Rad Geek People's Daily

official state media for a secessionist republic of one

Counter-Economic optimism

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 15 years ago, in 2009, on the World Wide Web.

Several months ago, Bill Patry created quite a stir when he shuttered his blog, where he’d spent four years promoting copyright law reform. One of his two chief reasons for the shut-down was despair at the state of copyright law:

2. The Current State of Copyright Law is too depressing

This leads me to my final reason for closing the blog which is independent of the first reason: my fear that the blog was becoming too negative in tone. I regard myself as a centrist. I believe very much that in proper doses copyright is essential for certain classes of works, especially commercial movies, commercial sound recordings, and commercial books, the core copyright industries. I accept that the level of proper doses will vary from person to person and that my recommended dose may be lower (or higher) than others. But in my view, and that of my cherished brother Sir Hugh Laddie, we are well past the healthy dose stage and into the serious illness stage. Much like the U.S. economy, things are getting worse, not better. Copyright law has abandoned its reason for being: to encourage learning and the creation of new works. Instead, its principal functions now are to preserve existing failed business models, to suppress new business models and technologies, and to obtain, if possible, enormous windfall profits from activity that not only causes no harm, but which is beneficial to copyright owners. Like Humpty-Dumpty, the copyright law we used to know can never be put back together again: multilateral and trade agreements have ensured that, and quite deliberately.

It is profoundly depressing, after 26 years full-time in a field I love, to be a constant voice of dissent. I have tried various ways to leaven this state of affairs with positive postings, much like television news shows that experiment with happy features. I have blogged about great articles others have written, or highlighted scholars who have not gotten the attention they deserve; I tried to find cases, even inconsequential ones, that I can fawn over. But after awhile, this wore thin, because the most important stories are too often ones that involve initiatives that are, in my opinion, seriously harmful to the public interest. I cannot continue to be so negative, so often. Being so negative, while deserved on the merits, gives a distorted perspective of my centrist views, and is emotionally a downer.

— Bill Patry, The Patry Copyright Blog (2008-08-01): End of the Blog

In one sense, it’s hard not to sympathize. Existing copyright law has been more or less fully transformed into an openly wielded tool of perpetual corporate monopoly. The horizons of allowable debate over copyright policy, within the Beltway, stretch from one end of Disney’s boardroom to the other. Neither political party questions that the primary purpose of copyright law is to protect copyright-holders’ monopoly profit margins, and no serious politician would ever consider spending a dime of political capital on a suggestion that perhaps we should contain — let alone roll back — the hyperaggressive efforts of copyright monopolists to protect their broken business models, by using litigation and legal coercion to cripple every advance in digital technology, and locking down every last decibel of free speech in a corporate copyright containment field. Even if a politician did choose to stand up for the freedom to peacefully exchange, adapt, and redistribute ideas, it could hardly matter; she would be immediately drowned out by a chorus of Endangered Capitalist preservationists on both sides of the aisle. And even if she could be heard, any attempt she might make at a run towards reform would be promptly tripped up by the knotted tangle of multilateral trade agreements (NAFTA, CAFTA, the WTO), which (in the name of free trade and private property rights–ha, ha) actually lock all the participating governments into a relentless commitment to granting and defending effectively perpetual government-granted monopolies, as part of their treaty obligations. There is no real hope of extricating U.S. government copyright law from this situation in any significant way; the pols and the Intellectual Protectionist lobby crossed that bridge a long time ago, and they made sure to burn it once they got to the other side.

Like I said: it’s hard not to sympathize. In fact, since my own views about copyright restrictions are far more radical than the ones Patry advances — I want them abolished immediately and completely; I think that any dose of intellectual monopoly is a dose of poison — you think I’d be far more depressed than he is about the state of affairs. But the truth is that I’m not pessimistic at all about copyright. One of the main things that struck me, back when I first read Patry’s farewell post, is how much of a disconnect I felt between his picture of the legal scene, and the actual situation on the ground when it comes to copyright restrictions. In fact, even though everything Patry says about the legal situation is true, there’s never been a better time for being able to freely access the art and literature of the world. As a recent New York Times feature points out:

On the day last July when The Dark Knight arrived in theaters, Warner Brothers was ready with an ambitious antipiracy campaign that involved months of planning and steps to monitor each physical copy of the film.

