📆 July 18, 2023 | ⏱️ 2 minutes read | 🏷️ computing

Copyright Versus Freedom of Speech

Almost all debates about copyright leave out a crucial argument against it, perhaps even the strongest one.

Hyphanet, a peer-to-peer platform for censorship-resistant and privacy-respecting publishing and communication, spells out this crucial argument in their about page:

“The core problem with copyright is that enforcement of it requires monitoring of communications, and you cannot be guaranteed free speech if someone is monitoring everything you say. This is important, most people fail to see or address this point when debating the issue of copyright, so let me make it clear:

You cannot guarantee freedom of speech and enforce copyright law

It is for this reason that Hyphanet, a system designed to protect Freedom of Speech, must prevent enforcement of copyright.”

In the past, there was a stronger distinction between distributors and distributees of copyrighted media. The distributees didn’t themselves have the means to redistribute it on a mass scale. So this argument didn’t apply because one didn’t need to conduct massive surveillance on communications to enforce copyright law.

But now we have the internet and peer-to-peer networks. Anyone can download from or upload to anyone else. Within this environment, the only way to ensure copyright law isn’t being broken is to employ a digital surveillance dragnet on everyone. This should be the first and last point brought up when debating copyright. Until someone figures out a way to enforce copyright without either crippling the open internet or violating people’s privacy and freedom of speech, no further refutation is necessary.

The Hyphanet about page then goes on to make more standard arguments against copyright. I won’t quote these points since they’re a dime a dozen among those who are against copyright, but I’ll give a quick summary to close: