Infringement and Terrorism: Pfft!

The Rand Corporation has published a report linking the proceeds of infringement (of films) with funding of terrorist groups.  This is a meme (infringement funds organised crime/terrorism) which copyright ideologues have been pushing for  many years, with varying degrees of success.  The argument is that if it funds terrorism then something must be done to stop that flow of funds.   Ideologues then argue that this means that the scope of copyright and the penalties for infringement must be ramped up.[1]   Such an argument is without a basis in logic.

We can concede that copyright infringement is a source of funding for terrorism and organised crime.  We can also concede that something should be done about it.  It does not follow that what should be done is to ramp up the copyright monopoly (by granting greater monopoly coverage or greater penalties for infringement).  Indeed, the presence of the monopoly is the only reason that infringement can be a source of funds for these groups.   Without it, the price for the goods would be the marginal cost to produce (and there is no reason to believe that these groups have a comparative advantage here).

By definition, the fact that something is illegal does not stop organised crime and terrorists doing it.   On the contrary, they do more of it.  All that ramping up the monopoly does is reduce competition from softer targets.  This means that criminals and terrorists are able to make more money, not less, and the share of revenue from infringing practices will be more weighted towards the organised criminals and terrorists.  For example, the student who makes some money selling infringing copies at the local market stalls reduces the amount of profit that organised criminals can make.   It is this sort of soft target who will be removed by ramping up the monopoly.  Does anyone honestly think it’s better that this money goes to a terrorist rather than the student?

Does anyone honestly believe that people who are actively planning to commit mass murder are going to be deterred by a jail sentence for copyright infringement?

That terrorists profit from infringement is an argument against copyright, not an argument for more copyright.


[1] Which the report duly does: “The RAND report says that counterfeiting levels are not likely to decline unless governments worldwide commit more resources and create greater accountability for intellectual property protections. Such a commitment would need to produce stronger anti-counterfeiting laws, consistent enforcement against pirating and stronger penalties, including larger fines and prison sentences.

If you were interested in this post you might also be interested in these other posts:

Piracy and Malware – Pfft!

Copyright Infringement as Stealing: Pfft!

Copyright as Respect – Pfft!

6 Responses to “Infringement and Terrorism: Pfft!”

  1. 1 G Thompson 5 March 2009 at 12:37 pm

    So how long do you think it will take for the MPAA/RIAA/AFACT et. al. to conclude that virtual piracy of mp3/mpegs etc are a terrorist action and therefore p2p is a terrorist enabler?

    Though maybe they would class Old Thomas Jefferson as a pirate and Thief (and maybe terrorist??) since he stated about monopolies and copyright:

    “Stable ownership is the gift of social law, and is given late in the progress of society. It would be curious then, if an idea, the fugitive fermentation of an individual brain, could, of natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable property. 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 every one, 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 in 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.”

    Then again I think Mr Stallman said it best that “Instead of speaking of “intellectual property”, which invokes that feel-good idea of property and ownership, we should speak of “intellectual monopolies”. For this is precisely what copyrights and patents are: they are monopolies granted by governments for a limited period as part of a bargain – that, in return, those who are granted those monopolies hand them over to the public domain once the term of the monopoly has lapsed.”
    [ ]

  2. 2 brendanscott 5 March 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Yes. Part of the problem with “intellectual property” is that it is almost entirely doublespeak. That would be ok if it didn’t have spillover effects on the language generally. Calling an infringer a thief devalues the word thief – and causes resources to be diverted from catching thieves.

  3. 3 G Thompson 5 March 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Exactly, I wish AFACT would understand that and change their acronym to something does not have the fasle and misleading word THEFT in it ~s~

    You might be interested in reading (well the Exec summary and conclusions anyway) the report called “Ups and downs. Economic and cultural effects of file sharing on music, film and games (FEB 2009)” (English authorised translation found at ).

    This is a report commissioned by the Netherland Ministries of Education, Culture and Science, Economic Affairs and

    The report recommends moving away from criminalizing user activities, educating users on ALL forms of copyright licensing, and focusing instead on encouraging new business model developments.

    Who’d a thunk it!

    [Note: Downloading copyrighted content from file-sharing networks, websites and other sources for one’s own use is permitted by law in the Netherlands, unless it is a software program.]

  4. 4 SPM 6 March 2009 at 8:29 pm

    All sorts of wannabe civil rights abusers are trying to jump on the terror bandwagon.

    Copyright infringement is unconnected with terrorism has nothing to do with terrorism. While it is possible that terrorists can make money from copyright infringement, they can also make money from bank accounts and use bank accounts to transfer assets for terrorist purposes. By the same logic, if we are to make copyright infringement a terrorist offense because copyrights may be infringed by terrorists, then there is a very much stronger case for making bank accounts and bank transfers terrorist offenses – on the grounds that bank deposits are actually much more useful to terrorists than copyright infringement is.

    • 5 Chris Gilbey 29 May 2009 at 12:03 pm

      I totally agree with this…!

      I have read that somewhere in the region of one third of all international bank settlements are in connection with illegal activities, including drugs, arms and every other crime you can think of.

      The reality is that banks are hardly going to give up the commissions that they make on handling all that cash. So they too sign up tacitly to the proposition that greed is good…

  1. 1 Stilgherrian · Links for 03 March 2009 through 07 March 2009 Trackback on 7 March 2009 at 9:11 am

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