Goodbye, Copyright. Farewell, Tenured Guilds.
Remnant ReviewCopyright law is in its terminal phase. I have known this for over 20 years. The Internet is killing it.
I am going to discuss a remarkable example of a website that today has 48 million stolen scientific articles online. It is beyond the ability of anybody to control. It is outside of copyright protection, despite the fact that academic journals want to defend their turf. There is no legal way for them to do this.
Before I explain what has happened, I want to take you back to 1994.
THE GENIES ARE OUT OF THEIR BOTTLES
John Perry Barlow used to be a songwriter for the Grateful Dead. He is also a digital technician. In 1994, he wrote an article for the printed version of Wired magazine, because that was the only way we could buy the magazine. It was published in March 1994, eight months before the release of the original graphic internet browser, Netscape.
Barlow's article was on the high cost of enforcing copyright in the digital age. The article is still online. Anybody who is interested in the issues of copyright law ought to read it.
It began with a quote from Thomas Jefferson:
"If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property."From the beginning of copyright law in the early 17th century, when England licensed the printing of Bibles by Oxford and Cambridge -- academic guild centers -- copyright law could only be enforced in the way that it is possible for governments to to control the sale of liquor: by controlling the sale of bottles. Governments controlled publishing by controlling paper, ink, and especially printing presses. In other words, they controlled the bottles. But, in the Internet age, Barlow wrote, it is no longer possible to protect the liquid, meaning digits, by means of limiting access to the bottles, meaning printing presses and bookstores. I remembered this argument for over 20 years. It was a graphic argument, which is what a good debater uses to drive home a point. I searched the article for "bottle," and I got this:
In other words, the bottle was protected, not the wine.Now, as information enters cyberspace, the native home of Mind, these bottles are vanishing. With the advent of digitization, it is now possible to replace all previous information storage forms with one metabottle: complex and highly liquid patterns of ones and zeros.This was published eight months before the arrival of the graphic internet browser, which produced the vast expansion of the World Wide Web.
Even the physical/digital bottles to which we've become accustomed -- floppy disks, CD-ROMs, and other discrete, shrink-wrappable bit-packages -- will disappear as all computers jack-in to the global Net. While the Internet may never include every CPU on the planet, it is more than doubling every year and can be expected to become the principal medium of information conveyance, and perhaps eventually, the only one.
Once that has happened, all the goods of the Information Age -- all of the expressions once contained in books or film strips or newsletters -- will exist either as pure thought or something very much like thought: voltage conditions darting around the Net at the speed of light, in conditions that one might behold in effect, as glowing pixels or transmitted sounds, but never touch or claim to "own" in the old sense of the word.
I now invoke that most ancient of economic laws: the law of demand. "When the price falls, more is demanded." The price keeps falling. Bandwidth keeps getting cheaper. Search engines keep getting more powerful. Copyright laws are now effectively dead for all except best-selling authors and their publishers. It is not economically possible to defend copyright any longer.
48 MILLION PIRATED ARTICLES, AND GROWING
A member of this site posted a question regarding copyright law. He had come across a unique website, which claims to have 48 million scientific articles posted on the site. The site is www.sci-hub.io.
I began a brief investigation of the site. First, I wanted to know what the URL designation .io stands for. Here, I got an education. It is a country, but one that I had never heard of before: British Indian Ocean Territory. In the 1960's, the British government stole a group of about 1000 islands that are located in between Madagascar and India. The most famous one is Diego Garcia. I had heard of that island. The United States government has a major military base on Diego Garcia.
The British expelled the residents of these islands. There is a Wikipedia entry on this island nation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Indian_Ocean_Territory. But this is more to the point:
Located in the Indian Ocean, the British Indian Ocean Territory is an archipelago south of India, about halfway between Africa and Indonesia. This area includes the entire Chagos Archipelago of 55 islands. The combined area of these islands is 21,004 square miles, about one third the size of Washington D.C. Currently there are no indigenous habitats on these islands. In the 1960's and 70's, approximately 1,200 former agricultural workers in the Chagos Archipelago were relocated to Mauritius and the Seychelles. In November 2000 they were granted the right of return by a British High Court ruling. However, this ruling was overturned in 2008, finding no right for the natives to return. By November 2004, approximately 4,000 United Kingdom and United States military personnel and civilian contractors were living on the island of Diego Garcia in a joint naval support facility.So, the national judicial entity is based on theft. Historically, lots of nations are based on theft. Probably most entities are based on theft. But, because this was recent, is more obviously a product of the power of empire.
Second, I read this:
.IO has become one of hottest domain name extensions for startups. This is a little peculiar, since .IO has existed since 1997 and was originally assigned as the ccTLD for British Indian Ocean Territory. So, why are startups turning to .IO?With .IO, startups can get short and memorable names, because .IO has great availability. A .IO domain name can be a better option than coming up with a long and confusing domain name that uses a more established extension (or buying expensive premium domains). To put it simply, .IO's are an easy way to get a great domain for a great price, and .IO has a handful of other defining benefits.So, here we have a unique legal entity. The original owners were thrown out by the British. The main occupiers are now employees of the United States government. Because of the World Wide Web, people from all over the world are setting up domain names inside the jurisdiction this strange legal entity. It has no court system. It has no lawyers. Nobody lives there who runs one of the sites. Unless the organization that controls the issuing of domain names somehow shuts down a particular website, anybody can post just about anything.
