I saw this article titled “Feds seize 150 websites in counterfeit crackdown” and thought to myself, could the Feds actually be acting within the confines of normal law enforcement? After reading last week about a fisherman who was robbed by the Feds of the largest tuna ever caught, I was in the mood to have my faith in government restored. (As if!) So I was willing to overlook two of my own peeves in the case at hand, specifically: I don’t want the Feds anywhere near the Internet, and as an anarcho-capitalist I don’t actually believe in using government to enforce copyrights, patents and trademarks (more on that below). But busting counterfeiters is at least an example of government action NOT in the service of gratuitous revenue generation or the ubiquitous Drug War, so I was encouraged and read on. I was at once amused to read that even the federal agent being interviewed for the article found it noteworthy that the Feds were cracking down on real crime. The article actually quotes ICE Director John Morton as saying, “This is straight crime. This is people being duped into buying a counterfeit.”
This quote demonstrates to me that Mr. Morton knows full well that most of what he does has nothing to do with “straight crime” (mala in se crime, or crime that is bad in itself), but rather he is almost always enforcing prohibitions (mala prohibita crime)–drugs, guns, prostitution–and fighting the inevitable violence that arises in black markets that perforce operate outside the law. The way I see it, mala prohibita crimes are crimes created by the government because authorities not only refuse to enforce otherwise valid contracts but actually attack people for making voluntary arms-length transactions. It drives me near to madness to think my tax dollars go to creating and then enforcing immoral laws that result in so much death and destruction. (I have actually thought that if there’s a Judgment Day the greatest sin I will have to answer for will be having paid taxes that were used to finance theft, murder and injustice.)
Director Morton’s quote genuinely delighted me, though, for another reason: he was claiming to fight counterfeiting as the fraud of selling knock-offs under false pretenses and not for trademark infringement. As I mentioned, anarcho-capitalists such as I don’t believe the government can tell people what to do with their private property even if what they do with it is copy an idea someone else came up with and then put out in the world for all to see. It’s rather a nuanced argument and it was my last reservation about anarcho-capitalism, however, through the persuasive arguments of Stephan Kinsella, I am now totally convinced of the correctness of this position. (Concidentally, patents et al are powerful tools of crony capitalists.)
I should have stopped reading this article right there, though, ’cause wouldn’t ya know it? Director Morton was so uncomfortable with the idea of fighting “straight crime,” that he felt he had to further justify his actions. He went on to say, “Typically we don’t track the volumes of sales of these particular sites. . . . We are worried about organized crime and [that profits] are going to fuel other criminal activity.” So it IS about the Drug War after all! Or he hopes it is. In any case, it most certainly is NOT about protecting taxpayers from fraud–that would be too paltry a goal for the mighty federal government!
Maybe I shouldn’t get bent out of shape about something as apparently minor as this, but earlier today I read about a former marine, Jose Guerena Ortiz, who was suspected of selling pot. A SWAT team snuck up to his house and he, awakened by his fearful wife, grabbed his gun and the cops mowed him down in his living room in front of his four-year old. This counterfeiting article made me hope that law enforcement was doing something OTHER than trying to figure out the next guy who might be selling something they don’t like and killing him. But I guess that’s what it was all about anyway. I should’ve known.
Read the article here: Feds seize 150 websites in counterfeit crackdown