Intellectual Property

Q: How Is Wikipedia Like the Stasi? A: They're Both Agents of Socialism. Not.

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Last week, Reason's Jesse Walker took Wired/digital culture heavyweight Kevin Kelly to task for using the term socialism to describe voluntary, non-profit-driven forms of collaboration such as Wikipedia (created, as Reason readers know, by a Rand-grokkin' entrepreneur).

Jesse wrote in part:

Given the unpopularity of the term socialism on these shores, I don't think it particularly constructive to use it to describe Kiva and Wikipedia. And Kelly doesn't grapple as much as he should with the fact that many of the platforms he cites are owned and operated by proprietary, profit-seeking companies. On the other hand, if he can persuade the trendies who've been turning toward socialism since the economic crisis began that this is what they're really for, power to him.

Cyberlegal guru Larry Lessig (interviewed by Jesse for Reason here) weighs in with a long and useful response to Kelly, really underscoring that promiscuous and erroneous use of terms as charged as socialism is wrong in all sorts of ways. Most important, notes the force behind the Creative Commons movement:

Coercive government action is—IMHO—a necessary condition of something being "socialism." It isn't sufficient—there is plenty of coercive governmental action that doesn't qualify as socialism, like raising taxes to fund national defense, or to pay the police. But if you're calling something "socialist," then a requirement for using that term correctly—meaning in the way it is understood at least by people who don't take the time to read a 3,500 word essay that redefines the term—is to be able to point to the coercive state action that produces the thing you're talking about….

Now is not the time to engage in a playful redefinition of a term that has such a distinctive and clear sense. Whatever "socialism" could have become, had it not been hijacked by revolutions in the east, what it is in the minds of 95% of America is not what Wikipedia is.

And indeed, when I look around at the real socialism of the past decade, I am almost Declan-esque in my revulsion towards it: America has plenty of "socialism." The most recent versions we should all be very skeptical of. This is the general practice of socializing risk, and privatizing benefits. I'd be happy to join the "anti-socialist" movement if we could agree to end that perversion first.

But that deal notwithstanding, I will never agree to call what millions have voluntarily created on the Net "socialism." That term insults the creators, and confuses the rest.

Whole thing here.