Voluntary Socialism

A SKETCH (1896)

by Francis Dashwood Tandy (1867-1913)

Chapter X.

Special Privileges.

VS-10.1 While surplus value depends for its existence . principally upon the monopolies of land and money, it is also increased by special privileges. The abolition of these minor forms of monopoly, to be sure, would be of but little avail while the all-embracing monopolies of land and money still exist, yet they must ultimately be removed before the cost principle can be established.
VS-10.2 The most important forms of special privilege in vogue to-day are the protection from competition afforded to manufacturers by the protective tariff, the special charters granted to railroads and similar corporations, licenses, copyrights and patents.
VS-10.3 The various questions involved in the operation of railroads, etc., are treated in a subsequent chapter and so they need no elaboration here. And so much has been written in regard to the tariff, magnifying its importance out of all proportion to other questions, that it seems hardly worth while to give it more than passing mention. The advocates of “tariff for revenue only” must find their answer in the chapter dealing with Equal Freedom, in which I endeavor to prove that all forms of compulsory taxation are unjust. But the Protectionist thinks he has an economic principle to justify his position. He claims indulgence for his interference with the freedom of exchange, on the grounds of social expediency. His ideal is a tax which is sufficiently high to prohibit the importation of goods of foreign manufacture. From such a tax no revenue could be derived. It may be called a “tariff for protection only.” The object of such a tariff is simply to protect the domestic manufacturer from competition with foreign rivals, and so to enable him to charge a higher price for his goods than he could otherwise obtain. It will be observed that the extra price which is charged on account of such a tariff is not a tax but simple profit. If the tariff is so successful as to prevent all importations no tax is paid at all. The manufacturer would still reap this extra profit if, instead of levying a tax on imports, the government were to punish all importers as criminals. So while this form of profit is, under existing conditions, due to a tax, it is not itself a tax. For the arguments in favor of, or against, the removal of this special privilege, I must refer the reader to works which treat of it in detail.
VS-10.4 Licenses of all kinds are of a similar nature. They are especially designed to restrict the number of persons engaged in certain occupations. Such restrictions, by limiting the competition, must always enable those engaged in the licensed industry to charge prices than they otherwise could. The excuse offered for their existence is that those engaged in the licensed industries need special watching, either because the nature of those industries offers extra opportunities for fraud, or because those engaged in such industries are more than ordinarily depraved and liable to impose upon the ignorance of their fellow mortals – an insult at once to the intelligence of the general public, and to the honesty of large numbers of men engaged in various professions and callings.
VS-10.5 The protection of ignorance is not justified by Equal Freedom and must ever result disastrously. Experience alone can prove which is the ignorant and which is the wise man. An attempt to protect the former almost always results in restraining the activities of the latter. If a man is ignorant, nothing will teach him quicker than experience. If that experience kills him, there will be one fool less in the world, and the human race will be purer, better and nobler for his demise.
VS-10.6 Special privileges of this nature prevent men from engaging in certain occupations where they might earn an honest living, and where they might discover new methods and improvements to the benefit of the whole human race. They prevent free competition and, by so doing, they enable the favored few to collect larger fees from the rest of the community. The only reason they exist is to protect and foster ignorance and stupidity.
VS-10.7 The question of patents and copyrights requires longer notice. It is claimed by many that these rights are not special privileges but forms of the right of property. Herbert Spencer says, “That a man’s right to the produce of his brain is equally valid with his right to the produce of his hands, is a fact which has as yet obtained but a very imperfect recognition.” (Social Statics, Revd. Ed., p. 68.) He devotes the rest of the chapter to endeavoring to prove that a property right in ideas is justified, nay even demanded, by the principle of Equal Freedom.
VS-10.8 If ideas belong to whoever discovers them, it is unjust to limit that property right in any way. My property right to a box I have made involves my right to that box under all circumstances. It is mine. No considerations of time or place can alter the fact. No one has any business to interfere with it. I can do with it as I choose as long as I live and when I die, it belongs to my heirs forever. It is mine to use or not to use, to destroy or to preserve, just as I see fit. So, if it be asserted that a man has a property right to ideas, the proposition involves the same degree of proprietorship. It is absurd to say that I have a property right in something to-day, and that to-morrow that property right expires; or to say that something is mine on one side of an imaginary line but not on the other. Nor is it any less absurd to argue that I may not do as I will with my own. As soon as this is asserted, property right is denied. If, as Alphonse Karr [Online editor’s note: French journalist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1808-1890), editor of Le Figaro. – RTL] says, “Literary property is a property,” it is a property under all circumstances, in every country and at all times. It is the absolute property of its owner and his heirs forever, to do with as they please, to use or not to use, or even to destroy. And no one may use any idea to his advantage, without the consent of the discoverer of that idea.