The campaign failed miserably. By the end of the year, illegal copies of the Batman movie had been downloaded more than seven million times around the world, according to the media measurement firm BigChampagne, turning it into a visible symbol of Hollywood’s helplessness against the growing problem of online video piracy.

The culprits, in this case, are the anonymous pirates who put the film online and enabled millions of Internet users to view it. Because of widely available broadband access and a new wave of streaming sites, it has become surprisingly easy to watch pirated video online — a troubling development for entertainment executives and copyright lawyers.

Hollywood may at last be having its Napster moment — struggling against the video version of the digital looting that capsized the music business. Media companies say that piracy — some prefer to call it digital theft to emphasize the criminal nature of the act — is an increasingly mainstream pursuit. At the same time, DVD sales, a huge source of revenue for film studios, are sagging. In 2008, DVD shipments dropped to their lowest levels in five years. Executives worry that the economic downturn will persuade more users to watch stolen shows and movies.

Young people, in particular, conclude that if it’s so easy, it can’t be wrong, said Richard Cotton, the general counsel for NBC Universal.

People have swapped illegal copies of songs, television shows and movies on the Internet for years. The slow download process, often using a peer-to-peer technology called BitTorrent, required patience and a modicum of sophistication by users. Now, users do not even have to download. Using a search engine, anyone can find free copies of movies, still in theaters, in a matter of minutes. Classic TV, like every Seinfeld episode ever produced, is also free for the streaming. Some of these digital copies are derived from bootlegs, while others are replicas of the advance review videos that studios send out before a release.

TorrentFreak.com, a Web site based in Germany that tracks which shows are most downloaded, estimates that each episode of Heroes, a series on NBC, is downloaded five million times, representing a substantial loss for the network. (On TV, Heroes averages 10 million American viewers each week).

A wave of streaming sites, which allow people to start watching video immediately without transferring a full copy of the movie or show to their hard drive, are making it easier than ever to watch free Hollywood content online. Many of these sites are located in countries with lackluster piracy enforcement efforts, like China, and are hard to monitor, so media companies do not have a clear sense of how much content is being stolen.

— Brian Stelter and Brad Stone, New York Times (2009-02-04): Digital Pirates Winning Battle With Studios

Of course, the New York Times has mistaken this for a problem; but if you recognize that the Intellectual Protectionists’ restrictive business model is the real problem, what we’re now seeing is the solution. Not because the copyright laws have become even a little more liberal, but rather because they have become irrelevant to people’s daily lives. Even though everything Patry says about the legal situation is true, it becomes easier every day for me to find freely-shared copies of just about any song I could care to hear, or to find any number of supposedly copyrighted essays, available for free on the web, or to find any movie I could care to watch, whether it’s an old classic from the film-monopolist’s vaults, or a new release that just hit theaters. And because so much is so freely available, even officially-sanctified copies of copyrighted material are being dropped in price (typically below US $1.00 a pop) and DRM user-control schemes are being dropped one after another. Even though everything Patry says about the legal situation is true, the practical situation on the ground is remarkably good, and it’s getting better every day. Of course, things are far from perfect. Of course, lots of copyright-holders are still looking for a fight with people trying to exchange ideas without paying a premium for a license. And of course, the legal situation is such that they can get pretty nasty, if they scout you out come after you on the legal battlefield. But first they have to scout you out. First, they have to get you to fight them on the open ground. And every day, they are finding their efforts more and more impossible. No matter how many big guns they may bring to bear, when they try to fight us, they find that they are fighting a Myrmidon army that renders those weapons increasingly useless.

So why Bill Patry’s despair? If you want to see copyright restrictions liberalized, then it may be true that the words on a page in Washington are worse than they’ve ever been; but the facts on the ground are perhaps better than they’ve been at any other time in the history of the United States. And while there is no hope for revising those words for the better any time soon, the facts are changing for the better every day, all their lawyers and their lobbyists and their intergovernmental treaties notwithstanding — they are improving daily as technical problems are solved, as new sharing networks emerge, and as the problem of even identifying the competition, let alone shutting them down, becomes more and more overwhelming for the copyrightists’ rear-guard legal strategy.

Why despair, or even care about the legal situation at all, if the practical situation makes the law irrelevant? A law that cannot be enforced is as good as a a law that has been repealed, and that is where we’re headed, faster and faster every day, when it comes to the intellectual monopolists and their jealously guarded legal privileges.

Statists constantly accuse anarchists of being naive, or utopian, or infantile, because we so often question the value of playing the game and working within the system. But if this is supposed to be a strategy based on the empirical prospects for success — and not just on some kind of felt need to come off as properly Serious and Grown Up to the right sort of people — then let’s look at the facts, and let’s see what kind of activity actually offers proven results, and realistic hope for success in the future.

If you put all your hope for social change in legal reform, and if you put all your faith for legal reform in maneuvering within the political system, then to be sure you will find yourself outmaneuvered at every turn by those who have the deepest pockets and the best media access and the tightest connections. There is no hope for turning this system against them; because, after all, the system was made for them and the system was made by them. Reformist political campaigns inevitably turn out to suck a lot of time and money into the politics–with just about none of the reform coming out on the other end. But if you put your faith for social change in methods that ignore or ridicule their parliamentary rules, and push forward through grassroots direct action — if your hopes for social change don’t depend on reforming tyrannical laws, and can just as easily be fulfilled by widespread success at bypassing those laws and making them irrelevant to your life — then there is every reason to hope that you will see more freedom and less coercion in your own lifetime. There is every reason to expect that you will see more freedom and less coercion tomorrow than you did today, no matter what the law-books may say.

Counter-economics gets the goods.

See also:

24 replies to Counter-Economic optimism Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. smally

    But Charles, downloading films is stealing

    You wouldn’t steal a baby, would you?

  2. Sergio Méndez


    But there is something to worry about, and is the restrictions are putting on the file sharing comunity on the internet. Many of the networks, like Napster, were already closed, and in many european countries the police can track your computer if you download “copyrighted” files….I just hope their measures end up being futile

  3. Discussed at aaeblog.com

    Miscellaneous Observations | Austro-Athenian Empire:

    […] [Again, read la enchilada entera.] […]

  4. Rad Geek


    Sure; the big copyright monopolists have been trying for years to shut down file-sharing communities. But, as the New York Times article says, they’re fighting a losing battle on this one. For every centralized file-sharing service they tried to squash, a handful of decentralized replacements have sprung up. For every poor sucker they get through honeypots on BitTorrent or elsewhere, there are literally millions who are laughing in their faces. The Times doesn’t spend much time asking why, but I think the answer is simple: no matter how hard they try to shut us down, the scope of the problem is simply overwhelming, and getting worse for them every day. Their only real options at this point are to fight an costly and unwinnable battle against a numberless, leaderless shadow enemy; or to do what the music industry already effectively has, and give up on strategies based on litigation or techno-crippling, in favor of trying to make the best of the situation by dropping prices and bringing in new, high-quality digital distribution.

    The battle is really, effectively, over; the rest is just mopping-up operations.

  5. anonymouse

    For a long time, the effectiveness of copyright relied on the difficulty of making such copies. Most people weren’t even in a position where they could violate copyright. But now, copying is suddenly accessible to the masses at large, while the copyright industry has not really caught on to this fact. It’s not just that copyright violation is cheaper than the alternative, it’s that very often it’s easier. If I download a TV show via bittorrent, I can have it in a matter of hours. If it’s streamed, the gratification is even more instant. DRM too is an inconvenience for most people. I think at this point, the survival of copyright is in the hands of the copyright industry. If they want copyright to retain even a little bit of effectiveness, they have to make it easier to follow the rules than to pirate. A few are finally starting to get it: South Park, for example, put up all their episodes for streaming, and Monty Python has a youtube channel with some of the most popular clips.

