Owning property has become a privilege, not a right

Editorial by Michael Pattinson
as published in the N. VA Journal


Copyright pirates pilfer music and movies for two reasons: One, because they can. Two, because they want to. This is the most startling outcome of Sen. Orrin Hatch's, R-UT, recent proposal to plant a computer-destroying virus in the hard drives
of people who download music, movies and literature without permission.The punishment doesn't bother people. It's the crime itself: To many, a copyright is not private property. So taking it is not a big deal.

Welcome to our world, Metallica.

Every day, we in the homebuilding business see how property rights are under attack. So we are hardly surprised when people who take land from us don't hesitate to borrow a few electrons from you.One music writer claims we should ignore a publisher's property rights because people who illegally download music are more likely to buy more music. Others claim it is an invasion of privacy for the government to peek into our hard drives to see if we are entitled to its contents.

Still others say this is just a plot for publishers and copyright owners to make even more money.

At least they got that right. As if making money is the crime, and stealing another's property is not. What's a few electrons among friends?

For the past 25 years in California and across the country, property rights have eroded to the point where owning property is a privilege, subject to the whims of local, state and federal government agencies as well as a host of other special interest groups.

The right to free land - at our expense - has been extended to birds, lizards, bushes, bugs, students, drivers, park-users and just about everyone else who shows up at a city council meeting when a housing project is seeking approval.

The results? In California, a new home now costs six times the average person's income, when it should only be three. Though mortgage rates have never been lower, a family's ability to buy a new home has never been more remote.

Those who assert their rights are derided in the popular press as ``greedy." Just look at what happened to members of Metallica when they appeared before a Senate committee asserting their rights to their own music.

Rock stars don't need more money, they were told. They already have too much. And as for their right to sell their songs to whomever they wanted, however they wanted, that wasn't really a right. Not compared to the rights of college kids to free music.

Property rights are one of the few rights not celebrated in song, curiously enough, because fewer of them means less artistic expression.

The right to own property is our most fundamental and important civil right. Without property rights, there is no freedom.

What the music pirates don't recognize is that a copyright is property, no different than a car, a house, or a newspaper. And people who own property are entitled to use it as they see fit. That is the essence of our freedom in this country.

If the creative community is now suffering from eroding property rights, they have only themselves to blame. Many have been in the forefront of the battle to destroy these rights for others.

Think about how the movies portray developers as villains for trying to build new homes, while the people who stop them are portrayed as heroes. As for musicians, what would a rally protesting a new housing development be without a rock star or Hollywood celebrity?

The same rock stars who now wonder why no one respects their property rights. More than kindness matters, Jewel.
People with no regard for the importance of property rights have been whittling away at them for years. Why are we surprised that the same people who show up at a city council meeting and demand 50 percent of the acreage of a new community for their own use have now decided they would like some free music too?

After all, what is the harm in transferring a few electrons at no cost to the property owner?

We are not holding our breath waiting for the Senate to see the wisdom in Hatch's proposal. If that were the case, computers at the Sierra Club and a thousand other land-grabbing organizations would have gone up long ago in a puff of pure, white, cleansing smoke.

MICHAEL PATTINSON is president of Barratt American, a homebuilder based in Carlsbad, Calif. and the immediate past president of the California Building Industry Association.


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]

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