In this article I will briefly address these four issues:
1. Why the State is the wrong system to protect intellectual property (IP)
2. Why IP is more important than physical property
3. Why the arguments against IP protection are immoral
4. The good news for people who completely disagree with me
1. You won’t find me defending the State as a moral and efficient means to accomplish anything. A State operates on coercion and therefore nothing it does can be moral.
In the case of it’s so-called protection of IP it operates on rules not agreed to by all parties which is a very low technology, to say least. Trademarks and patents offer protection only to the first person to file papers with the State and permit no recognition of other people who developed similar or identical IP completely independently of the first guy to file papers. Further, if the holder of a patent or trademark doesn’t vigorously defend his claim in court (i.e. enrich the legal lobby and the State) he loses all claim to his property.
The State leaves no room for the owners of IP to protect their property in different ways according to their own desires. IP rules are arbitrary, mandatory and coercive – pretty much like everything else the State does.
2. Before we get to all the arguments used by communists, some anarcho-capitalists, and assorted others to claim IP is not property and therefore must not be protected, I’d like to establish, by way of analogy, the supreme value of intellectual property.
Suppose tomorrow we awoke and all over the world every item of physical property was gone. No houses, no bulldozers, no medicine, no vehicles, no books, no computers, no clothing – every form of physical property was gone. The world would be in the condition it was one million years ago. How long would it take humankind to rebuild itself to where we are now?
The good news would be that people who knew how to farm food, grow cotton, make clothes, make tools, mine minerals, build airplanes and so on would all be alive. Those people could go to work doing whatever they could to rebuild. They could also teach others to carry on their work. How long would it take to rebuild to where we are now? Two centuries? Four centuries? We are four centuries past the year 1613 so how long would it take to get to that level of technology with every person alive today working on the issue? Not long in relative terms, thanks to having all the IP.
OK, now let’s suppose we awake tomorrow and all of the physical property is perfectly intact but our minds have all been wiped clean of our knowledge – our intellectual property. So we have the same IQ but are living in the intellectual property condition of one million years ago. How long would it take to harness the power of fire? Last time around that took over 400,000 years. How long to realize knowable, measurable laws operate in the universe? That took until 1687 – most of a million years. How long until we recognize that diseases are caused by germs not by evil spirits? That took until Pasteur. Vacuum tubes? Transistors? Integrated circuits? How long would it take to discover that the ring of sharp metal totems on your kitchen table has one object that, when placed into the steering column of that strange metal cave in your driveway and then twisted causes the engine to roar to life? By the time that little mystery got solved there would be nothing left of the car. The physical property would rot waiting for our IP to catch up.
Any rational, objective examination of the relative value of physical property and intellectual property must arrive at the conclusion that IP is orders of magnitude more valuable to each individual and to humankind collectively. By extension, the people who create IP sometimes have the ability to create massively more value than those who create physical property.
3. So here’s why attacking or not protecting IP is immoral. Firstly, I use this definition of immoral: the use of coercion. That means any attempt to intentionally interfere with the property of another person.
I can hear a rebuttal. “But that IP is not his property in the first place so I’m not interfering with property when I take it without paying because it isn’t even property.” Uh-huh. And did the guy you took it from agree with that definition?
Suppose a man named John uses his brain, his experience, his creativity and his hands on a piano to create a new song. Let’s say he calls the song Let It Be. John wants to make his living writing, performing and selling his music, so he makes an mp3 file and sells it to individuals for 99 cents. The sale does not include worldwide distribution rights, re-sale rights, reproduction rights or any right other than the buyer listening to the song on his own equipment. (In a Contractual Republic all of these terms can be accommodated, under the State system it is very difficult and perhaps impossible.)
Along comes Karl the Anarcho-capitalist, Syndicalist, Marxist, Voluntaryist of some particular blend and he spontaneously and arbitrarily declares one or more of the following:
– you can’t own anything ethereal
– if there isn’t scarcity it is not property
– if you can’t completely defend your claim of rights they are null and void
– if it uses anything that occurs in Nature you can’t own it
– money should not exist and neither should payment of money
Therefore Karl takes John’s song without paying him anything and further damages John by duplicating and freely distributing John’s song into the marketplace where John was expecting to be able to sell the song to many people for 99 cents each. John starves and dies.
There is a fundamental problem with what Karl is doing. But first, although 100,000 words could be written about each of the above points, allow me to offer equally brief counterpoints.
– My life is ethereal. Do I get to own that? Or do you control it, Karl?
– Helium is not scarce. Can I own a tank of helium I worked to collect, Karl?
– So if you successfully rape me it’s OK because I did not provide adequate defense?
– So my gold diamond ring is yours to take, Karl?
– Anything can be money. A chicken. A painting. Gold. Should I not be paid in any way?
All of the sophistry aside, there is one fundamental problem with the viewpoint of the folks who wish to offer no recognition or protection of IP. In a Free (i.e. non-coercive) society there must be agreement between any people who trade. Unilateral terms and conditions cannot be imposed upon any party. If unwanted terms are imposed on either party it meets the definition of coercion and therefor is a breach of Freedom.
If John chooses to sell Let It Be one time for 99 cents and that releases it into the world for unlimited copying and distribution with no further financial benefit to John, then that is his prerogative. That’s moral and non-coercive. Karl taking John’s song and then distributing it without John’s permission – and against his explicit terms – is coercive and immoral.
In fact, John can set any crazy-ass terms he wants. The buyer can agree or disagree; buy or not buy. There is zero coercion in that. It is no more moral for Karl to pay 99 cents then make up his own terms and definitions for the transaction than it would be for John to break into Karl’s home, take whatever money and goods he pleased but leave a copy of the song as full compensation. No mutual agreement on the terms = coercion.
The great check and balance in a Free society – a Contractual Republic – is that every transaction is done under mutually agreed terms. This is the vital choke-point of non-Freedom. Once we engineer ways (yes, using IP) to protect the property of every individual at all times we will have achieved for the first time in humankind’s long, tragic history, a condition of Freedom for everyone in society.
Property protection is the indispensable condition of Freedom. Property plunder is the road to the coercive decay of human progress and civility.
4. So here is the good news for all the people who are certain I am completely mistaken and that taking other people’s IP – because it really isn’t property – is the true path to paradise. In a society of Contractual Republics you are free to organize your republic as you see fit. While all Contractual Republics operate on at least one principle of non-use and non-support of coercion, there is nothing preventing everyone in a republic from agreeing that their IP is not property and can be used without restriction by all others in that republic. In fact, they could also agree to not use any form of money.
In this way, people can organize themselves into whatever Contractual Republics they think will allow them to live their lives with the Freedom to operate in the manner they choose without fear of coercion from inside or outside of their community. Even people who want vague, shifting laws made by corrupt senators, congressmen, members of parliament, etc., can have those laws imposed on them by force as long as they agree to that by contract. Statist can be dictated to. Syndicalists can own nothing and work for the collective. And true Capitalists can work to better their own lives by bettering the lives of others in their republic and those outside their republic who happen to agree with their terms and definitions. Everyone gets what he wants. (Or perhaps what he thinks he wants until he realizes it won’t actually provide a decent existence.)
A Contractual Republic is a vast network of every individual’s property protection. It permits everyone to live in the condition of Freedom. And, yes, the concept itself is Intellectual Property.
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