Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On intellectual property abolition

One thing that I find strange among some free marketers, especially among certain camps in the libertarian movement, is the rabid campaign to disrespect and abolish intellectual property rights (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 that "Your cellphone is also my cellphone; now, give it to me and I will use it the way I want to use it", 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 government anyway.

There is one ideologue in the libertarian blog, http://blog.mises.org, Mr. Stephan Kinsella, who consistently argues for IP abolition. Of course there are many libertarians who also take his position.

I have argued before and I will repeat it: an idea is private property. This blog, or at least this particular blog article, is owned by Nonoy Oplas, and not by any leftist or centrist or rightist or what have you ideologue. Now 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, then 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?

Related and most recent article here is IPR and medicines, part 8.


Edgaras said...

Hello, sir, have you at least read Kinsella's "Against Intellectual Property"? You seem very confused about all the problems that many libertarians have with IP.

It's a free book, I can give you a link http://mises.org/books/against.pdf

Anonymous said...

Do you own the "idea" of writing a blog? If not, I hope you paid for permission.

The issue is much more complicated then you make it out to be here... there have been many great discussions of the issue over at mises.org, in addition to the link Edgaras gave above.

Paul said...

Actually, IPR abolition does not advocate coercion in sharing ideas. The “arm twisting” you are referring to is compulsory licensing, which is coercion. In the absence of IP, no one would be required to divulge their trade secrets, for example.

The point of contention is whether IP is property at all. You can’t simply say that anti-IP people are advocating property right violations. You have to demonstrate that ideas are actually ownable in the first place. To claim that anti-IP is violative is like saying “people have a ‘right to education’,” and then claiming that if the poor are not subsidized, this constitutes a violation of their right to education. It’s arguing in circles.

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.

On the other hand, if someone imitates a certain idea I have, the physical property for which I make use of the idea is not diminished at all, no matter how many people share this idea.

Ownership of things has more to do than thinking of the use of these things. Just as an employee should not be allowed to own an office just because they work there, a person who thinks of an idea should not be allowed to stop people from controlling their respective properties. Otherwise, we might as well follow the Marxist creed of ‘I labor, therefore I own,’ paraphrased as ‘I think, therefore I own.’ IP is thus revealed to be Marxist.

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.

Anyway, food for thought to help you refashion your arguments. ;)

Nonoy Oplas said...

Hi Edgaras, I have not read his book yet, I just checked Kinsella's articles in the mises blog. If I will pursue writing a book later on IPR, I shd read that book. Thank you for the links.

To Anonymous, Yes, I own the idea of writing this blog. Others have the idea of not writing a blog and pursue other work or passion. Yes, I also asked permission from blogger.com, the owner of blogspot.com, to write this blog. But blogger did not charge me (wordpress also don't charge their subscribers), thanks to them.

Hi Paul, if no one will be required or forced to divulge their trade secrets, then it's IPR forever, no timetable of mandatory opening of trade secrets. I like that.

Ideas -- like a song composition, a blog or journal article, a picture, a drug molecule, a tire molecule, etc. -- are ownable. But it is up to the owner of ideas, again, it is up to the owner of ideas, if he wants his ideas to be protected somehow or be shared for free. If he is willing to share it for free to all, then the anti-IP case is moot and academic. If the idea owner wants protection, whether government protection or a private industry association protection, then it should be given to him.

The idea of having an IP should spur more innovation, more invention, more competition among idea owners. If there are 1,000 rock songs on Philippine government corruption, then there are 1,000 copyrights or song IPRs. Now some may wish to go more specific: 200 rock songs on military corruption alone, 175 rock songs on police corruption alone, 300 rock songs on government education corruption alone. And you have thousands of IPRs and song copyrights on thousands of rock songs on government corruption alone. Include thousands of ballads, jazz, folk songs, on government corruption and the volume of copyrighted songs, the volume of owned ideas, is limitless. Why deprive the idea owners of having the right to say, "This is my song, I composed it, I own it. He wrote that song, he composed it, he owns it..."