Thursday, October 15, 2009

Intellectual Property

The Constitution of the United States of America states that
“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”
(Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8). All intellectual property law (IP law) in the United States of America may exist because of this clause. The purpose of such protection is to promote science and "useful arts" by ensuring that creators can control their creations, presumably for remunerative purposes, while also ensuring that other creators may build upon others' ideas after a reasonable period.

While I support creators' right to remuneration, I think that current copyright law is excessive:
“As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first”
( It is my opinion that current copyright law protects works for such a long period of time that it fails to comply with the purpose stated in the U.S. Constitution.

Worse still, there are (serious) discussions about extending it further:
"As you know there is also Jack Valenti's proposal for [copyrights] to last forever less one day. Perhaps the Committee may look at that next Congress"
(California congresswoman Mary Bono, Congressional Record: I recognize that this may not seem ludicrous to those who aren't mathematicians, so I'll explain: forever is an infinite period of time, or an infinite number of days. An infinite number minus one is still an infinite number. Infinite periods of time, of course, are not limited. The implementation of "forever less one day" in law would directly contradict the clause in the Constitution that allows Congress to create IP laws in the first place.

Although I think that there is a need for serious reform in intellectual property, we are still bound to obey these laws. In words that are binding on Latter-day Saints, who believe them to literally be the words of God though a modern prophet, and that are solid political theory for anyone,
"We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life. ... We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience"
(D&C 134:2,5:,5#2). My personal interpretation is that the rights mentioned in the first section (freedom of conscience, property, and life) are the inalienable rights mentioned in the latter part. Therefore, those of us who have these rights protected (and I submit that every American does) are unjustified in any sedition or rebellion.

I have conversed with several friends who feel that violations of IP law are not harmful to others. Some even say that by disobeying IP law, they are fighting an evil or ineffective organization. Their resistance, they say, makes the world a better place. I have heard several references to civil disobedience.

When Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi led Indians in civil disobedience, he outlined rules for their behavior. I quote some of them here (from
  • A civil resister will express no anger.
  • When any person in authority seeks to arrest a civil resister, he will voluntarily submit to the arrest, and he will not resist the attachment or removal of his own property, if any, when it is sought to be confiscated by authorities.
  • A civil resister may not salute the Union Flag, but he will not insult it or officials, English or Indian.
  • In the course of the struggle if anyone insults an official or commits an assault upon him, a civil resister will protect such official or officials from the insult or attack even at the risk of his life.
Although Gandhi's followers were instructed to never express anger, they were instructed to defend their oppressors against physical and verbal abuse, even at the risk of their own lives.

As they resisted, many suffered severe punishments. In protest against a tax imposed by England on salt in India, civil resisters marched towards Dharasana as part of what is now called the Salt Satyagraha. Retribution was swift and harsh (from Webb Miller's report from May 21, Martin, p. 38., see also

"Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows. They went down like ten-pins. From where I stood I heard the sickening whacks of the clubs on unprotected skulls. The waiting crowd of watchers groaned and sucked in their breaths in sympathetic pain at every blow. Those struck down fell sprawling, unconscious or writhing in pain with fractured skulls or broken shoulders. In two or three minutes the ground was quilted with bodies. Great patches of blood widened on their white clothes. The survivors without breaking ranks silently and doggedly marched on until struck down."

Those who violate IP law today are unlikely to meet physical violence. They may encounter legal prosecution and litigation.

To those who consider civil disobedience, I submit that:
  • Civil disobedience is effective because third parties become aware of it and apply pressure to the powers that create or enforce the laws in question.
  • Civil disobedience will be ineffective unless it holds to the principles quoted above, including willingness to be arrested for such disobedience.
  • Physical and verbal retaliation destroy the validity of any civil disobedience. Any statement at all weakens it; the Salt Satyagraha was effective because outsiders spoke about it.
  • Civil disobedience against laws that do not violate citizens' inalienable rights will fail to impress third parties and will therefore fail to change the behavior of the people who create and enforce laws.
I encourage my friends and colleagues to willingly obey all intellectual property laws, even the ones that fail to comply with the Constitution. I also encourage all of my friends and colleagues to promote laws and measures to bring IP law into harmony with the true principles upon which it is based.