— 2010 —

  1. Discussed at c4ss.org

    Attack Tyranny at Its Weakest Link — Enforcement:

    […] effectively by Charles Johnson, one of the more prominent writers on the libertarian Left (“Counter-economic Optimism,” Rad Geek People’s Daily, Feb. 7, […]

  2. Discussed at freedomschool.org

    Attack Tyranny at its Weakest Link: Enforcement | The Freedom School:

    […] most effectively by Charles Johnson, one of the more prominent writers on the libertarian Left (“Counter-economic Optimism,” Rad Geek People’s Daily, Feb. 7, […]

  3. Rycke

    Ignoring the law is a start, but is not sufficient. Once a law becomes unenforceable, it must be repealed for the sake of the legal system–and it generally is. But it won’t be repealed until someone takes it to court and points out its unequal enforcement, for you may be sure that someone will attempt to enforce it, no matter how often it is broken or how little it is enforced.

    Homosexuality, for instance, has been illegal for hundreds, if not thousands of years in various places, and gays disobeyed the law, but that did not result in non-enforcement of the law. What got the law first ignored by the cops and then voided by the courts is that some gays came out and marched for their rights.

    On my website at AssociatedContent.com, there are 23 Marijuana Resolution Speeches that illustrate one way to openly oppose a bad law–in televised local public meetings, where one can educate both public officials and the interested public.

    I’m not at all sure that copyright law is bad, but it increasingly appears to be unenforceable, which is not as good as repeal–it’s just the first step toward repeal. Until copyright opponents come out of their closets and fight copyright in the open, the law will be enforced against the ones that the copyright owners can catch. It’s possible that they may give up trying to catch them as useless, but don’t count on it. Making an example of someone occasionally will keep many people buying their music and videos rather than stealing them.

    Live free, and prosper.

  4. Discussed at libertarianalliance.wordpress.com

    Attack Tyranny at Its Weakest Link — Enforcement, by Kevin Carson | The Libertarian Alliance: BLOG:

    […] most effectively by Charles Johnson, one of the more prominent writers on the libertarian Left (“Counter-economic Optimism,” Rad Geek People’s Daily, Feb. 7, […]

— 2011 —

  1. Roderick T. Long

    Ignoring the law is a start, but is not sufficient. Once a law becomes unenforceable, it must be repealed for the sake of the legal system

    Or else the governmental legal system itself needs to be ignored as people transition over to an anarchist legal system. As far as I know, the Code of Hammurabi was never repealed, but it hasn’t bothered anybody lately.

— 2013 —

  1. Discussed at c4sif.org

    Rad Geek (Charles Johnson)’s “Anticopyright” Declaration:

    […] Charles Johnson (2009) Countereconomic Optimism […]

  2. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People's Daily 2013-04-03 – Real Good Friends Of Mine:

    […] radical, non-legalistic, ethically-grounded rejection of all claims of intellectual property, and a grassroots culture of social solidarity with remixers, pirates and other free copyists. The more brazen, the better. So I offer my anticopyright statement, such as it is, as a […]

— 2015 —

  1. Discussed at wchildblog.com

    It Doesn't Even Matter What the Law Is ...  | wchildblog:

    […] that lobbying to change the law is a waste of time and effort. As Charles Johnson has written (“Counter-economic Optimism,” Rad Geek People’s Daily, Feb. 7, […]

  2. Discussed at studentsforliberty.liberty.me

    The Pragmatic Case for Radical Libertarianism - Students For Liberty - Liberty.me:

    […] laws surrounding intellectual property. It doesn’t really matter, though, because those laws are becoming more and more irrelevant due to direct action in the form of large-scale file-sharing. Serious immigration reform is […]

