YouTube is GloriousYouTube is a glorious testament to the ability of creative, free people to produce an abundance of entertainment and education content. YouTube is huge, prosperous and still growing rapidly. And, YouTube enforces copyright. These facts are not unrelated. Libertarians understand that private property rights are an essential cornerstone of prosperity.
Incentive? Calculation? Abolishing Property is CruelSadly, history is replete with examples of tyrants abolishing property rights to producer goods, like farmland, with predictable, disastrous results: starvation. After all, why would a farmer do the hard work plowing, tilling, planting, watering, fertilizing, and harvesting if only to surrender the produce? This is, of course, the famous “incentive problem”, and it spells doom for the viability of socialism (unless we somehow engineer a “new socialist man”).
Moreover, as Mises explained, socialism suffers an even worse defect – the “calculation problem”. If there are no property rights in producer goods, then they cannot be bought and sold. If producer goods are not bought and sold, then there are no meaningful prices for them. Accounting thus becomes impossible. Society is left with no possible way to learn which products are actually serving the needs of consumers, and which are a tragic waste of scarce resources.
Respect For Property Generates ProsperityPost World War II Earth provided a convincing empirical study of libertarian property theory. Germany was divided into East and West, Korea divided into North and South, and Hong Kong was divided from mainland China. The relatively free market economies vastly out-performed the socialist economies. This did not surprise anyone familiar with Austrian economics.
Similarly, the extraordinary success of YouTube is not surprising either, because (in case I forgot to mention it) YouTube enforces copyright. “Copyright” is a property right in a producer good, such as a video or a song. The content producer first makes a risky, expensive capital investment creating the original. Then copies can be mass-produced and delivered to consumers cheaply.
YouTube has adopted a business model essentially the same as broadcast television and radio. Copyright owners generate revenue by selling advertising, while viewers watch for free. It should be clear that copyright is an essential element in the viability of this model.
To get you to watch an advertisement on YouTube, you have to be interested in the video which follows. If you can watch the same video somewhere else without advertising, you probably will. So the copyright owner must have exclusive control over the distribution of the video. This is the very essence of what property means: property is the right to use, to control, and to exclude others.
YouTube without copyright would fail for the exact same two reasons that agriculture failed in Bangladesh, and manufacturing failed in North Korea: the incentive problem and the calculation problem.
Jeffrey Tucker, Libertarian IconAnd so it is with profound confusion that I read the YouTube-related passages of Jeffrey Tucker’s book “Liberty.Me – Freedom Is a Do-It-Yourself-Project”. Members of Liberty.me need no introduction to Mr. Tucker. But for anyone else who might be reading, and before I offer my criticism, let me briefly heap sincere praise.
Jeffrey Albert Tucker is an icon of libertarianism, having for years been the editorial vice president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and editor of Mises.org. He is currently the publisher of Laissez Faire Books, and CEO of Liberty.me. With signature bow tie and soft-spoken class and dignity, Jeffrey Tucker tirelessly advances the cause of freedom. I and all lovers of liberty owe a great debt of gratitude to Jeffrey Albert Tucker.
“Infringement Hysteria”In “Liberty.me”, Tucker shares my enthusiasm at the brilliant, relatively anarchic phenomenon that is YouTube. He acknowledges “property rights as an essential guardian of freedom.” (p.58)
But then Tucker dismisses YouTube’s decision, from its inception, to respect intangible property as a mere “presumption”. Tucker claims that “no one really benefited from [enforcing copyright]”, and that we endured a period of “infringement hysteria”. Says Tucker:
Clearly, the law had set up an untenable situation. It created a system too costly for everyone. It was unsustainable. But what would change it and how? This is where the creative forces of the market economy came to the rescue. (p.355)This is where Tucker plays fast and loose with facts and reason. He’s going to try to convince us that YouTube abandoned copyright in favor of “the creative forces of the market economy”, as if the market does not crucially require property. Or something. Let’s see.