I predicted over a decade ago that this would begin. I said that copyright was basically doomed, because of the multiplication of the number of island nations. As nation-states begin to break apart, there will be a multiplication of these small nations, especially island nations. I wrote years ago that because Web servers can be set up on these islands, an island that decides not to honor copyright is going to be in a unique position to sell domain name server space.
This is probably the best example that I have seen of domain immunity from lawsuits. I don't know how legal ownership is established in a separate island nation run by the British. For a lawsuit to be successful, it has to be able to get support from some legal entity that possesses legal sovereignty. This is going to prove to be a problem.
What about the website itself? What kind of traffic does it have? I checked Alexa.com. This site is rated a little above number 13,000 in the world -- out of a billion sites. That means it is an incredibly popular site. The main visitors come from the following nations, no one of which is above 12%: China, Iran, Brazil, India, and Russia.
The site was first set up in 2011 with a .org domain extension. It switched to .io last November after a lawsuit was filed against it. Yet it has gone from no traffic to a 13,000 Alexa ranking in about four months.
I have been unable to find anything about copyright law in this judicial entity. There are couple of references, but they are effectively dead. There is no information.
Next, I went to Wikipedia to see what there is on the website. I found that there is a lawsuit against the site by a technical publishing organization, but the lawsuit seems to be going nowhere. That is understandable; judicially speaking, there is nowhere to go. Wikipedia reports:
The site is currently involved in a legal case with Elsevier: Elsevier et al. v. Sci-Hub et al. Elsevier claims that Sci-Hub illegally accesses accounts of students and academic institutions to provide free access to articles through their platform ScienceDirect. The case is complicated by the fact that the site is hosted in St. Petersburg, Russia, making it difficult to target within the US legal system. Some question Elsevier's motives behind its simultaneous attempt to partner with Wikipedia to disseminate their paywalled papers. A similar case is also being run against the site Library Genesis (LibGen), which may be based in the Netherlands or possibly Russia as well. Despite seizure of the websites as ordered by a New York district court on October 28, 2015, the site is still accessible through alternative domains as of December 2015. The site is also accessible through the Tor network.Alexandra Elbakyan has cited the UN Declaration of Human Rights "to share in scientific advancement and its benefits." The Electronic Frontier Foundation has expressed support for Sci-Hub and its sister site LibGen. The lawsuit has prompted widespread criticism of Elsevier.This is almost a poster child example of what I described over a decade ago.
I did a spoof on copyright protection almost exactly three years ago: http://www.garynorth.com/public/10623.cfm.
BALKANIZATION AND LIBERTY
Late in 2015, I wrote an article about Matt Drudge's fear that the U.S. government will someday shut down his site by making it illegal for him to post links to articles. I said that this is unlikely. I concluded:
The bureaucrats still extend their power, but bureaucrats really only want to get paid for as little work as they can get away with. The federal bureaucracy is gigantic, but generally it is impotent to change much. It cannot force major changes in the economy or anywhere else. Even the bureaucracies war against each other for funding and jurisdiction. There is no unanimity within the federal government. There are, quite frankly, multiple bureaucratic ghettos. We used to call them fiefdoms.The Supreme Court can do little to roll back the spread of rival opinions. A court decision may be able to take out Drudge. That would be too bad. But the government can always wipe out any individual. The government can simply prosecute until the person runs out of money. (In Drudge's case, that would be a long time.) So, the Court may actually do something that will inhibit Drudge. But I still don't see what the Court is going to do about him. Drudge can write his own headlines. Drudge's site has enormous traffic. How can the Court take away this traffic?As I have written repeatedly, the Balkanization that is being produced by the Internet is destroying the gatekeepers and the establishments of the world. This is a tremendous benefit for liberty. The gatekeepers don't like it, but they can do little about it.
Drudge is the symbol of what the Internet meant for the establishment: trouble. In 1998, he exposed the Emperor as having no clothes.
The Emperor still doesn't have many clothes.
The government can pass any laws it can get through Congress -- fewer and fewer. The Supreme Court can make all the rulings it wants. It is way too late. The genie is long out of the bottle. There is no way that any national government can put a cork back in the digital bottle. The decentralization inherent in the World Wide Web is going to accelerate. Decentralization has only just begun to disrupt the near-unanimity and near-secrecy required for modern governments to impose their will on citizens. We are in the early phases of the loss of legitimacy for civil governments around the world.
I don't see how the owners of Facebook can do anything to stop this. I don't think the owners of YouTube and Google can do anything about it. They make money with the spread of ghettos. They rake in the money. The more the ghettos multiply, the more money they rake in. This cannot be reversed. This will not be reversed. There is just too much money in it.
