Bitcoin Cash and copyright laws

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2 years ago

One of the questions that libertarians often ask themselves is how it is possible that a particular individual can support two conflicting positions in the same line of reasoning. How can one sustain freedom in the main sentence and in the subsequent subordinate the exact opposite? How can one argue that the free market is necessary for prosperity but at the same time find a role for the State to regulate it? How can it be argued that Bitcoin should be a point of reference in the global monetary system, but at the same time invoke an authority that stabilizes its price? There are plenty of these schizophrenic examples. Our task here is not to research the origin of this schizophrenia (we will do it in a separate article), but to make those who adopt similar lines of thought understand the schizophrenic nature of their assumptions. In fact, one of the maximum expressions of the aforementioned schizophrenia is found in copyright and those who live in the cryptocurrency world should know something about it.

What would have happened if, in a moment of disagreement such as 2017, Bitcoin wouldn't hard forked in two distinct paths? If Bitcoin was to be an unchanging and perennial idea as imagined by its author, where would all the improvements made by Bitcoin Cash devs end up? If the initial lines of code were to belong exclusively to Satoshi Nakamoto, and therefore to how he left his job before disappearing, what would have become of the practicality and ease of use of Bitcoin Cash? Why do you think Nakamoto remained a pseudonym and structured Bitcoin to be open source? Yet the schizophrenic copyright mentality has contaminated the Bitcoin environment, otherwise we would not have seen over time a company like Blockstream gain more and more influence and hijack the free development of the code.

If you bring to mind the story that led to the division between Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash, you will notice that since 2015 there has been a series of broken promises that two years later have led to an unsustainable breaking point: the understanding that the Bitcoin environment was subjected to a centralizing interference that wanted to impose its point on an instrument created to decentralize. Nakamoto is/was a profound connoisseur of libertarian philosophy and the Austrian economy, and this aspect is self-evident in the nature of Bitcoin, from how it was designed: the Bitcoin Cash hard fork. Every manifestation of freedom, every change we observe, every parceling out of the community, is nothing more than the result of a process of freedom that continues to confirm the wisdom of Nakamoto himself and the incredible rebirth of Bitcoin in an instrument impossible to control centrally. To better understand these points, let's go back to the definitions: what is ownership? What defines possession? What is an idea?

Let's start by saying that it is possible to define property as a means of smoothing out any conflicts or divergences between two or more individuals. We live in a world of scarcity and the economization of the surrounding environment allows certain people to make the best use of those scarce resources that if used by others would have been used worse or wasted. The point of this praxeological line is not only to pave the way for the moral question, after all both human action and morality derive from the same natural law. Isn't a producer entitled to the fruit of his/her labor? Of course, that's why writers are paid.

But if you make a copy of a clock, a door or a chair (with your "copied" saw), does the watchmaker and the carpenter collect a royalty? Property is a concept of human nature to "disperse" the distribution of scarce goods. But if you have an idea, someone else might have the same idea and you don't take anything. You will use yours and he/she will use his/hers. Do you think this example is out of this world? Think again, because that's how the Austrian economics theory was born, from the minds of three individuals at the same time: Carl Menger, Leon Walras and William Stanley Jevons. The subjective theory of value, in fact, and subsequently the marginalist revolution don't have a single "inventor" at all, but three distinct individuals who, thanks to ideas, have achieved the same result. Yet neither of the three sued the other or accused the other of stealing the related ideas.

Ideas are detached from the laws of scarcity precisely because they can be in unlimited and infinite patterns. It is impossible to put an objective limit on their diffusion and use. And in this sense copyright is a nonsense as understood by most people, since it is impossible to objectively declare a boundary to ideas. The copyright on ideas is the antithesis of ownership, since, as we have seen, ownership of material goods serves exactly to avoid conflicts over scarce elements. But, be careful, because copyright not only goes against the purpose of the property, but even against its peculiar characteristic: the transfer.

