02 August 2008

Against Intellectual Property

Regular readers of this blog will know that one of my favourite riffs is the non-existence of "intellectual property", since what the latter really refers to is intellectual monopolies, with the concept of "property" invoked for purely rhetorical reasons.

Of course, I'm just an amateur in this demolition game compared to some of the big thinkers here, such as Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine, authors of the fine "Against Intellectual Monopoly".

But there's another classic in the field, newly available for free download. It's N. Stephan Kinsella's "Against Intellectual Property". It's notable not just for its rigorous analysis, but also for the clarity of its exposition, which makes it accessible to all.

Here's a key argument:

Only tangible, scarce resources are the possible object of interpersonal conflict, so it is only for them that property rules are applicable. Thus, patents and copyrights are unjustifiable monopolies granted by government legislation. It is not surprising that, as Palmer notes, "[m]onopoly privilege and censorship lie at the historical root of patent and copyright ”It is this monopoly privilege that creates an artificial scarcity where there was none before.

And the conclusion:

We see, then, that a system of property rights in “ideal objects” necessarily requires violation of other individual property rights, e.g., to use one’s own tangible property as one sees fit. Such a system requires a new homesteading rule which subverts the firstoccupier rule. IP, at least in the form of patent and copyright, cannot be justified.

It is not surprising that IP attorneys, artists, and inventors often seem to take for granted the legitimacy of IP. However, those more concerned with liberty, truth, and rights should not take for granted the institutionalized use of force used to enforce IP rights. Instead, we should re-assert the primacy of individual rights over our bodies and homesteaded scarce resources.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for providing two of the best resources against Intellectual Monopoly I've ever read.

Glyn Moody said...

It's a pleasure to pass them on, since I quite agree that they are absolutely key texts in this area.