VS-10.9 Christopher Columbus had an idea one day. As a result of that idea he discovered America. All ideas are the property of their discoverers and their heirs for all time, and no one may take advantage of such ideas without the consent of their owners. Therefore, no one may live in America without the consent of the heirs of Christopher Columbus. Caxton invented printing. Therefore, no one shall become a printer without the consent of Caxton’s heirs. Thousands of similar cases might be quoted.
VS-10.10 To maintain the right of an inventor or author to absolute property in his ideas, is to give him power to say how they shall be used. A copyright based upon this principle would not only prevent any unauthorized person from reprinting the author’s works. it would also prevent any purchaser of the works from lending them to anyone without the author’s consent This may seem a little exaggerated to some people. If so I commend to their notice the following paragraph, which was originally printed in the Boston Advertiser some years ago: “One of the oldest publishers in the city (Boston) is decidedly of the opinion that public libraries are a real disadvantage to the author. While Congress is devising means to protect authors, he contends, it would do them great service to pass a law that no public library shall place a book upon its shelves without the consent of the author.” (Library Journal, May, 1892.) If such a course is justifiable in regard to public libraries, why not prohibit private individuals lending books without the consent of the authors? Here is another case. It is not unusual for advertising concerns to purchase copies of illustrated papers, take them apart, interleave them with advertisements, rebind them and distribute them gratuitously. In consequence of this, “Judge” carries the following warning at the head of its editorial column: “The publishers of ... Judge notify the public that the use of Judge in local advertising schemes, by printing and inserting advertising pages between its leaves, is a direct violation of the publishers’ right under the copyright law. All copies of Judge are sold upon the express condition that they will not be used for such purposes. ... Notice is hereby given that the United States circuit court has recently granted an injunction restraining the use of Judge in this way.” Here is a direct recognition by the law of the property right of the publisher in every copy of his paper, even after that paper has been bought and paid for. These are but logical deductions of the right to property in ideas.
VS-10.11 Again, the absolute property right involves the right of destruction. Suppose now the heirs of Prof. Huxley were to become bigoted Christians, they would be entirely within their right if they suppressed all his works, and prevented everyone from reprinting them for all time. They could even compel all people who owned copies of his book to sell them to them for this purpose. Such a course would not be improbable. Lady Burton destroyed the manuscript which had cost her husband fifteen years’ labor, because she considered it immoral. [Online editor’s note: English writer Isabel Arundell Burton (1831-1896), wife of explorer Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890); after her husband’s death she burned the manuscript of his second, fuller translation of the 15th-century Arabic sex manual The Perfumed Garden. Since he appears to have conceived the project only after the publication of his first translation (1886), and since he died in 1890, Tandy’s “fifteen years” is an exaggeration. – RTL] Why should not any other bigot attempt to suppress works he thought unfit for publication, if he had the power? The natural history of the animal teaches us that this is his overruling passion. But why continue this any longer? The absurdity of perpetual and unlimited patents and copyrights must be clear to everyone. Yet, since this absurdity is involved in the hypothesis of property in ideas, that hypothesis must be declared absurd and untenable.
VS-10.12 But waiving all these difficulties for the present, what are ideas, to which a property right is claimed? Did Stevenson invent the locomotive engine unaided? Did Newton evolve the law of gravitation out of his inner consciousness? No. Every discovery in science, every invention in mechanical arts, every philosophical system, is but one more link in the chain of human knowledge. We build upon the past, . and the future will in turn take up the task where we have left off. Herbert Spencer would have been as impossible in the eighteenth century, as would Edison have been without Franklin. Shakspere merely rewrote a lot of ancient plays, and Copernicus gained his idea of the revolution of the planets from a sentence in the works of some obscure and long forgotten Greek astronomer. [Online editor’s note: Tandy presumably means either Philolaus or Aristarchus (though these names are hardly “obscure and long forgotten” to classical scholars or to historians of science); he also presumably means the revolution of the Earth. – RTL] It is impossible to say, “This is original and that is not.” Everything is original, or nothing is original, just which way you choose to look at it. Certain conditions create certain needs. If those needs are not filled in one way, they will be in another. If not by one man, then by some one else. Darwin and Wallace both discovered the theory of natural selection almost simultaneously. Proudhon, Marx and Josiah Warren all worked out the cost principle, entirely independently of each other, at very nearly the same time. Hundreds of such cases might be quoted. “Mark Twain,” a firm believer in copyright, is authority for the following:1
“The following statement, which I have clipped from a newspaper, is true. I had the facts from Mr. Howells’ lips when the episode was new:
“‘A lady of Rochester, New York, contributed to the magazine (Atlantic) after “Dr. Breen’s Practice” was in type, a short story which so much resembled Mr. Howells’ that he felt it necessary to call upon her and explain the situation of affairs in order that no charge of plagiarism might be preferred against him.’ ...
“Here is another case. I clip it from a newspaper. ... ‘Miss Anna M. Crane, of Baltimore, published Emily Chester, a novel which was pronounced a very striking and strong story. A comparison of this book with Moods showed that the two writers, though entire strangers to each other, and living hundreds of miles apart, had both chosen the same subject for their novels, had followed almost the same line of treatment up to a certain point, where the parallel ceased, and the denouements were entirely opposite. And even more curious, the leading characters in both books had identically the same names, so that the names in Miss Alcott’s novel had to be changed.’ ...
“Four or five times within my recollection there has been a lively newspaper war in this country over poems whose authorship was claimed by two or three different people at the same time. There was a war of this kind over ‘Nothing to Wear,’ ‘Beautiful Snow,’ ‘Rock Me to Sleep, Mother,’ and also over one of Mr. Will Carleton’s early ballads, I think." (S. L. Clemens, Mental Telegraphy, in £1,000,000 Bank Note and Other New Stories, pp. 56-57.)
VS-10.17 Are we to give a man a property right in ideas he discovers to-day, and deny it to the man who discovers the same ideas to-morrow? Both are children of the same social system. Roth are living in a society which has attained a certain intellectual growth. Why should we say to one man, “These ideas are yours for a certain length of time, to do with as you please,” and to that man, “You are too late. Your ideas have already been monopolized.” That it is impossible, without destroying the law, to so adjust it that both may reap an equal benefit, must be apparent to anyone who considers the facts of the case. For example, A has a patent right. B infringes it, either in good faith or by wilful copying. Under the present law, A has to prove that B is manufacturing and selling goods very similar to those protected by his patent That is all. If that can be proved, B must be restrained. If the law were amended in any way so as to give B the advantage of independent discovery, A would find it impossible to protect his patent right. If independent discovery were ever admitted, it would either have to be disproved by A or proved by B, both of which would be impossible in nearly every case, and would involve both parties in almost endless litigation. So it would be practically impossible to adequately protect A without doing injustice to B.
VS-10.18 Spencer admits the difficulty of dealing with simultaneous, independent discovery. He says, “In consequence of the probability, or perhaps we may say the certainty, that causes leading to the evolution of a new idea in our mind, will eventually produce a like result in some other mind, the claim above set forth (for property in ideas) must not be admitted without limitation. Many have remarked the tendency which exists for an invention or discovery to be made by independent investigators nearly at the same time. There is nothing really mysterious in this. A certain state of knowledge, a recent advancement in science, the occurrence of some new social want – these form the conditions under which minds of similar characters are stimulated to like trains of thought, ending, as they are prone to do, in kindred results. Such being the fact, there arises a qualification to the right of property in ideas; which it seems difficult and even impossible to specify definitely. The laws of patent and copyright express this qualification by confining the inventor’s or author’s privilege within a certain term of years. But in what way the length of that term may be found with correctness there is no saying.” (Social Statics, Revd. Ed., p. 72.)
VS-10.19 This kind of reasoning is more picturesque than logical. Spencer here shows us clearly that the granting of a patent to A is an infringement of B’s liberty. But in order to even things up a little he proposes to deprive A of the property, to which he has supposedly established A’s claim, in order, not that B may be remunerated in particular, but that the rest of the community may plunder the property as much as they like after A has saved what he could during certain years. If granting a patent to A prevents B from making similar discoveries, either simultaneously with A or subsequently, the granting of that patent is clearly an invasion of B’s liberty. If it is not an invasion, why limit A’s right to his property? And if it is an invasion, what good does it do B to limit the period of the invasion to twenty years?
VS-10.20 It is urged by some that, while no property can equitably be held in ideas, it is only just that people be allowed a property right in the expression of those Ideas. But that very expression is itself an idea. In the case of Miss Crane and Miss Alcott, above quoted, the two authors followed the same plot and even gave their characters the same names, without previous knowledge of each other. In this case, which is the idea and which the expression of that idea? The two things are inseparable, and the arguments which apply against one are valid when directed against the other.
VS-10.21 The hypothesis of property in ideas is absurd, so copyright and patents are nothing but special privileges. In fact they were never designed as anything else. A great English authority on jurisprudence tells us, “In modern times the inventor of a new process obtains from the State, by way of recompense for the benefit he has conferred upon society, and in order to encourage others to follow his example, not only an exclusive privilege of using the new process for a fixed term of years, but also the right of letting or selling his privilege to another.” (Holland, Jurisprudence, Ed .5, p. 179.) Many defend the existence of such monopolies on these grounds. They claim that “they are necessary to encourage literary industry and to foster inventive genius.” The same old argument. Change the word “literary” to “infant” and “inventive genius” to “domestic manufactures” and everyone will recognize the sole intellectual stock in trade of the Protectionist. In order to protect a certain class of men, we are to enable them to tax all the rest of the community! But I deny this necessity. Monopoly is not necessary to secure fair pay to authors and inventors, and to more than this they are not entitled. Mr. Benj. R. Tucker tells us, “I deny that, in the absence of copyright and in the presence of competition, authors will have no earthly chance of being financially remunerated. In what I shall say under this head, I shall speak as a book publisher and an expert, and I claim for my statements as much authority as may rightfully be awarded expert testimony. It is a rule, to which exceptions are very rare, that, even in the absence of copyright, competing editions are not published except of books the demand for which has already been large enough to more than reasonably reward both author and publisher for their labor. Take, for instance, a paper novel that retails at 50 cents. We will suppose that for this book there is a demand of 10,000 copies. These copies cost the publisher, to make and market, say 17 cents each. He pays the author 5 cents for each copy sold – that is the customary royalty of ten per cent. of the retail price. The total cost to the publisher, then, is 22 cents per copy. He sells these books to the jobbers at 25 cents each, leaving himself a profit of 3 cents a copy. He probably has orders from the book trade for three to six thousand copies before publication. If the final demand is not to exceed the edition of 10,000 copies, the sale of the balance will drag along slowly and more slowly through several years. During this time the author will receive as his royalty $500 in payment for a book which he was probably leas than sixty days in writing. I maintain that he is more than reasonably paid. No rival edition of his book has sprung up (we are supposing an absence of copyright) for the reason that the demand did not prove large enough to induce a second publisher to risk the expense of making a set of plates. But now let us suppose that on publication so brisk a demand had immediately arisen as to show that the sale would be 20,000 instead of 10,000. The publisher, as before, would have sold three to six thousand in advance, and the balance of the first 10,000 would have disappeared before any rival publisher could have made plates and put an edition on the market. As before, then, both author and publisher would have been more than adequately paid. But at this point steps in a rival. Having to pay no author and to do no advertising, he can produce the book at say 14 cents a copy, and perhaps will sell it to the trade at 20 cents. It now becomes optional with the author and first publisher to maintain the old price and sell perhaps one thousand of the second 10,000 or to reduce the one his royalty and the other his profit, sell the book to the trade almost as low as the rival, and control nearly half the subsequent market. In either case, both author and publisher are sure to get still further pay for services that have already been more than reasonably rewarded, and the public meanwhile benefits by the reduction in price. Why has no competing edition of ‘The Rag Picker of Paris’ [Online editor’s note: An 1890 novel by French playwright and political activist Felix Pyat (1810-1889), translated and published by Tucker himself. – RTL] been published during the six months it has been on the market? Simply because, though a more than ordinarily successful novel, it did not develop a sufficient demand to tempt another publisher. Yet it has paid me more than equitably. Why, on the other hand, did two competing editions of ‘The Kreutzer Sonata[Online editor’s note: An 1889 novella by Tolstoj, likewise translated and published by Tucker. – RTL] appear on the market before mine had had the field two months? Simply because the money was pouring into my pockets with a rapidity that nearly took my breath away. And after my rivals took the field, it poured in faster than ever, until I was paid nearly 60 times over for my work.”2 (Liberty, 10th January, 1891.) [Online editor’s note: This passage appears not to be in the issue that Tandy cites; if you find the correct issue, please drop me a line. – RTL]
VS-10.22 Exactly the same forces are at work in the case of inventions and often in an intensified form, as new inventions usually require special machinery for their manufacture. I will eyen go further than this. A patent is often a direct disadvantage to an inventor. “When a patent has been granted,” says Chamber’s Encyclopaedia, “if it is of such a nature as to lead to competition, infringements are almost matters of course, and the only mode of discovering and checking the infringement is so tedious, costly and ineffective that inventors generally pass their lives in constant litigation, fighting in detail a succession of imitators who often have nothing to lose by defeat, and therefore entail all the greater burden on the legitimate manufacturers.” Mr. Edison seems to agree with this, and surely no one will deny that he is an authority upon the subject. In an interview he is reported as saying: “Our patent system puts a premium on rascality. I have taken out 700 patents for my inventions, but I have never had one minute’s protection. ... I have never made one cent out of my inventions; all I have made has been out of manufacturing. ... I believe I would be $600,000 better off if I had never taken out a patent What I have made has been because I have understood the inventions better, and have been able to manipulate the manufacturing of them better than the pirates.” (See an article by A. L. Ballou, in “The Electrical Worker,” June, 1896.) [Online editor’s note: Presumably not Christian anarchist Adin Ballou (1803-1890), who was dead by 1896, but perhaps a relative. I know that an A. L. Ballou was a contributor to Liberty but haven’s investigated thoroughly. – RTL]
VS-10.23 The concerns which do reap the benefit of patents, etc., are large corporations like the Bell Telephone Company. These concerns are often able to carry on litigation until the owner of the patent is only too willing to sell at their figure. It is common for these companies to buy up all improvements on their patents. They withhold these from use until the original monopoly expires, and then use them to prevent competition. It is truly wise of us to foster inventions in such a manner that large corporations can prevent us from using them as long as it suits their convenience.
VS-10.24 So the only excuse for these special privileges disappears as soon as it is carefully examined. A copyright does not enable the literary men whose labor is most intense to reap any extra reward for their labor. Spencer himself admits that he lost about £3,250 (over $16,000) on the compilation and publication of his Descriptive Sociology. (See prefatory note to Descriptive Sociology, Part 8.) Yet that must have cost an immense amount of the most severe literary labor. What copyright does is to enable popular writers to reap a monopoly price for what is often little better than literary garbage. It creates a spirit of commercialism in literature, very much to the disadvantage of the literature. One of the most common manifestations of this degrading influence, is the way in which writers grind out sequel after sequel to any novel that meets with popular favor. The success of the first book is the best advertisement of its sequel, so a large sale can always be reckoned on. In the absence of copyright, the author would know that a competing edition would be placed upon the market at once, and so make a sequel if anything less remunerative to him than an entirely new work. This would cause him to stop when he had said all he had to say on any given subject, instead of hashing and rehashing it until the public was fairly nauseated with his inane repetitions. This is only one of many instances which might be quoted. Whatever it may be to the author and publisher, copyright is really a curse to literature instead of a blessing. So as Spencer says in his plea for the other side, “in this, as in other cases, disobedience to the moral law is ultimately detrimental to all.” (Social Statics, Revd. Ed., p. 71.)

VS-10.n1.1 1 In a prefatory note to the article quoted, the author states that it was written in all seriousness and not as a satire. So it must be accepted as a true statement. I quote these cases merely to illustrate my point, and do not in any way bind myself to accept Mark Twain’s explanation of them. [Online editor’s note: Twain’s suggested explanation was parapsychological. – RTL]
VS-10.n2.1 2 It should be remembered that Mr. Tucker here refers to his work as translator, as well as that of publisher.

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