Here is further proof that believers in so-called “intellectual property” are trying to fit a round peg into a square hole: an owner of an idea may continue using his idea without ever becoming aware that it has been “stolen”. Try that with a wallet, or a car, or a laptop. Stealing property means removing it entirely from its owner’s ability to continue using it. You might steal someone’s property without them ever noticing, sure, but as soon as they go to use it, if it’s truly been stolen, it’s no longer where it was. It’s gone. Why is that? Because its finite and scarce, and therefore subject to conflict over its use. Ideas are neither finite nor scarce, and therefore not subject to conflict over their use. An infinite number of people may use a given idea simultaneously, all without any other user even being aware of it. “Stolen” and the owner never has to know; how’s that for misleading euphemism? And that’s today’s two cents.Open This Content
Editor’s Break 115 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: resources and scarcity; the purpose of property rights; ideas as patterns of information; the attempt to apply property rights to non-scarce ideas in the forms of copyright and patent; why intellectual property makes everyone a thief; how intellectual property rights necessarily violate material property rights; the argument that copying ideas is to steal future profits; and more.Open This Content
The hue and cry against “stealing” intellectual property makes a terrible assumption: that the creator or inventor is being robbed of something. What exactly are they being robbed of? Copying a creative work or building someone else’s invention does not deprive the originator of their work. When you steal someone’s car, they no longer have their car. When you “steal” someone’s story, they still have their story. On this point I hope we can agree, no theft has occurred. So where is the robbery? It is claimed that the robbery occurs when future profits are moved from the originator to the copier. Can robbery occur over future profits? If that is true, then wouldn’t other events that affect future profits also be considered robbery? May businesses compete without robbing each other of future profits? No, and that’s the point of competition, to “steal” profits from the other guy. Should competition be outlawed, like “stealing” creative works and inventions is? If we are to be consistent, then yes, it should be. What kind of world would that be when stealing future profits in every case is illegal? I don’t want to know. And that’s today’s two cents.Open This Content
November 2018: I read this essay and added commentary for Editor’s Break 115 of the EVC podcast.
An object is not a resource unless humanity has found some use for it. A resource is scarce unless there is enough of it to satisfy everyone’s preferences. Due to the conflicting nature of everyone’s varied preferences, scarce resources must be allocated in such a way as to reduce conflict over their use. The only way to effectively allocate scarce resources for the purpose of minimizing conflict is by assigning people an exclusive right of control on the basis of original appropriation. This exclusive right of control is called ownership, and its subject is property.
It would be contrary to the purpose of property ownership to assign people an exclusive right of control over something that is neither an object, nor scare. An idea is a thing that is neither an object, nor scarce. Ideas are infinitely reproducible and may satisfy everyone’s preferences simultaneously. Ideas are a type of information, and are not limited to a medium in the material world.
Because ideas are not a scarce resource, making them subject to the same type of ownership necessarily interferes with everyone’s exclusive rights of control over their material property. Owning an idea would mean that others may not implement that idea into a medium made from their property. An owner’s right of control over their property is no longer exclusive to themselves. A share of their ownership is necessarily given to another on the basis of having an exclusive right of control over an idea. If we are to assign property rights to non-scarce non-objects, then this assignment necessarily trumps, or is superior to, property rights assigned to scarce resources.
Because no idea is without its influences, every new idea is the result of mixing, borrowing from, and changing old ideas. If ideas are subject to ownership, then each new idea owner must account for having obtained permission to use older ideas from their owners. For a complete respect of property rights in ideas, everyone must account for the ideas they use everyday. It does not seem possible or even practical for users of ideas to account for permission of their use.
Unlike with non-scarce non-objects, the users of material property can account for permission of their use. If they cannot, then they are likely thieves who have stolen material property from its owner. Because we all use ideas without accounted for permission everyday, we are all thieves. If a system of ownership allocation makes everyone out to be thieves necessarily, then it is a poor system of ownership allocation. Property rights should not be assigned to non-scarce non-objects, such as ideas. Doing so necessarily increases conflict over their use, causing all of us to become criminals.Open This Content
Libertarian types are chomping at the bit to accuse Facebook, Twitter, et al, of violating free speech rights. The problem is, if these are private companies run by private individuals, then their “censorship” is not a free speech rights violation. QED. But there may just be a way in here: intellectual property. These companies zealously guard their trademarks and patents, and use government intellectual property laws to do so. Because these companies use government laws to protect themselves from competition by violating everyone else’s property rights, can it not be said that they are not entirely private companies, that their market share is monopolized to some degree by government fiat? And if so, then their censorship would be a violation of free speech rights due to their intentional use of government force, would it not? And that’s today’s two cents.Open This Content
Nobody asked but …
Hugh Breakey wrote at the “Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy” (IEP):
Concepts of property are used to describe the legal and ethical entitlements that particular people or groups have to use to manage particular resources. Beyond that most general definition of ‘property’ however, philosophical controversy reigns.
And we learned again, this morning at our Philosophy SIG, that controversy reigns. We had determined that we would pursue the following — Resolved: Property rights are essential to freedom.
We went hither, thither, and yon, but we did not resolve the central question. It seems to me that this is a central economic question confronting the human species, but to resolve it is to put statist and interventionist footprints all over the question. Voluntaryists are stuck on the fence of believing the resolution while being restricted in implementing much of its implications.
We did somewhat agree on these points:
- You can vote with your feet,
- You own yourself and the fruit of your own labor,
- Monsters such as Hitler can control you by taking away your self-ownership,
- Slavery has no justification,
- European property concepts were on a collision course with the property concepts of indigenous people,
- Eminent domain is an evil, not necessarily necessary,
- Charity must exist, but that need pre-existed the modern usurpation by the state,
- Roads must be built, but that need pre-existed the modern state , and
- Bureaucracies are a problem.
We didn’t have the time for another level of consideration, which may have entailed the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP), self-organizing phenomena, intellectual property, and defining “rights.”
We agreed on other points, disagreed (sometimes vociferously) on others, and didn’t break up at the normal ending time.
— Kilgore ForelleOpen This Content