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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/18018/no-wonder-there-was-a-revolution/

No Wonder There Was a Revolution

August 9, 2011 by

Most people assume that tougher penalties deter crime, but there is reason to doubt it.

Here is a case from before the French Revolution.

The copy monopoly in those days concerned fabric patterns. It was in France, prior to the revolution. Some patterns were more popular than others, and to get some additional revenue to the crown’s tax coffers, the King sold a monopoly on these patterns to selected members of the nobility, who in turn could charge an arm and a leg for them (and did so).

But the peasants and commoners could produce these patterns themselves. They could produce pirated copies of the fabrics, outside of the nobility’s monopoly. So the nobility went to the King and demanded that the monopoly they had bought with good money should be upheld by the King’s force.

The King responded by introducing penalties for pirating these fabrics. Light punishments at first, then gradually tougher. Towards the end, the penalty was death by public torture, drawn out over several days. And it wasn’t just a few poor sods who were made into public examples: sixteen thousand people, almost entirely common folk, died by execution or in the violent clashes that surrounded the monopoly. In practice, everybody knew somebody who had been horribly executed for pirating.

Here’s the fascinating part:

Capital punishment didn’t even make a dent in the pirating of the fabrics. Despite the fact that some villages had been so ravaged that everybody knew somebody personally who had been executed by public torture, the copying continued unabated at the same level.

I have doubts about these numbers. In any case, A.R.J. Turgot wrote the following in praise Gournay: “He could not see why this piece of cloth, for failing to conform to certain regulations, should be cut up into fragments of three ells in length, and why the unfortunate man who had made it should be ordered to pay a penalty, enough to reduce him and his family to poverty. He could not conceive why a workman, when making a piece of cloth, should be exposed to risks and expenses from which an idle man was exempt. He could not see of what use it might be that a manufactured piece of cloth should involve legal procedures and tedious discussions in order to establish whether it conformed to an extensive system of regulation, often difficult to understand, nor did he think that such discussions ought to be held between a manufacturer who cannot read and an inspector who cannot manufacture, nor that that inspector should yet be the final judge of the fortune of the unlucky man, etc.”

{ 10 comments }

Virginia Llorca August 9, 2011 at 4:04 pm

See. The thing is, there is no ‘circle of life’. It is a mobius strip. When I was “younger”, in another millennia, Seventeen Magazine would show a dress, tell you the pattern number, who manufactured the fabric, and you could make it yourself. I did this all the time. Of course, they had other fashions that you had to go to a store and purchase. If a fashion mag did this today, no one would buy the pattern or make the dress. I am sure anyone under the age of forty cannot even believe this practice existed.

Some of the IP maniacs on this blog will probably opt for the capital punishemnt practice again. Good luck with that. Not a circle. Strictly a case of “Here we go again.”

Tyrone Dell August 9, 2011 at 6:10 pm

There actually aren’t very many intellectual property laws in fashion today. I know people who today do exactly what you were doing when you were younger.

Virginia Llorca August 10, 2011 at 10:04 pm

I am very glad to hear that.

Virginia Llorca August 10, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Mr. Kinsella begs to differ.

Marc Sheffner August 9, 2011 at 6:47 pm

So what’s the lesson here? Is it that punishments popularly seen to be unjust are not effective?

Daniel August 9, 2011 at 11:49 pm

I see what you did there

A better lesson would be: don’t subscribe to the labor theory of value

nate-m August 10, 2011 at 3:43 am

That increasing the level of punishment does not necessarily lead to a reduction in crime.

bob August 9, 2011 at 6:58 pm

reminds me of mandatory minimum sentences

Augie August 9, 2011 at 7:11 pm

They need to make a movie about it.
Seriously!

Stephan Kinsella August 10, 2011 at 10:46 am

Jeff, I reposted your blogpost at C4SIF here, and there noted:

Jeff Tucker has a Mises blog post up (see below) about how the death penalty was imposed in pre-revolution France a few centuries ago. As Tucker explains, “Some [fabric] patterns were more popular than others, and to get some additional revenue to the crown’s tax coffers, the King sold a monopoly on these patterns to selected members of the nobility, who in turn could charge an arm and a leg for them (and did so).”

As noted here, the penalty for unauthorized copying was literally torture and death–e.g., breaking on the wheel.

In today’s world, the failure and injustice of modern IP law has led to more and more piracy, and, like the failed drug war, in escalating penalties — bans from the Internet, draconian damage awards, even jail terms, and so on (see, e.g., The Ominous PROTECT IP Act and the End of Internet Freedom). How long before the death penalty is imposed in a futile attempt to stop people from freely using knowledge, learning, emulating, and competing?

And, ominously, the fashion industry is urging the re-imposition of a type of copyright in fashion design. I guess this is all a disproof of the Whig theory of history…

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