for authors when they are held responsible for the action of their alleged property,—their oxen that gore, and steam-engines that explode, and poisons that destroy. Shall we have even more government?
In my second article I accommodated myself for the moment to Mr. Yarros’s terminology as to the more general ideas (contra, plagiarism) and literary form, respectively; but I must say that both what to express and how to express it are certainly ideas. The words as material signs, ink on paper, are all thereabout that is not ideal. When we speak of labor of production in this matter of ideal form, we speak of labor which is precedent to obtaining the form. There may be much labor in obtaining some ideas which, when obtained, present no difficulty in variously expressing them, a number of facts, for instance, which may be stated in figures, words, or Roman numerals; and there may be little labor expended in the manner of expressing an idea even when it appears that long and hard labor would be requisite for another person to express it in that manner. In poetry, for example, often there is scarcely the ghost of an idea other than that of the arrangement of the words, and we know not whether the arrangement has cost a day’s labor more than copying would have cost. When we speak of the manner of expressing an idea, we deceive ourselves if we forget that manner is ideal. It is convenient to speak of tools and material, but this does not alter the fact that the adze and the trowel are themselves material. Manner in the ideal is the tool with which ideas of fact are arranged or shaped. Though thus distinguished, it is to be identified ultimately in ideal basis with ideal material, as the material tool is to be identified in basis with the material material. In short, it is as illogical to contrast literary expression with ideas as to contrast grapes with fruit. But the labor? Well, the labor of arranging a bouquet of wild flowers may be more apparent: it is not more actual than the labor of discovering the flowers to be arranged.
I cannot admit that labor of production is better attested in a collocation of words than in a mechanical invention. The demonstrable labor in writing is that which the copyist would have to duplicate. The labor in making a model may be less than in writing a volume, but in neither case do we see all the forms that have been constructed or know of all the mental efforts that have been made.
We meet people who are sure they know what to say, but not how to express it. Expression is terribly hard work for them. Such people either deceive themselves, or they are trying to deceive others as to their knowledge, or they really want to appropriate from some other person the full expression of the ideas which they have partly appropriated, but to do it in some slight disguise, and to be paid for it, not as copyists, but as authors, be their aim even only social estimation.
Labor indispensably prerequisite to production is labor without which the product would not have come into being. It may be labor in gathering ideas of fact or labor of arranging ideas of relation,—literary expression for one kind. In either case it is labor of production of the first product. Without discovery, no product; often, without labor, no discovery.
What is the right to use and abuse? It is intelligible as the definition of personal material possessions and of ideas as possessed in the individual consciousness. Thus the owner of types may employ them in any way (use or abuse). But what becomes of the right to abuse if one may not abuse in every way? My idea of the
right to abuse is not that we approve abuse, but that we recognize possession and individual immunity from interference in the handling.
Liberey to do all acts consistent with the equal liberty of others implies that each may possess materials and employ them as he sees fit, short of injuring another in his life, liberty, or property (possessions). How can I lessen or injure him in his idea, general or particular, or say his form of expression, by repeating it? I can injure his project of exploitation by reasoning against it. Hence, if protection to
literary property be needed, it may be necessary to disfavor my liberty of discussion.
After literary property and the copyright protective system come personal reputation and the law of libel. I am but a limited owner of pen and paper if I may not attack reputations. I throw this out by way of suggestion for others to reflect upon. My own view of equal liberty and property admits of no breakdown or exception in the
general principle. I hold to tangible possessions and personal immunity in what I deem use of tongue, pen, and all industrial appliances. Ownership of the press means more than the so-called liberty of the press which is the
right to use. It means the exercise which all others may call abuse; and it is for ownership that I contend, which excludes all claims to tribute or involuntary partnership, and logically requires me to view ownership strictly as personal possession. A convenient test is this: No ownership except in that which is embodied in tangible form, hence subject to wear and decay, for this is the general mark of products as distinct from that so-called production which can be imparted to others and become common property without the original owner having less than before,—the ideal, hence simply discovery.
I must criticise an attempt to employ the word monopoly to designate personal possession. The word monopoly is properly used to designate an exclusive privilege of market, and how could this be more glaringly exemplified than it is when one has an immaterial so-called
property, so that he sells nothing but a permit and does not reduce the quantity of what he has to sell when he makes a sale? By making use of the word monopoly as a forced synonym for that true property which is personal possession, a sort of color is given to the notion that monopoly might be equitable property.
What appears of the fabulous possibilities of wealth suggested in selling permits to successive generations will stamp ideal
production as discovery beyond doubt, and thus as being outside the sphere of industrial production with its labor equivalents of perishable and consumable products. The imperishable and inconsumable were never produced in the sense of equitable commerce.
Mr. Yarros’s hint as to introducing a different kind of copyright induces me to remark that, while this use of language is common, it is not penetrating. The differences now existing relate to time and extent of territory, hence are only by a loose use of language called different kinds,—meaning copyright variously conditioned. Now, if Mr. Yarros were to introduce voluntary associative methods in procuring consent to copyright, that would be a difference as to mode of execution rather than as to the right claimed.