April 27, 2009
Mark Helprin was on NPR yesterday reminding me that I am barbaric. His new book, Digital Barbarism: A Writer’s Manifesto, argues for an extension of current copyright protection.
Included with the link above (along with the audio of the broadcast) is an excerpt from the book. It is simultaneously frustrating and hilarious. Here is a selection (but be sure to read it all). Put down your drink because the following howler is likely to make you spit from your nose:
Is it significant that the only conditions in which such protections would not be required, or would be ill fitting at the least, and perhaps harmful, are those in the target end-states of Marxism? Of course it is, as this is the ethos from which the anti-copyright movement emerges. The theses they rely upon are sensible in their minds because they have already decided — even if not formally or consciously — against property, competition, and the free market. This is the foundation upon which their movement rests. Their arguments are mainly a subspecies of the greater and more consequential battle between those who favor a world that is planned, controlled, decided, entirely cooperative, and conducive of predetermined outcomes, and those who favor and tolerate market-based systems that admit and honor chance, competition, unexpected developments, peril, and reward. It is very easy to dispense with the structures and protections of the market economy, of which copyright is one, if you are willing to dispense with the market economy itself.
And Lawrence Lessig’s response (Lessig is the creator of Creative Commons), while critical of Helprin, is no less frustrating for dismissing out of hand (and without any real argument) the position that copyrights should be eliminated entirely. Obviously, we should have copyrights, thinks Lessig, just not longer copyrights; they should just long enough to offer incentive. Lessig is apparently an alum of the Goldilocks School of Statism.
And as for you, NPR, it’s always heartwarming when “debates” in the media set the boundaries safely within acceptable norms.
Who’s really barbaric here, Mark, if what you are essentially calling for is an extension on the ability to control other people’s minds? “Either intellectual property means slavery, or it means nothing at all.”
I’ve got your digital barbarism right here: