Written by Roderick Long for Formulations in 1995.
The status of intellectual property rights (copyrights, patents, and the like) is an issue that has long divided libertarians. Such libertarian luminaries as Herbert Spencer, Lysander Spooner, and Ayn Rand have been strong supporters of intellectual property rights. Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, was ambivalent on the issue, while radical libertarians like Benjamin Tucker in the last century and Tom Palmer in the present one have rejected intellectual property rights altogether.
When libertarians of the first sort come across a purported intellectual property right, they see one more instance of an individual’s rightful claim to the product of his labor. When libertarians of the second sort come across a purported intellectual property right, they see one more instance of undeserved monopoly privilege granted by government.
I used to be in the first group. Now I am in the second. I’d like to explain why I think intellectual property rights are unjustified, and how the legitimate ends currently sought through the expedient of intellectual property rights might be secured by other, voluntary means.
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