A Rejoinder to the RonPaul.com Affair

Ron PaulIn light of new facts previously unknown to me, the affair over ownership of RonPaul.com and RonPaul.org turns out to be more complicated than I originally considered. These warrant a written response -as does Robert Wenzel’s rebuttal to my criticism of his “designed” rights theory.

In my piece “Paul’s Mistake on RonPaul.com” I wrote that it appeared former Congressman Ron Paul was unjustified in employing an arbitration agency affiliated with the United Nations. But as Lew Rockwell and Jonathan Goodwin point out, this is not necessarily so. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the organization Paul is seeking to grant him ownership of RonPaul.com and RonPaul.org, is a private, non-profit agency. According to Wikipedia, the organization oversees ”a number of Internet-related tasks” including regulation of domain names. In handling the current dispute, the ICANN enlisted the World Intellectual Property Organization, an arbitration agency of the U.N. So Ron Paul himself did not go to the United Nations- a mistaken assertion which I take full responsibility for.

Paul claims the operators of RonPaul.com and RonPaul.org did not abide by the rules set forth by the ICANN. Whenever someone registers a domain name, they agree to follow the ICANN’s bylaws. I am not familiar with the specific contract agreed upon, so therefore I can’t comment further. But according to Paul’s supporters, he is simply asking the ICANN to enforce its current rules which the owners of RP.com and RP.org are violating.

The problem is, the ICANN is not a normal private agency that happened upon the internet first and claimed sole proprietorship to the network. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers was given authority by the U.S. government to run the internet’s namespace. Prior to 1998, Washington governed the “Internet’s domain name system.”  Under President Clinton the function was “privatized.” But instead of true privatization where the state completely removes its vice grip on an industry, the U.S. government handed its authority over to the private ICANN. In a sense, the regulatory agency hardly differs from the Federal Reserve which received the monopoly power over the nation’s money supply by state decree. According to Jerry Brito of Time magazine, the U.S. Government “ultimately controls” the ICANN.

Does this change anything? Not quite, but I would argue it brings up some troubling concerns. Though a privileged entity, ICANN is still private. The operators of RP.com and RP.org agreed to formerly established rules when registering the websites. If they are breaking any of these stipulations, then Paul has a case. ICANN being a government-enabled organization does not alter the breaking of a contract. One does not renege on a transaction conducted in fiat dollars because state-sanctioned money is involved. In the same vein, fraud should not be committed against a military contractor like Lockheed Martin just because it receives ample state contracts. Both are considered forms of aggression. The proper solution in each instance is to remove the government privilege.

While asking ICANN to enforce its current rules is the only justified explanation for Ron Paul’s actions, some observers are taking the former Presidential candidate’s side because they view his likeness as being stolen for the sake of profit. Robert Wenzel uses the example of the owners of a steakhouse taking the name of a competing restaurant to demonstrate the kind of deception the operators of RP.com and RP.org are engaging in. This assumes Ron Paul is the owner of his reputation even though what are considered likeness and reputation are not things that can be physically owned. Both are a function of personal perception. How others view Ron Paul is product of their own thoughts. Likeness and reputation are not scarce goods and thus not governed by the same natural law that applies to the material world.

As economist and libertarian theorist Walter Block writes,

Clearly, it is not a possession which may be said to belong to him in the way, for example, his clothes do. In fact, a person’s reputation does not ‘belong’ to him at all. A person’s reputation is what other people think of him; it consists of the thoughts which other people have.

In his post, Wenzel, in addition to defending Paul, takes on the concept of natural law by insisting upon his own view of designed rights. He postulates that ownership of self is not natural if a person happens to be a slave, is eaten by a cannibal, is murdered, or is ruled over by a dictator. In either of these realities, there exists a threat to someone’s full control over their body. As he writes, “We may want to control, say, our body, but it is not a given that we will be able to do so under all conditions.”

These hypothetical situations do not disprove self-ownership however. Just because someone is not free to realize they inherently own their self does not disprove the natural law of humanity. In the instances provided, the right of self-ownership is being violated as the victim is treated like the property of another person. To be a slave owner or dictator is to behave in such a way that control, and thus ownership, is being exerted over others. These situations beg the question: if man is unable to own himself, why are others able to own him? In other words, how can one person project ownership over the other if he is incapable of owning himself?

