Do we really need to outlaw plagiarism?
Does copying someone else’s work without attribution pose a threat so grave that we must send armed forces to stamp it out?
I think not.
It truly is important to think through every law. We must stop and say, if my grandmother was engaging in this prohibited action, do I think it worth pointing a loaded gun at her to try to make her stop, and is it justifiable to pull the trigger if she refuses compliance?
If we review our laws that way, I think we will repeal most of them.
First, an aside, am I justified in calling all law to be so scrutinized? I don’t think justification is involved. That is what we do. If we pass a law, we are threatening to send aggressive, armed forces, law-enforcement, to coerce compliance. When we write a parking citation, we are counting on most people to simply comply and pay the fine, rather than challenge the authority, because when the sheriff shows up, we don’t want to risk the fact that the deputy will probably eventually pull the trigger and put us down permanently because the law backs the enforcer.
It isn’t an academic question. It is what we do. We enforce all law, tax law, civil law, criminal law, and environmental regulations, by putting a loaded gun to the head of violators, held by enforcers willing to pull the trigger if ultimately needed to enforce compliance. It is what we do. We have institutionalized coercive violence and prettied it up such that we can pretend it is a tame beast, but it is not. It, all of it, the institution and the violence and all that pertains, is a fearsome, destructive monster, always ready to pounce whenever unleashed, even in the smallest of instances.
Again, we pretend it is not so harsh because we count on individuals to comply before violence ensues, before the guns come out, but ultimately, if the individual (or the group, or mob) determines to be noncompliant, the bullets will eventually fly. Coercion is evil, but most of the time it is easy to pretend otherwise.
Back to plagiarism: How do we know what anyone wrote before Anne?
Mostly, we know who wrote what, and who originated ideas, because of the honor system. For the most part, replicators of ideas or writings wanted to attribute the origin because of credibility. It was more for personal honor and reputation than for honor of the originator. There was limited commercial value before the printing press. And, since ideas mattered, the surest way to have your ideas gain purchase was to attribute properly, especially to persons who already held the respect of their peers, especially if fame extended to the masses. Attributing your idea to Einstein just might get it accepted even if Einstein never thought of it; just provide a plausible story to make the connection.
It seems at least partly that copyright originated to protect the publishers, not the authors. Monopolies were extended, and that can never be counted good, even if at times it might be argued necessary.
It seems copyrights and intellectual property rights are primarily intended to protect those earning profits from it, not the originator who is the actual rights holder. Copyright and intellectual right, together, are simple; if I wrote it, if I originated the idea, I hold property right to it. I really see a huge disconnect between that simple idea and implementation and enforcement. Freedom and free-market interplay will work better. We need simple protection of the property right, not the profiteering rights.
I think those calling for liberty in intellectual property are on the right track. We really don’t need the guys with the guns to enforce honorable action in ideas, speech, writing, free thought, and all the related spread and influence of information.
We can let freedom ring.
Let’s work for freedom.
Sure, TANSTAFL, but it sure seems everything works out better the more freedom, and everything works out worse for more regulation and centralization.