IPR abolition, papers in April 2011

Reposting my old papers debating some people who  advocate the abolition of intellectual property rights (IPR), especially patents and copyrights.

(1) Written on April 2011.

One thing that I find strange among some free marketers is the rabid campaign to disrespect and abolish IPR. One of the most important basis of individual freedom and personal liberty is the protection of private property rights. Your cellphone is yours and yours alone. It cannot be a cellphone of your neighbor or your friend or your city mayor or President of your country. If other people can say, “Your cellphone is also my cellphone; now, give it to me and I will use it the way I want to”, then there will be no peace in society. Bullying and stealing is the rule of the game. And society can stagnate if not revert back to barbarism.

A group of libertarians argue that intellectual property (IP) is different from physical property. A song composition (an idea) is different from a cellphone or laptop; a blog article or magazine article or book (an idea) is different from shoes or pants or a tv set. The latter is physical property to which past and present laws and regulations on property rights apply. Thus, IP on song composition, on book (copyright) ownership, on drug molecule, should be abolished, partly because such property right was created and granted by  the government.

There is one ideologue in the libertarian blog http://blog.mises.org, Mr. Stephan Kinsella, who consistently argues for IP abolition. And many libertarians follow his position.

An idea is private property. A paper presented in a conference is owned by its author and not by any leftist or centrist or rightist ideologue, or by the state. It is up to the idea owner whether he/she wants his/her ideas to be shared to others for free, or be protected. If he wants to share it for free as it is part of his educational advocacies, fine. If he wants the use of his ideas, his composition and invention, to be protected somehow, then it should be respected.

To argue that owners of ideas, composers of famous songs, authors of fantastic scientific or academic papers, inventors of important drug molecules, should be coerced, should be forced and arm-twisted, to share their inventions for free to other people, is plain dictatorship. How can such attitude be considered as advocating individual liberty?

(2) Comments to the above paper.

It attracted 3 comments. See my reply to them in the comments section of the article.

I also posted yesterday that link in the comments section of Stephan Kinsela’s article, The Four Historical Phases of IP Abolitionism. There were several other comments after I posted mine. I post 3 of them below:

(1) Edgaras, April 18, 2011

Who argues that nonsense? To argue, that people should be forced not to act with their property as they see fit just because some “scientist” had this precious idea first and would like that no one used it in his “way” – that is dictatorship. Owning ideas is owning other people. And this is argued by most of the IP proponents. Or at least, it’s a logical conclusion of their ideas.

(2) Stephan Kinsella, April 18, 2011

They aren’t forced to share it. If they want to keep it secret, fine. but if they decide to make it public–for example by selling it–then they cannot whine when others use the information.

(3) Edgaras April 19, 2011

Abolishing IP won’t prevent producers from producing. Reality debunks such inane claims by thousands of examples. I hope I don’t need it to mention… Take for example all the open source and creative commons music. Take for example free books by many authors who profit from donations. Jeez.

Below are my rejoinders to those comments.

On #1. “Owning ideas is owning other people.” I find zero connection between the two. If I own this blog, do I also own other people, or control their lives? They too, can write articles, have their own blogs.

On #2, by forcing the abolition of IP, proponents are forcing the sharing of ideas that some idea owners may not be happy to do without some compensation or even citation. Owners of idea — a song composition, a picture or cartoon, a new drug molecule, a new tire molecule, etc. — decide whether they want their ideas to be shared for free with the rest of humanity, not some ideologues or government bureaucrats. If idea owners want their intellectual output be used publicly in exchange for compensation, say a new drug or a new tire, then they should be respected. IP abolition proponents want total disrespect for ownership of ideas.

On #3, “Abolishing IP won’t prevent producers from producing.” True. But keeping IP will also encourage actual and potential producers to produce more. Rock band A composed and produced 500+ songs, all copyrighted. Rock band B composed and produced 400+ songs, all copyrighted. Rock band C composed and produced 75 song, all copyrighted… Rock band Z produced and composed 200+ songs, and so on.

Currently, people are allowed to say, “I composed that song, I own it. But other people can also sing it, play it, knowing that it was me who originally composed and sang it.” The IP abolitionists argue that ideas, like a song composition, cannot be owned. Thus, no one can say that “I composed that song, I own it.” That is unfair.

Meanwhile, below are portion of the long comments made by Paul, who is a friend and owns Colorful Rag blog. He wrote,

…I would maintain that ideas are not ownable. Hans Hermann-Hoppe points out that IP is not only illegitimate, but it is actually CONTRARY to physical, scarce property rights. When you claim ownership of an idea, what you are doing is actually claiming control over what other people do with their physical property. This means a person is unable to truly exercise their control over their computer when prohibited from downloading this or that. Or, one does not actually have control over certain owned physical materials meant to be used to create medicines, because of IPR restrictions…

I also mention in the book I gave you that the logical inconsistency of IP as property is quite apparent when an architect is commissioned to build a house. If we are to be consistent with the belief in IP, this would mean that the very house he is designed to make is his to control. Only by some logical wrangling does the actual owner retain title.

If I am a struggling rock artist and I hope to earn some stable income (if not become rich) someday by composing and singing more rock songs on more subjects, then I wish that some protection be given to me so that I can be compensated for my ideas, for my effort. The IP abolitionists say that I am not entitled to claim ownership of my own song compositions. Implying that every Tom-Dick-Harry can sing any or all of my songs, perform rock concerts or do big product endorsements on my songs, and not a bit of originality and authorship can be traced to me.

One implication of this proposal is to encourage plain copying and laziness in innovation. Why innovate and invent on some useful products like a new life-saving medicine or a new race track-hugging tire, which requires huge amount of money, research work, multiple clinical trials, and take many years to finish, when the inventors cannot even be allowed to claim ownership of their own inventions?

An architect who designed a house can only claim ownership of the design, the one on paper, not the house itself. But since the owner of the house already paid the architect, it is the house owner who will decide later whether he will follow all the designs made by the architect, or introduce new revisions, or throw away the design and commission another architect or other artists to do the job. Whatever the house owner will decide later, the architect can afford to be indifferent as his idea, the house design, was already compensated for.

I repeat, private property is private property. It is not communal or government property, whether physical property or intellectual property.

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