Anti-Copyright Summary

Harrison Ainsworth


This is a rough outline of thoughts and arguments against copyright. It inspects the underlying elements and addresses most common aspects, though briefly.

Carefully thinking the subject through leads inevitably to its invalidation. Copyright is immoral, and uneconomic. Evidence of any benefit is dubious. It is almost exclusively a means for commercial bodies to leech from the public. Fortunately, the internet renders it obsolete and dying, enabling greater cultural freedom.

Copyright is just a social-legal form of network damage – if it cannot be removed it will be routed around.

Don't buy any books, music, movies, or any digital content that is easily copyable!


  1. The illusion – the key to understanding copyright is to see through the words used to disguise it – ‘Intellectual Property’ is a linguistic trick to create a frame of commercial authority
  2. The basic fact – information is fundamentally different from material things, and that requires fundamentally different treatment
  3. Morality – it is difficult to see how, under any rational ethical measure, copying could be anything but highly moral
  4. Economics – sharing of abstracts is the most economic distribution – copying is separate from doing creative work: pay for creative effort, not for copies
  5. The creator's control – creators have no justification in controlling how copies of their creation are used – convention is insufficient reason to control other people
  6. Compensation – the consequentialist argument for a copyright system depends on evidence and practicality, yet both are clearly lacking
  7. Conservatism – ‘we currently have a basically working system, so let us not risk losing it’ – the only remaining argument for copyright, but inherently inadequate
  8. The actual system – restriction of sharing, in copyright form, favours the powerful few – big companies make money from it, and they don't care that it is bad
  9. Replacing the system – the real aim is culture; there are other ways to fund creation; old business should be helped to change; further tech advance and new cultural forms will copyright completely obsolete

The illusion

The key to understanding ‘copyright’ is to see through the words used to disguise it.

‘Property’, ‘ownership’, ‘rights’ – these are what copyright is apparently built of. Not freedom, not communication, not creativity, not co-operation, not remaking. No, instead it is notable that the central concept – property – is something to be traded, that can be controlled with, and be a means to, money and business. And this is exactly the purpose. The idea of copyright is supported because it supports business. If you call something ‘property’ it immediately sounds appropriate and legitimate for business to be the authority.

The term ‘Intellectual Property’ is largely the promotion of the WIPO – an unelected organisation funded by business through registrations of its espoused trade monopolies. It is little more than a linguistic illusion, a trick. It is like an advertising slogan: it has the appearance of meaning, yet it is really just two unrelated words jammed together, like ‘emotional tenure’ or ‘spiritual estate’. To an innocent mind ‘Intellectual Property’ is nonsensical. But for us it has become a Wittgensteinian fly-bottle: an illusion that traps thought.

All of it is false because all of it goes against reality.

The basic fact

An abstract, a pattern of information, like a text, music, image is not like a physical object. Copying creates more. Sharing adds to the total. Information has no identity or cohesion, it can be limitlessly copied, varied and recombined. But property depends on identity and limitation. In the information world the essential idea and mechanisms of ownership simply cannot apply. You cannot own things when there are no ‘things’. Trying to own information is like trying to own parts of a river.

Information is about creativity, interrelation, communication, freedom. Copyright is about restricting, controlling, taxing the natural activity of information. Even if it is claimed to be for encouraging production, it can no longer work, and should no longer be forced.

Information is fundamentally different from material things, and that requires fundamentally different treatment.


First, the argument must rest on the basic elements. So put aside the secondary consideration of economic effects assuming particular social or legal constructions, and look at copying in itself.

To evaluate something morally, we can follow Kant, whose fundamental moral rule is: Act only if the maxim of your action can be willed as a universal law. That is, we ask: would we want an action to be a general law?

If a digital object is good, then copying it duplicates and spreads that good. And the incidental cost of copying is practically nothing. We can certainly wish this were a general law: if everyone copied freely and widely, we would all benefit – we would all receive very much more good, and at negligable cost. Copying seems clearly moral, and any restriction such as copyright must therefore be partly immoral.

Creative production can be addressed similarly, with a similar result: We ought to help cultural items be produced because we will all benefit. So helping production, and copying, are both moral. One is not intrinsically antagonistic or limiting on the other – in fact they are mutually supportive. You have a duty to do both.

It is difficult to see how, under any rational ethical measure, copying could be anything but highly moral.


Sharing of abstracts is the most economic distribution.

Economics seeks the best distribution of goods, but copyright causes restrictions and drag where there was otherwise no costs. And furthermore, it obstructs market function by stifling competition. Copyright is a monopoly, and monopolies are bad. Any artificially imposed restriction is uneconomic.

It is right to be paid for doing creative work. Time and effort has been given up, and something in exchange is justified. But each time the creation is copied, the creator gives up nothing, so payment is wrong. Payment is only just as a fair exchange. Copyright fallaciously binds payment and copies together.

The creator's control

Creators have no justification in controlling how copies of their creation are used.

If someone does something you don't like, you are free to be offended, but you are not free to control what they do. Abstracts have no real connection to their supposed creator. If the creator is upset with the abstract's use, it is nothing more than a convention. No substantial, material, real harm is done – in most cases the creator won't even be aware. In contrast, preventing use of a copy interferes directly and materially with someone's actions or property.

The question devolves to: should one person have control over another? The basic answer is no, since everyone is assumed equal, none has authority over any other. If one person were to take something from another then the loser is justified in redress – which is just restoring the basic equality. There is no such balance in controlling abstracts. There is nothing in the underlying interaction that justifies a creator's control over their creation's use.


The consequentialist argument for a copyright system depends on evidence and practicality, yet both are clearly lacking.

The only substantial, legitimate argument for copyright is of overall expedience: that doing some bad in restricting copies is compensated by the good of encouraging production. This is entirely empirical. Its proof rests on evidence, and its implementation on practicality.

To justify the inherent immorality and uneconomicality of copyright would need equally plain compensatory benefits. But the evidence for economic benefit is either absent, or dubious and equivocal. It simply fails to reach the required level. And the practicalities of copyright have changed greatly. You cannot and should not force everyone to stop their natural, moral inclination to share.


‘We currently have a basically working system, so let us not risk losing it.’

It could be said: there is plenty of creative product made with copyright; this ought not to be replaced by only vague notions. But this, unexculpatory, argument cannot hold. How do we know the current system is not comparatively bad? How could any progress be made? It can only be cautionary. The best refutation would be working alternatives, various forms of which already exist.

The actual system

Restriction of sharing, in copyright form, favours the powerful few.

It is not people generally that ‘own’ copyright, it is relatively few commercial entities. The flow of money is virtually one-way. It could not work otherwise – if everyone ‘owned’ equal amounts, all would have to pay as much as they charged, and the bureaucracy would mean a net loss. Copyright exists and persists because it is a tool of the powerful few to get money from everyone else. It is a mechanism through which established power can be exercised.

The practical effect of this artificial restriction is to concentrate wealth. Those owners' sole interest is to exploit that, and they have used political influence to rig the rules as much as possible. They want easy money by retaining the luxury of monopoly. Everything else is PR propaganda.

Replacing the system

Good things ought to be made, and that can need help – which has been the main pretence of copyright. So how else? The copyright-based approach is prejudicial. To design something one must start at the right place.

The first aim is: to allow everyone to enjoy as much good cultural content as possible. The secondary aim is: to encourage/enable as much good cultural content to be produced as possible. These are fundamental, they are self-evidently morally good. A democratic structure has a duty to strive for these as a first priority. The aim is not to keep particular companies in profit. The aim is not to make money, or economic growth. These are subordinate, they must only ever serve the primary aim.

Now look at what exists: the internet – something that enables reworking and propagation of culture with unprecedented efficiency. With the right aim in mind one realises: this is not a problem, it is a great good. Half the solution to the original aim is already here.

To speak of sharing as a matter of ‘vast economic losses’ is completely upside-down: it is a matter of vast cultural interchange – and that is not a problem, that is a good thing.

Much creative work is already done by different means. Consider the BBC, or Universities, or open-source software. There could be many others. And much work is done with no help at all. Copyright is not only bad, not only failed, but not even needed.

Business ought to be helped to change. Current copyright-based business have some claim. Their system is less viable, and heading for extinction. They ought to be helped, perhaps by some financial assistance, and business education and retraining.

Containing and selling culture in material boxes is obsolete. In a networked digital world all abstract culture becomes as fluid as speech. In the end it doesn't matter whether commerce or law voluntarily see sense. They will be forced to conform to reality, where copyright will be dead and free exchange will live.