Being the subject of cruelty does not void natural law. It is ultimately through the use of reason and rationality that man is able to determine that he owns himself. Anybody that violates this tenet is infringing upon this established right and is committing aggression. To even conceive of slavery and murder as evil is to acknowledge the existence of moral norms within the context of human interaction. The same applies for believing it’s wrong to piggyback off someone’s likeness. Wenzel states that “we don’t get an understanding of rights, or rights themselves, automatically.” This is correct since the theory of natural law, and hence natural rights, asserts no such thing.

As Thomas Aquinas writes in Summa Theologica,

 Many say, Who showeth us good things?” in answer to which question he says: “The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us”: thus implying that the light of natural reason, whereby we discern what is good and what is evil, which is the function of the natural law…

To discover the law which governs humanity, reason must be employed. Rights are not found in an automatic synapse of the brain but through inquiry into the nature of man. Aquinas saw reason as a gift from God but as Murray Rothbard was quick to point out, natural law does not necessitate a belief in divine Providence.

In critiquing the homestead theory that follows from natural law, Wenzel asks “why shouldn’t new found land be parceled out into separate lots to all present?” The issue here is that for someone to even begin parceling out land assumes that the divider is the owner of that which he is giving away. Otherwise, there would be no basis to divvy up what is essentially unowned.  To acknowledge someone’s ownership of land is to first acknowledge that man is capable of owning land. And if man can own land, there must also be some natural law that governs how it comes into his possession. This is where homesteading arises. Claiming ownership entails using that which inherently belongs to a person: their body. It is through extending one’s possession of self onto land that it becomes the property of he who, to use John Locke’s phrase, “hath mixed his labour with” it. If certain areas of the internet existed in the ether without ownership and the operators of RP.com and RP.org were first to alter the sites, then their possession would be justified. The existence of the ICANN’s state-granted authority over the internet as a whole denies this possibility.

In our current world where states exist, there is nothing wrong with using monopoly force to right an injustice. After all, there is little in terms of choice to utilize. Ron Paul’s soliciting of the ICANN, an entity of government privilege, is not wrong if his grievance happens to be legitimate. If the current operators of RonPaul.com and RonPaul.org have violated a bylaw of the ICANN, then there is a case to be made.

The present operators of RP.com and RP.org have reportedly taken down their message accusing Paul of employing the United Nations. I can only hope that a consensus is being worked out privately between the feuding parties that will result in a peaceful transfer of the domains to who Joseph Sobran once called “the most respected member of the U.S. Congress.” Coercion and chicanery are how thugs of the state settle matters. In a civilized society, disputes would be settled in the realm of non-violent remediation. That isn’t to say the world will someday rid itself of illegal force. As long as man remains imperfect, he will be susceptible to immoral behavior.

Whether or not Paul is justified in his course, I would prefer a peaceful outcome to the entire dispute. I can only hope Wenzel feels the same way.

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8 Responses to “A Rejoinder to the RonPaul.com Affair”

  1. tenbobnote says:

    Thanks for your post Mr. Miller, I am on Mr. Wenzel's blog often and I have a hard time understanding what he is even advocating as I have not seen a definition of what this "designed rights" is.

  2. Adam Goedker says:

    If WIPO is legit, than so is the Federal Reserve. Neither are. Government granted monopoly, even if the company or organization are "private", is unjust. The FED is a monopoly created by Statist law, as is WIPO. Ron, Lew, and Bob are wrong.

  3. TRacy says:

    I'm glad to see some disagreement about this here. I only wish this disagreement was over at the LRC blog

  4. Stephan Kinsella says:

    State trademark is as evil and unjustified and unlibertarian as patent and copyright. It is not as harmful but it is totally unjustified. It is based on the confused ideas of the labor theory of value/property. It is similar to defamation law/reputation rights, which Rothbard eviscerates in Ethics of Liberty http://mises.org/rothbard/ethics/sixteen.asp.

    The state formed ICANN and controls it and forced it to adopt UDRP-trademark rules. It is just another trademark enforcement mechanism. They do not even deny this.