— 2016 —

  1. Discussed at www.theanarchisttownship.freedom-blogs.com

    14 101 Questions and Answers on Left-Libertarianism – The Anarchist Township:

    […] in comparison to minarchists, tend to be more explicitly anti-political. In the sense that we’re more fundamentally hostile to government. We also tend to favor […]

  2. Discussed at www.theanarchisttownship.freedom-blogs.com

    14 Questions and Answers on Left-Libertarianism – The Anarchist Township:

    […] in comparison to minarchists, tend to be more explicitly anti-political. In the sense that we’re more fundamentally hostile to government. We also tend to favor […]

  3. Discussed at ideas.disenso.net

    El pensamiento anarquista de David Graeber (VII): Socavando el orden - Autonomía, opacidad y zomianismo - Ideas Libertarias:

    […] Johnson, Charles: “Counter-Economic Optimism”, Rad Geek People’s Daily, 7 febrero 2009, radgeek.com/gt/2009/02/07/countereconomic_optimism/. […]

  4. Discussed at blog.p2pfoundation.net

    Why "Reforming" Copyright Will Kill It | P2P Foundation:

    […] always, as Center for a Stateless Society comrade Charles Johnson says (“Counter-Economic optimism,” Rad Geek People’s Daily, Feb. 7, 2009), an ounce of circumvention is worth a pound of […]

  5. Discussed at gatoulos.wordpress.com

    ?@ce;201c;ια?@cf;201e;ί η "με?@cf;201e;αρρύθμι?@cf;192;η" ?@cf;201e;?@cf;2030;ν ?@cf;20ac;νε?@cf;2026;μα?@cf;201e;ικ?@cf;17d;ν δικαι?@cf;2030;μά?@cf;201e;?@cf;2030;ν, ?@cf;201e;ελικά θα ?@cf;201e;α ?@cf;192;κο?@cf;201e;?@cf;17d;?@cf;192;ει | gatoulos:

    […] ?@cf;192;?@cf;201e;ο Center for a Stateless Society(link is external), ο Charles Johnson(link is external) (“Counter-Economic optimism(link is external)”, Rad Geek People’s Daily, 7 Φεβρο?@cf;2026;αρίο?@cf;2026; 2009), μια ο?@cf;2026;γγιά […]

  6. Discussed at abolishwork.com

    A (Laurie) Penny for Your Thoughts on Work - Abolish Work:

    […] Counter-economics through gray and black market processes that while alegal or completely illegal remain intentional in their drive and resolve to undermine the authority of state and capitalism. They would be predominately peaceful but can also be defensive against the inevitable attempted repression of the state. Examples of counter-economic processes could be as simple as someone selling goods or services unlicensed but could scale up to larger efforts. […]

  7. Discussed at blog.p2pfoundation.net

    Open Source Revolution Circumvents Capitalist Monopoly | P2P Foundation:

    […] (“Counter-Economic Optimism,” Rad Geek People’s Daily, Feb. 7, 2009) stated the same principle back in 2008 in regard to […]

— 2023 —

  1. Discussed at www.federacaoanarquista.com.br

    Ross Ulbricht e a Coragem de Desrespeitar a Lei – ? Federaç?@e3;6f; Anarquista:

    […] sites de compartilhamentos de arquivo que lentamente tornam inexequível o direito autoral, proteger da deportaç?@e3;6f; imigrantes sem documentaç?@e3;6f;, esquivar-se do alistamento militar […]

Post a reply

Your e-mail address will not be published.
You can register for an account and sign in to verify your identity and avoid spam traps.

Use Markdown syntax for formatting. *emphasis* = emphasis, **strong** = strong, [link](http://xyz.com) = link,
> block quote to quote blocks of text.

This form is for public comments. Consult About: Comments for policies and copyright details.

Anticopyright. This was written 2009–2022 by Rad Geek. Feel free to reprint if you like it. This machine kills intellectual monopolists.