Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): The Injustice of Illegal Downloads.

The actual title is The Injustice of Counterfeiting Books.  Kant argues that the counterfeiting of books is a violation of elementary moral principles.  The part that stood out to me relates to distinctions between art, inventions and books.  For example:

"A drawing, which any one has delineated, or got engraved by another, or executed in stone, in metal, or in stucco, may be copied, and the copies publicly sold; as every thing, that one can perform with his thing in his own name, requires not the consent of another." - The Injustice of Counterfeiting Books.

and in contrast:

"But the writing of another is the speech of a person, and whoever publishes it can speak to the public but in the name of this other, and say nothing more of himself, than that the author makes the following speech to the public through him."

I was inclined to agree with Kant when I started this, but the more I listened the more I disagreed, since statements like the above seem to be brought up with no basis other than to fluff up the argument.

When books could only be copied by hand the notion of counterfeiting in copying wasn't even dreamed of.  If one person could copy a book faster than another, he would be praised and no one would care if he had a right to make a copy.  Why is it that the ability to copy a work at costs that are hundreds of times less expensive than a hand copy should result in the creation of a new act of injustice?  The only possible reasoning is that the ability to make cheap copies of books generates new economic activity that we deem beneficial to society, and counterfeiting threatens this new economic activity.  Society must, however, make a decision that the new economic activity is something that it values first. An argument from natural law is impossible, since we accept trashy novels along with publications that are good and wholesome with no distinction under this counterfeiting rule.  It seems to me that Kant should have first begun with an argument that professional writers and publishers protected by copyright laws are beneficial to society, but he has completely ignored this point.

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