    ICANN/UDRP are just an alternate trademark-enforcement mechanism. Private my ass. and we have libertarians saying ICANN is "private" and its UDRP rules are private. Just IMAGINE anything like this happening in a free society where there is no statist IP law.

    From Wiki:

    "ICANN also relies on some advisory committees to receive advice on the interests and *needs of stakeholders* that do not directly participate in the Supporting Organizations. These include the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), which is composed of representatives of a large number of national governments from all over the world; …
    The Governmental Advisory Committee has representatives from 111 states…." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ICANN

    From the WIPO Intellectual Property Handbook: Policy, Law and Use http://www.wipo.int/export/sites/www/freepublicat

    A Complementary Approach to the Development of Intellectual Property

    Norms

    7.120 Reference has been made in chapter 5 (under *Progressive Development* of International Intellectual Property Law) to the need for a new approach, in order to accelerate the pace of measures to meet *intellectual property challenges*. The traditional and more long-term approach of international treaties between States has been complemented by consultations and the establishment of various advisory bodies: the aim is that representatives of member States, of intergovernmental organizations and of non-governmental organizations should join together to help member States to establish priorities and coordinate activities in finding means to protect, administer and *enforce intellectual property rights*. In order that the concepts and practices of intellectual property find an environment where they can function optimally, WIPO has also undertaken activities to reach out to all levels of society, including the general public.

    WIPO Internet Domain Name Processes

    7.121 The two WIPO Internet Domain Name Processes provide examples of the innovative means by which international norms have been developed and implemented by WIPO. The WIPO Processes were initiated at the request of certain of WIPO’s Member States, to study and develop recommendations for the prevention and resolution of conflicts that involve intellectual property rights in the Internet Domain Name System (DNS). Domain names are the user-friendly forms of Internet protocol address that allow messages to be routed via the Internet and have gained increasing importance as business identifiers in online commerce.

    7.122 The WIPO Processes were conducted through a combination of Internet-based and personal consultations throughout the various regions of the world, in a balanced and transparent manner. WIPO endeavored to obtain wide geographical and sectoral participation, and to reach the broadest possible consensus in its recommendations, so that the interests of all Internet stake-holders could be taken into account and practical workable solutions found to the real problems that had been identified.

    7.123 The first WIPO Process commenced in June 1998, *to address the relationship between domain names and trademark rights* and to study means of preventing and resolving disputes arising from the abusive and bad-faith registration of domain names that include trademarks, a practice known as “cybersquatting.” The first WIPO Process resulted in a report, published in April 1999, setting out WIPO’s recommendations. These recommendations resulted in the implementation by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) of a Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy and Rules (UDRP) to resolve domain name disputes involving trademarks, and in the development of a system of best practices for domain name registration authorities to avoid such conflicts. The WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center was accredited by ICANN to provide dispute-resolution services under the UDRP.

  5. Caleb says:

    It's too bad Ron Paul just didn't ask his supporters to boycott RP.com. I'm sure his loyal followers would have brought the owners to their knees. I disagree that "there is little in terms of choice to utilize." Perhaps hindsight really is 20/20, but I believe Ron Paul could have employed other methods before turning to ICANN.

  6. Jeffrey Tucker says:

    Peaceful does not mean involving courts and government-created agencies wielding monopoly "contracts."

    • Mr. Tucker,

      Thank you for the comment and I agree. The problem is, the current operators of RP.com and RP.org could have possibly broken a contract they agreed to with a private party (a government-enabled one though still private). That, in itself, is aggression. Combating aggression with aggression is not peaceful but is justified in certain circumstances. I am still not totally familiar with ICANN's bylaws to say if Paul is right to try and gain ownership of RP.com and RP.org due to the breaking of agreed to stipulations, but some are asserting that this is the case.

  7. Wenzel misunderstands the concept of natural rights. He writes:

    Thus, I must ask, how can there be a "natural" ownership of oneself, when that "ownership" may not exist in the presence of

    1. A slave owner

    2. A cannibal

    3. A murderer

    4. A dictator, who throws people in prison

    The concept of natural rights is derived from the concept of free will. A slave owner may control the consequences of slave's actions, but it is still the slave who chooses his own actions based on his own evaluation of the consequences of those actions. In that sense, a slave's self-ownership is no different than any other individual's self-ownership.

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