Intellectual Property? Why Words Matter In The Copyright Debate

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Language matters. Whether we get to keep our liberties or not depends on whether those liberties are generally named in positive words. The same thing goes for the privileges of corporations.

copyright-brandedOne mistake that geeks and techies often make, but PR professionals and lobbyists never make, is the observation that words don’t just have a precise meaning – they also have a positive or negative chime to them. Therefore, lobbyists try very hard to establish a language where everything they want is described in words with a positive chime.

This is far more important than most techies realize. Language nuances, not objective descriptions, more often than not determine what becomes law and what doesn’t.

When you’re calling the copyright monopoly any kind of “property”, or using property-related words such as “own” or “have” in relation to this monopoly, you’re reinforcing that positivity around the concept.

I saw a comment on Reddit about my last article describing why “Intellectual Property” was a never-touch-never-use enemy’s term; the commenter just blankly stated that it was accurate and descriptive and thought that was it. No, it’s not, it’s absolutely not; the enemy would like you to think it is descriptive of the copyright monopoly, in a complete effort to misdirect and delude – for such misdirection would let them keep the privilege.

The copyright monopoly is an exclusive right.

More precisely, it is a governmentally-granted private monopoly that interferes with property rights.

It’s noteworthy that the copyright industry doesn’t even use the property moniker internally. If you listen to their lawyers, they all say “we hold the exclusive rights”. That is precise language, as opposed to “own” or “property”. The only people in the copyright industry who use the property moniker – everywhere and all the time – are, you guessed it, PR people and lobbyists.

There’s something to learn here: When you manage to get your wishlist described in words that suggest it’s a natural right or positive to development, your wishlist will become law. The opposite is also true.

One particularly enlightening example was the abolishment of the estate tax in the United States in April this year. The estate tax – sometimes called an inheritance tax – is a tax paid on a deceased person’s estate before the rest is inherited by their heirs. “Estate tax” sounds kind of academic and theoretical, when it’s not a levy on somebody who has no use for their money anymore anyway, or a tax on people with large estates (“rich folks who can afford it anyway”).

So a couple of bright people reworded it as “death tax”, and talked about it in those terms everywhere. The new term caught on, and the concept stood no chance of survival once it was called a “death tax” instead.

This is extremely important to understand: whether a political concept survives or not, whether it is enforced with violence or not, depends entirely on whether it is referred to mostly in positively- or negatively-associated words.

This is why I insist on calling governmentally-granted private monopolies that interfere with property rights “industrial protectionism”, a term abbreviating to IP, for protectionism is exactly what those monopolies are, and any legislator shudders in disgust at the word “protectionism”. This is also why I insist on saying “the copyright monopoly”, for right in itself is a very positive word that any legislator will vote in favor of. But when you tack on “monopoly” at the end, and if this becomes predominant, the concept would it be voted down in a heartbeat – for all of a sudden, it describes the governmentally-granted private monopoly, instead of suggesting a natural right (which it absolutely isn’t).

To further illustrate this, the liberal party group ALDE in the European Parliament is largely divided down the middle whether this protectionism is good or bad. But that’s because half of them haven’t questioned the lobbyists’ use of the “property” moniker, and assumed that “because it is property, it must be good, so we will fight for it”; the other half has seen the man behind the curtain and oppose monopolies under any name. A party group like ALDE that would be very in favor of the free market, against corporatism, and which would positively abhor any governmentally-granted private monopoly that interferes with property rights will still vote for this kind of protectionist crap, on the sole reason that they think it is “property” and never has had any reason to think otherwise.

Yes, language is that powerful.

That’s why you should never use the language of the enemy. It’s not the entertainment industry or the music industry; it’s the copyright industry, plain and simple. And they don’t safeguard their rights or their copyright; they safeguard their monopolies, clarified as their copyright monopoly. This is part of a larger arbitrary umbrella concept, Industrial Protectionism.

If we win the language, we win the framing. If we win the framing, we win back our liberties. If we don’t, we won’t. It really boils down to that. Lobbyists understand this. We must too.

About The Author

Rick Falkvinge is a regular columnist on TorrentFreak, sharing his thoughts every other week. He is the founder of the Swedish and first Pirate Party, a whisky aficionado, and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. His blog at focuses on information policy.

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