With respect to copyright, I don't think it has much of a future. As the number of national jurisdictions multiplies, as it will inevitably do, the ability of copyright defenders to defend their copyrights is going to disintegrate. The example of the Sci-Hub website is indicative. A lawsuit threatened to get its .org domain revoked, but within days, it had a new URL. It barely missed a beat. In fact, it got larger. You can see this on the Alexa site. The traffic jumped incredibly in a matter of days.
To be ranked on Alexa at about 13,000, and earning this position from November until February, is unheard of. I have literally never heard of anything like this. It means that the people bringing the lawsuit are going to lose the lawsuit. Even if they win the lawsuit, they're going to be facing another version of this website in some other obscure national sovereignty within hours. We can be sure that traffic will follow this website. We have already seen this. It did no good for the people bringing the lawsuit to bring the lawsuit. It is expensive, and it is not going to get anywhere. They can bring a lawsuit inside the United States, but there is no way to enforce it. In any case, people in the United States hardly visit the site. It is being visited by people in China, Brazil, Russia, India, and Iran. Its market is exactly what the founders of the site say it is supposed to be, namely, scientists in Third World countries who cannot afford to buy the expensive articles at $30 apiece. So, they are going to get the articles for free.
I don't think there is anything that scientific publishers can do to stop this. That is why I concluded over a decade ago that copyright protection is headed for extinction.
It may be possible to protect copyright for best-selling novels, videos, and other high-traffic items. I don't know how, but it may be possible. The owners of these assets can afford to bring lawsuits. But the owners of almost all other digital assets cannot possibly afford to defend their property in courts. The courts are not set up to deal with millions of lawsuits. In any case, the courts don't have any jurisdiction outside a specific geographical territory, and the World Wide Web does not respect these judicial territories.
The spread of information is unstoppable now. Copyright law is the product of government intervention, and it is no longer possible for the vast majority of people who think they have copyright protection to buy the protection they need inside any court system. Laws are irrelevant if they cannot be enforced. If there is no sovereign entity to enforce the law, and if there is no court system that is capable of enforcing a law, then it isn't a law. It is simply a hope and a prayer on the part of people who cannot possibly defend what they say they own.
Academic journals and scientific journals cannot defend themselves today. When 48 million articles can be posted by an outfit that operates legally inside the jurisdiction of a stolen nation, and yet in fact operates out of Russia, there is no way for academic publications to defend their ownership. Those days are gone. They are never coming back.
These publications exist primarily for professors who are trying to establish temporal priority in discoveries. Very few of these discoveries will result in products that can be patented. These articles are mostly about gaining tenure or government research grants. They are mostly about being able to prove chronologically that the authors discovered something first, and therefore they can either get tenure get or government grants.
To get tenure, your article must be published in a peer-reviewed journal. Peer review is how academic guilds maintain control over the definition of what constitutes an acceptable idea or discovery within the guild. These guilds are always controlled by government, either directly or indirectly. This is the nature of guilds. They have to be enforced by government bureaucrats. In academia, the main form of enforcement is licensure of the words "college" and "university." The system is maintained by means of accreditation, followed by government enforcement of trademarks established by the two words, university and college.
With respect to scientific discoveries, the only one that matters is chronology. If you can prove that you came up with the discovery first, you get the credit for it. This is now the sword of Damocles hanging above the heads of everybody in a guild that is protected by peer review. It takes months to get an article through a committee of fellow scholars.
Today, if somebody comes up with an idea, he had better get that online and time-stamped by the end of the day. This way, he can defend his priority. This way, somebody else will not be able to say that he made the discovery. This means that the peer review process is going to collapse. That is because the peer review process takes so long to implement by means of printed materials, or digital materials posted online. Somebody else can beat another researcher to the punch by posting his discovery online. From that point on, anybody else is simply "me, too." Everybody else is "also ran." Everybody else is "close, but no cigar."
The peer review process is a process of guild control, and the guild is always defended by some government agency. You have to get your article approved by your peers in order to have an article that is considered academically respectable. But for somebody who is establishing priority with respect to an invention, the lawyer's phrase is in fact central: "Time is of the essence."
Prof. Dork may decide to use the discoveries of a team full of low-paid graduate assistants in order to establish priority for his discovery. But the good professor may be beaten to the punch by one of the graduate students. The graduate student can go online and post a discovery. Then Prof. Dork is an also ran.
The control of ideas by guilds that are supported by government intervention is coming to an end. These guilds are associations of gatekeepers. But the Internet is destroying the economic power of the guilds.
There is no international government that can defend copyright. The more nations there are in which you can set up a domain name, the less control over copyright there is. There is going to be a multiplication of nations. There is not going to be a worldwide government. Copyright is not going to be enforceable except in rare cases where a great deal of money is on the line. In academic matters, there is not a great deal of money on the line.
This means that the fruits of scientific research are not going to be in any way retarded by copyright protection. We know that now. Anyway, scientists in China, Iran, Russia, Brazil, and India know this. That is why this pirate site has an Alexa rating higher than 13,000.
The spread of information is now incredibly rapid. There is no way for governments to stop this. Thomas Jefferson saw this day over two centuries ago. Think of how much fun he would have had with the Internet. He would not have bankrupted himself by buying endless quantities of books. All he would have needed was a laser printer.
That is all anybody needs today.