Infringement is Trespass, YouTube Ads are RentGoogle bought YouTube in 2006. Whether “hysterical” or not, copyright owners had indeed already successfully prosecuted lawsuits (see e.g. RIAA v. Napster), and were threatening to enforce against YouTube. In response, YouTube developed an internal policy under which copyright owners can file disputes. Tucker explains:
If a given video infringed, the owner would be notified and would then get a choice to either order a takedown or have an ad put up on the video from which the owner would derive the revenue. (p. 355)Obviously YouTube’s policy is upholding intellectual property rights. When there are trespassers, a property owner has two choices: kick them out, or charge rent. An infringer is a trespasser. Making an infringer take down a video is kicking them out. Accepting ad revenue is charging rent. This is pretty basic stuff.
But to hear Tucker tell it, the reader would think that YouTube was not enforcing copyright:
Almost everyone took the revenue solution, simply because it is more advantageous to the owner to gain than to slap the uploader around using the law.Good grief. Clearly Jeffrey Tucker is suggesting that YouTube’s advertising policy is something besides copyright enforcement. This is disingenuous in the extreme. In case I forgot to mention it, YouTube enforces copyright.
What the owners have learned in the process is something that has been obvious to many of us for a long time but, for some crazy reason, was often lost on the enforcers. They learned that what looks like a violation of the law and infringement on property rights can be re-rendered as a form of peaceful advertising. (p. 355)
The reason copyright infringement looks like a violation of property rights is because it is a violation of property rights. The only thing that is “re-rendered” about YouTube’s policy is that they are doing the work of upholding property rights themselves, privately. This is a beautiful example of how we could enforce the law in a free, stateless society.
Golden Anarchist Opportunity MissedInstead of seizing the golden opportunity to point out private law in action, Tucker unwittingly fuels liberty’s detractors by pitting ad revenue against “the law”. It’s as if Tucker doesn’t understand that “the law” is exactly what YouTube is enforcing. And that’s a good thing. Do you see? Private institutions can do a great job of protecting property. We don’t need the state.
But isn’t YouTube just enforcing copyright law because the state makes them? That appears to be Tucker’s position:
IP enforcement through . . . copyrights has slowed the pace of development of media [and] software. (p.224)Tucker doesn’t offer any evidence to support this alleged hindrance of development. In fact, the YouTube example seems to show quite the opposite, once we consider that YouTube enforces copyright.
Within our current statist system, content creators are free to release relinquish copyright altogether, or to release material under the Creative Commons, which is a license allowing unrestricted copying. If copyright really was a detriment to progress, one would think that a competitor could outperform YouTube by only accepting non-copyright material, and that users would flock to this competitor, happy to leave behind YouTube and its “antique institution of copyright”, as Tucker calls it.
Despite spending a large amount of ink canonizing YouTube, Tucker simply ignoring the “elephant in the room”, i.e. YouTube enforces copyright.
Black FridayEarlier in the book, Tucker proclaims:
I’m so proud of Rebecca Black I can hardly stand it. (p.55)In 2011, at age 13, Rebecca Black became famous with her YouTube video of the song “Friday”. I share Tucker’s admiration of Rebecca’s accomplishments. While her notoriety did stem from so many people allegedly disliking the song, music is, after all, the “entertainment” business. Entertaining people is difficult to do. Many have tried and failed. Rebecca Black succeeded.
[Rebecca Black] is among a growing number of young people who have become YouTube stars completely on their own. (p.55)Wait, not so fast. Rebecca Black most certainly did not succeed completely on her own. The song “Friday” was written by Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson. Before they did so, young Rebecca didn’t have a song to sing. Then, Rebecca’s mom hired a production company called Ark Music Factory to produce the song with Rebecca singing, and to produce a music video.
There Really Was A Copyright DisputeReminiscent of socialists, who ignore wealth creation and merely seek to distribute it, Tucker ignores authorship completely. He focuses on the “worst song ever” hype that propelled Rebecca Black to fame, and writes:
After some weeks, she pulled the [“Friday”] video down — and this decision seemed like a bow to defeat at the hands of the Internet lynch mob. In public, the given reason was a copyright dispute. But privately, she had to feel a sense of relief. No more hate. No more derision. No more sleepless nights of feeling inadequate. (p.57)Mr. Tucker, I understand that using hyperbole like “internet lynch mob” might be more inflammatory than plain facts about property rights. But the fact is, there really was a copyright dispute here. A few of them actually.
First, there is a copyright in the authorship, i.e. writing of the song. There is a different copyright in a sound recording of the song. This makes sense, because there can be many different recordings of the same one song. And, there is a copyright in a video. The same video could be synced to different audios, or the same audio could be synced to different videos. It is quite logical that there are separate rights of ownership to the different elements.
Jey and Wilson wrote “Friday”, so they own the authorship. Rebecca’s mom paid for the audio and video masters, so she owns those. These people had some temporary misunderstandings about who owned what, and that led to the temporary take-downs. They resolved their property disputes, peacefully, and the video was re-uploaded. All is well, Friday-wise.
Tucker cites some of the lyrics of the song, and offers his view that it conveys a libertarian theme of freedom, and rejecting prison-like public schools. But throughout the passage, Tucker steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the songwriters, speaking as if “Friday” was Rebecca Black’s song:
[“Friday”] was sung by Justin Bieber. It was performed on the television show Glee. It was covered by star Katy Perry in concert, and on Jimmy Fallon’s television show with Stephen Colbert and Taylor Hicks. (p.57)Yes, but you see, “Friday” is Jey and Wilson’s song, not Rebecca Black’s. Without copyright, Rebecca Black, and Justin Beiber, and Katy Perry, and Glee and the others would all be free to profit from the performance of “Friday”, without compensating the guys who actually brought that song into existence, i.e. homesteaded it.
Selective Enforcement – A Beautiful ThingI exclude some people from my house. Others I invite in. As a property owner, this is my right. Indeed, this is the very essence of property. I have exclusive control over my house, and may set whatever peaceful standards I wish in judging whether to allow others access.
In “Liberty.me”, Tucker chronicles what he claims is selective enforcement of copyright, as if that’s a bad thing. A YouTube video about making guns used a piece of music, and:
Apparently, the video infringed on the copyright of Warner/Chappell. What’s that? That’s a music distributor. So the wrath supposedly had nothing to do with the gun or the subject. It was removed because the background music was alleged to be under copyright.
But wait just one moment. There are dozens of different YouTube videos that use that song. It’s also used in the movie Tree of Life. If it’s copyright protected, isn’t it just a bit strange that Warner happened to pick Cody’s video to order a takedown? (p.121)I don’t know what song it even was in that gun video, nor whether Warner/Chappell’s copyright enforcement really was selective, as Tucker suggests. Perhaps the other videos which feature the same song licensed it properly.
But let’s assume the folks at Warner/Chappell are card-carrying left-wing Democrats, and purposely filed a copyright claim against the gun-making video to make a political point. So what? It is no different than selectively denying access to your house. If I own a song, and I only wish to allow it to be used in videos about global warming and feeding the homeless, and not about do-it-yourself gun manufacture, that is my right. This is the very essence of property.
Evidently Jeffrey Tucker and the other intellectual communists would prefer a world in which music owners were forced to allow access and use of their property by whoever and whenever. Take note: As with guns, I will give up my song when they pry my cold dead fingers from around it.
ConclusionIn the end, I am left to just scratch my head and wonder about the curious anti-copyright author and publisher Jeffrey Tucker. The version of his “Liberty.me” sold on Amazon contains an intriguing bit of language near the very beginning:
Copyright © 2014 by Jeffrey A. TuckerI know what I mean when I say “copyright”. I mean that I am staking my claim of ownership to a unique intellectual object, uniquely situated in intellectual space, with all the associated rights reserved. Although currently backed by the power of the state, I firmly believe that a free, stateless society will enforce copyright. YouTube provides a clear look at how it can work.
But what does Mr. Tucker mean by “copyright”? He places the “©” symbol in his own books, and many of those that he publishes by other authors. Tucker repeatedly refers to the “owners” of video content, presumably aware that only property can be owned. Liberty.me is a subscription-based online community, of which I and many others are paying members. At Laissez Faire Books, Tucker grants access to paying customers, excluding others. He clearly acts like a property owner over his intellectual property.
And yet, Tucker endorses Stephan Kinsella’s brand of intellectual communism: property rights are only legitimate in physical things, according to them. So, what do Tucker and Kinsella mean when they write “copyright” in their books? One can only wonder.
And by the way, YouTube enforces copyright.