Property Rights and the Paparazzi
by JEREMIAH DYKE
….. one cannot own his image or reputation, nor can he own an actual image, a photograph, of himself. Like the mental construction of memory which is a product of one’s eyes and mind, a picture is a product of one’s camera. The question of ownership begins first with the individual, then proceeds to his labor, then the equipment via exchange, and finally to the property from which that equipment is employed. If you don’t want to be photographed, then you must remain where you are veiled from the public. You do not own the rights of another’s’ flashing camera the same way you don’t own the right to another’s gazing eyes. You may only own, or rent, the space from which they snap their pictures.
Therefore, what celebrities really need is private roads and private sidewalks from which they may oust those that take pictures. They want more privatization so that they may enjoy their privacy. If not, then their privacy is not something they truly desire.
This is a mischaracterization of the problem of paparazzi. It is a rare celebrity that does not desire publicity. The problem for most celebrities is to get any and all publicity possible.
Instead, the property violation occurs when the paparazzi interfere with a person’s actions and movement, obstruct their conversations and social meetings, invade their homes, or attempt to create news by antagonizing the celebrity. These are all violations of the persons freedom, and paparazzi are granted special dispensation by the state to antagonize celebrities. The violation then, is that the celebrity is prevented from protecting his freedom and property by the intrusive state that has granted the rights of theft to paparazzi.
You further mischaracterize the nature of reputation. Reputation exist in minds subject to constantly updated information — in other words, it exists in a market that experiences fluctuations in price. As Rothbard says, a reputation’s daily market PRICE is not controllable. However, it is still a person’s asset, regardless of price, because people ACT as if it is an asset, and that asset has material value to individuals, which we can determine by surveying the ACTIONS that people take, businesses take, regarding their reputations – PR firms are expensive (Mine is too). Hence, profiting by manufacturing damage to a person’s reputation is simply an act of theft. And therefore, if paparazzi are creating news by interfering with the celebrity, then they are engaging in theft. If they are capturing celebrity actions without interfering, then they are simply communicating an observation.
Defining property according to your choosing is simply an attempt at fraud. Defining property according to the analysis of human actions is rational, scientific, praxeological, and consequently Misesian. Defining property according by any other arbitrary or constructed means is simply fraud.
I do not mean to discount the other principles that Rothbard added to our toolkit – tools which I am using above. Nor to disagree with the value of privatizing what is currently public property. However, this rather foolish constructivist approach to private property is the reason we are frequently disavowed, and perpetuating this kind of error does us no good, not the least of which is because it is entirely FALSE.
Constructivist views of private property are an attempted act of fraud. Property is not the name of material objects. Property is a claim on an opportunity to make use of any object, material or abstract, upon which men can act. Either that, or libertarianism is not a science of Human Action, but a silly metaphysical cult no better than the patent absurdity proposed by Marx, and a vast scheme of fraud and theft that we wish to foist upon a skeptical civilization which will have none of it.
Instead, the anarchic research program has been terribly valuable in debunking the myth of good government and directing us to focus on the coordination and calculation problems rather than attempting to improve the political institutions – invalidating more than a century of self-congratulatory work on the merits of democracy. But conservatism lacks an argument sufficient to combat the constant evolution of socialist ideas. Libertarians are by and large the though leadership of the conservative movement that resists socialism. Libertarianism contains the necessary elements to provide that argument. It would be far better that we should focus on providing it, rather than perpetuate nonsense which undermines our ability to do so.