Needless to say, the possession of any scarce good also means the possibility of disposing of it or selling it. In fact, this precisely distinguishes the material world from the world of skills, talents and information. For example, when you buy the skills and ideas of a teacher, you don't acquire an ownership title at all (as would happen if you bought a house), since the teacher cannot physically get rid of his/her knowledge. He/she cannot separate from his/her ideas and information, he/she can only share them. When a musician plays or sells a song without any contract, those who listen receive information, not ownership. In order for a piece of music to be owned, it should be made transferable, separable from the original source.

In other words, if the musical composer affirms ownership over the notes or words that now flash in the mind of any listener, then he/she is affirming ownership over another's body and therefore slavery. Why? Because the title of ownership extends to the listener's body: his/her mind, his/her knowledge. This is like to say that overnight a person can claim ownership on another person's internal organs. Of course, there may be a donation, but this must be voluntary and above all transcribed on a contract. In essence, it is not a natural right to extend ownership to the body of others. The only exception to what has been said so far is if the aforementioned piece of music, once transcribed on paper for example and not disclosed, is closed in a safe. The author has the right to live in peace and keep a locked safe; nobody is authorized to force it and steal property inside. When an author chooses to advertise his/her ideas based only on the consent of a listener or reader, he/she loses any title of ownership on them.

Ideas are like the private key of a wallet that is jealously kept in a safe place: someone else can only know it if it's the owner's will, or through theft. But if during a conversation the owner reveals, even inadvertently, his/her private key, then he/sher is no longer the rightful owner. To which the latter could object: "The other person is not forced to steal my possession. There is a tacit agreement once I inadvertently pronounce certain phonemes that prevent the listener from taking advantage of it." And this is proven proof that copyright is not a natural right at all.

Now let's tackle another aspect of copyright, since it's not so rare to find people who agree that ideas can't be objectively limited. In fact, they say that copyright serves to protect the style or the way in which the author expresses himself rather than the ideas presented. Let us return to the example above, an individual who exposes his piece of music to the world. Needless to say, among the various songs we listen to every day, there are incredible assonances. Do these assonances represent a copy? Do they infringe copyright rights? If copyright prevents it, it means that similarities are also banned. And similarities are quite common in the realm of possibilities, especially when what constitutes a similarity is somewhat vague.

Nonetheless, many argue that honest similarities in nature are decidedly impossible or highly unlikely. But laws should be based on principles, not on probabilities. Examples of similarities in style are everywhere: clothes, cars, hairstyles, furniture, books, songs, articles, etc. If copyright were not the norm, we would consider it absurd as a gardener who claims a special right on how to cut the grass. Or, to date, we would live in a world only with Coca-Cola and not Pepsi ... and it would be a very sad world.

In fact, to be consistent, those who defend copyright must reduce their position to this absurd proposition. For example, not only writing but also public speeches are a personal form of expression. Therefore one should have the right to protect all of the spoken sentences, so that no one can later on use them without his/her consent. No profound reflection is needed to note the absurdity of this preposition. Also because history wouldn't have given us the legitimate owners of great speeches uttered by famous speakers. It is not a question of originality and protection of something, but of charisma, spontaneity and passion. These are unique and scarce talents, possessed only by a small group of individuals who manage to emerge thanks to them. And nobody can copy these talents.

Imagine now, in light of what has been written so far, if under the strict rules of copyright the words enunciated by Satoshi regarding the temporary issue of the block size at 1 MB should have remained carved in stone and never been questioned: Bitcoin Cash would never have been born and we should all use Lightning Network. Bitcoin's essence and purpose would have died that very day. Fortunately, this is not the case, thanks to Satoshi's profound knowledge of the libertarian and Austrian world, of authors such as Murray Rothbard and Benjamin Tucker. In this regard, this short essay can only be concluded with an aphorism by the latter: "Do you want a certain invention to remain only in your hands? Then keep it for yourself".

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Avatar for Melis
Written by
2 years ago


Interesting, you must have known so much about this, anyways it's cool I've learnt from reading through. Thanks for sharing.

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