U.S. Government vs. DEFCAD: You Can't Fix Stupid

Kevin Carson
May. 14, 2013

There’s nothing quite so funny as the sight of the authoritarian functionaries of a dying order trying to suppress a revolution they don’t understand — and failing miserably.

The State Department’s attempt to censor 3-D printable gun files from DEFCAD is the latest — and one of the most gut-bustingly hilarious — attempts by the Lords of Scarcity to wrap their minds around the revolution of Abundance that threatens their power. Less than a day after DEFCAD was forced to remove them, the files appeared on The Pirate Bay and Mega. The latter is especially funny; Kim Dotcom is probably laughing himself silly over it.

Anyone who’s ever heard of the Streisand Effect could have told you this would happen. Attempting to suppress information on the Internet just draws more attention to the original information — which remains readily available — as well as embarrassing the would-be suppressor as the attempt at suppression becomes a story in its own right. I lost count of the number of people yesterday who said they’d never heard of Cody Wilson or 3-D printable guns until the story of the State Department’s action came out, but intended to go to TPB and check it out. Thanks to the U.S. government’s inadvertent promotional efforts, probably a hundred or a thousand times more people know where to get Cody Wilson’s printable gun files than did before.

But the clowns who congratulated themselves a couple days ago over shutting down those printable gun files aren’t exactly the sort of people you’d expect to have heard of the Streisand Effect — obviously. They’re the straight men in this piece, just performing for our amusement. They’re like the Society Matron who walks into the dining hall in a Three Stooges short and demands “What is the meaning of this?!!” To them the Internet is just a big Series of Tubes, and all they have to do is shut off a valve somewhere to control the flow of information. Only the Internet doesn’t work that way. In the memorable phrasing of John Gilmore, it treats censorship as damage and routes around it.

Remember Joe Biden’s quip about “theft” of “intellectual property” being no different from a “smash-and-grab at Macy’s”? The U.S. government’s approach to DEFCAD illustrates the same fundamental misconception. It treats infinitely replicable digital information as if it were a finite, excludable good existing in one physical location, that one can exert physical control or possession over just like a shoe or a chair.

Their legal rationale — export control legislation — displays the same conceptual failure. They couldn’t quite grasp that the “goods” that DEFCAD was “exporting” arrived in their destination ports around the world the second the files were uploaded to the website.

A digital file can be replicated infinitely at near-zero marginal cost; the same pattern of information can exist in an unlimited number of places simultaneously. A digital file can be replicated infinitely at near-zero marginal cost; the same pattern of information can exist in an unlimited number of places simultaneously. See? I just did that with the copy-and-paste function of my browser. Try doing that with jewelry from Macy’s. You can’t “steal” a digital song or movie — the act of replication doesn’t affect the copies already in others’ possession, but only increases the number of copies in the world. That’s why copying is not theft. Likewise, you can’t deny the world access to information by removing the copy from one website.

Watching these people try to use scarcity-age conceptual tools to combat abundance is like watching Napoleon try to defeat Heinz Guderian or Erwin Rommel with hub-to-hub artillery and massed infantry in line-and-column formations. They lack the conceptual tools to understand, let alone fight, the new society they’re attempting to prevent the birth of.

This is why the government’s attempts to impose artificial scarcity fail every time, no matter how many times they change the name — ACTA, CISPA, etc. — and try again. You can’t fix stupid.

So to you Lords of Scarcity — represented this time around by your flunkies in the U.S. Departments of State and “Defense,” I have a message: You have no authority that we are bound to respect.

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