Is this aggression?
- I produce some source code and release it under the GPL, which requires that if you use the code in a program you create and distribute, you must release the source code of that program.
- You download the source code and then use it in a piece of software you produce. You distribute this software you produced to the world as a compiled binary without the source code.
- I call upon the state to violently force you to release the source code and then it does.
We know libertarians generally use the words “aggression” and “defense” in completely circular and question-begging manners. But in this case, calling the above defense and not aggression (as Roderick Long did), really pushes libertarianism to new heights of incoherence.
Some libertarians don’t like IP law (though their arguments against it equally apply to property law, which similarly uses violence to restrict people’s liberty to use things). And those libertarians seem to be deeply confused about how to proceed on this. But it shouldn’t be so hard. In a no-IP world, could you take source code freely released to the world, modify it, compile it, and then ship out the resulting binary? Surely you could, right? Nobody could force you to release the source code if you didn’t want to, right? Well here, because of IP law, they can.
For the anti-IP libertarian, GPL should be the most menacing thing ever conceived. Through IP law, copyleft forces you to share the product of your labor whether you want to or not. If you want to use GPL source code to help you create compiled binaries, but not share back your own code, you are violently prevented from doing so. The entire universe of GPL code is therefore made off-limits to you if you won’t follow the communist rule that whatever code you produce while relying on that universe belongs to everyone.
Ultimately, I suppose all these specifics don’t really matter. After all, libertarians don’t define aggression and defense in some general neutral fashion and then go out into the world and apply those definitions. Instead they decide what kinds of stuff they like on a case-by-case basis and then slap “aggression” on to the forceful things they don’t like and “defense” on to the forceful things they do like. But, you know, if we pretended for a second that libertarian arguments didn’t proceed in such a vacuous manner, it’s clear that the GPL scheme is one that uses aggression to force people to fork over the product of their labor, something that should light up libertarian anger on both voluntarist and desertist grounds.