Be Disagreeable

February 28, 2007

I received my latest issue of Make Magazine today and read a great article by Cory Doctorow entitled “I Agree.” Sadly It is not available online, but he wrote a similar article earlier this month.

In it, he, quite unintentionally I’m sure, demonstrates that “intellectual property” is actually counter to the idea of property and is only named so in an Orwellian irony. Specifically with regard to shrink-wrapped software, he writes:

Why read the “agreement” if you know that:

  1. No sane person would agree to its text, and
  2. Even if you disagree, no one will negotiate a better agreement with you?

We seem to have sunk to a kind of playground system of forming contracts. Tag, you agree! Lawyers will tell you that you can form a binding agreement just by following a link, stepping into a store, buying a product, or receiving an email. By standing there, shaking your head, and shouting “NO NO NO I DO NOT AGREE,” you agree to let the other guy come over to your house, clean out your fridge, wear your underwear and make some long-distance calls.”

In the Make article, he goes further:

“These “agreements” set out the conditions under which you can use your own property. They waive fair use, prohibit lending, resale or reverse engineering. Sometimes even swear you to secrecy!…These “agreements” set out two classes of people: lordly manufacturers who own and control everything, and lowly tenant farmers who merely borrow their goods from the lord.”

Doctorow has stumbled upon the same ideas of property as set forth by Roderick T. Long in his podcast “Property, Land, Contract” form mises.org.

How can I own something, if I cannot fully control it, be it a hardware or software component? How can I agree to such conditions when I am, essentially, tricked into agreeing and with no recourse to refuse or negotiate a better deal? Of course I can’t. I am being forced to give up my property rights on property I own. I am being coerced into contracts that give up these rights, often without my knowing. I am paying for something but becoming an electronic sharecropper or a digital squatter, a serf and I have no choice.

Yet the MPAA and the CRIA talk about me trying to enjoy the property I bought and paid for fairly as somehow abusing their “intellectual property rights.”
Do I have a choice? In true, and once again unintentionally anarchist fashion, Doctorow provides the direct action answer:

“Start pushing back. Don’t take it lying down. Be disagreeable.”

Amen to that.

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15 Responses to “Be Disagreeable”


  1. Send me your email address please for a message about joining the carnival of anarchy.

  2. theconverted Says:

    Eugene,

    Its Mike from Rational Reasons. Already done.

    Thanks for the invite. I’m honoured.

  3. Ian Scott Says:

    Yes. Disagree. Tell Microsoft to Fuck Off. 🙂

  4. Ian Scott Says:

    “In it, he, quite unintentionally I’m sure, demonstrates that “intellectual property” is actually counter to the idea of property and is only named so in an Orwellian irony.”

    On a serious note, this is something I’d like to write about at some point, about the stupidness and idiocy regarding “patents.”

    Patent Law is possibly one of the most unfree laws that could ever be imagined.

    Ideas are not things.

  5. Ian Scott Says:

    Sorry.. “Ideas are not THE things.”

    Subtle but important distinction there.

  6. theconverted Says:

    He he, yeah I remember that discussion. ‘Jeff’ ought to be around anytime now….

    Listen to that MP3 I link to. Roderick T. Long summarizes it both simply and brilliantly.

  7. Werner Says:

    Not only does intellectual “property” sound sleazy it interferes with software development on the “purely” engineering level. Consider the unnecessary complexity of DVD formats due to whining from Hollywood. Those guys are WORSE than Microsoft. They produce nothing except a gravity well for money. Also I’ve wondered for some time now why optical formats are not contained in some sort of casing like a heavy duty version of the old 5.25 inch floppy disk jacket. Perhaps this was deliberate as a measure of planned obsolescence. Paranoia can be fun …

  8. theconverted Says:

    Its not only the notion of property, but the bizarre way of negotiating a contract. No give or take, no offers and acceptance, but merely “Ha Ha, I tricked you, sucka!” click through method.

    Make Magazine is predominantly for hardware, and this is happening there as well. Casings that cannot be opened, no parts lists or schematics available. unchangeable batteries and warranties that can be void with the turn of a screw.

    They have a great saying: “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it.”

    Exactly.

  9. KevinG Says:

    “These “agreements” set out the conditions under which you can use your own property.

    If you are still talking about software here, then it’s important to note that it isn’t your property. You don’t own it. You didn’t purchase it, you purchased a right to use it.

    Also, and things may have changed since I learned this, in many places, clickwrap agreements are not enforceable, it’s just that no one can really afford to fight it over a few hundred dollars worth of software.

  10. theconverted Says:

    “If you are still talking about software here, then it’s important to note that it isn’t your property. You don’t own it. You didn’t purchase it, you purchased a right to use it.”

    Well then clearly I’m a digital serf. I’ll bet when people buy software, they think they actually “own it”. If they don’t then tat distinction certainly needs to be made up front. That it hasn’t tells me its being hidden purposely so people don’t try to get an alternative. It tells me that people are not really agreeing to what the software manufacturers say they are agreeing to.

    It could also apply to digital content like a song or a video.

  11. KevinG Says:

    It does apply to songs and videos. When you buy a cd you don’t own the song. You own the media and the varius copyright holders have agreed to let you listen to the song, notwithstanding their other ‘rights’. As the purchaser, you don’t have the right to do whatever you want with it.

    You are only a digital serf because you don’t have sufficient capital to own the software.

    Don’t get me wrong, there is lots broken with intellectual property laws and their application it’s just that this line or argument isn’t very effective because of the false premise.

  12. theconverted Says:

    “When you buy a cd you don’t own the song.”

    That’s pretty much the problem. I own the CD media, but not what is recorded on it. Like owning a car but not the paint…

    Yet they sell it to you as if you do own it. The oint is that you are led to beleive you do own it as property, rather than renting it or purchasing less than full property rights.

  13. overthinker Says:

    I don’t think you are led to believe you do own it; most people are familiar with the basic idea of copyright and patent. They know when you buy a book, you have bought the physical book, not the right to start publishing new copies of it. Similarly, the EULA’s you have to click through make it thoroughly clear your rights as a consumer are limited. The problem with IP is the statutory overprotection of it (IMHO), which lays a groundwork giving industry an advantage over consumers. Yet still, critics of IP should respect freedom of contract even if you don’t like the outcome of that contract. If you bought a car but leased the paint, that’s no one’s fault but your own.

  14. theconverted Says:

    overthinker,

    But I have not had the chance to even negotiate. I don’t have an alternative (save open source in software). And no one, I mean no one, actually reads click through licenses for that very reason.

    If we were able to truly and freely contract, you would have a point, but we are not. We don’t negotiate, we don’t have alternatives.

    And in the end its not the artists that are profiting from this, but record companies. They are trying to use these laws and regulations to maintain their out of date business models, rather than evolving new business models.

    Its as if I bought the car with leased paint and was made to agree with that condition by looking at the car or opening the door.

    I’ll side with Roderick T. Long on this one…

  15. theconverted Says:

    Kevin and overthinker,

    Have a look at Eben Moglen’s writings on this subject – both entertaining and enlightening:

    http://emoglen.law.columbia.edu/my_pubs/anarchism.html

    He says it way better than I can


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