22 August 2009

Why We Must Call Them "Intellectual Monopolies"

As long-suffering readers of this blog will know, I insist on calling patents and copyrights "intellectual monopolies". That's mainly because it is a better description of what they are; but there's another reason, which becomes clear from this post by a pro-monopolist who is conducting an revealing exchange with William Patry on his new copyright blog:

Bill --

You want to redirect the conversation to the question "why do copyright owners insist on describing copyright as a property right, rather than say as a regulatory privilege or a tort?" Fair enough. If I took a bit more time for research, I could probably come up with a very sophisticated answer, digging up 18th Century texts to support my position. But instead I'll give you a much simpler one, one that might not satisfy the philosophers, historians, and economists among your readers, but one that happens to be accurate (and will probably work for most lawyers): Because pretty much everyone refers to copyright as a form of property. Contrary to the premise of your post, it's not just "copyright owners" who use the term "property" in this context; it's exceedingly common for those on all points of the copyright spectrum.

There we have it: the more opponents collude by using the "eye-pea" term, the more the monopolists can point to this as "proof" that copyright and patents are property, not monopolies.

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Roger Lancefield said...

Interesting. And for this reason alone we should resist the term "pirate" when used as shorthand for file sharers by the media, lawyers, bloggers, etc.

I hope those currently promoting the "Pirate Party" read this.

Glyn Moody said...

@Roger: more thoughts on that here:


nzlemming said...

Spot on. This is what Stallman has been saying for a long time.

phayes said...

Resist using the term “pirate” for copyright infringement and infringers if you like but it is in the dictionary and it doesn't bother me (- though incorrect usage of the term “theft” in that context does).

On the other hand I would like to see more widespread use of terms such as “theft” and “extortion” in connection with (software) patents. I don't think the term “intellectual monopoly” adequately describes what is essentially theft by patent.

Glyn Moody said...

@phayes: yes, certainly "extortion" is far more descriptive. But given the problems of getting people to call them something as mild as monopolies, I think that pushing for "extortion" might be slightly ambitious...

Crosbie Fitch said...

If you read Kames you will see that there is such a thing as natural intellectual property, which is how an author's writings behave naturally as property without the confusion of monopoly.

You write a book, it is your intellectual property and none should steal it from you. However, if you give it to another, it becomes their property as much as it was property for the author (even if both have a copy). Copyright is the unnatural privilege of a monopoly, and enables the privilege holder (publishing corporation) to dictate what people may or may not do with the works subject to that privilege.

Remove the privilege (abolish copyright) and intellectual works behave properly once more as natural intellectual property.

It is copyright that causes the confusion.

Glyn Moody said...

@Crosbie: wow, fantastic link - many thanks for that.

phayes said...

Glyn - sure, the extortion bit only comes in when some pond life company or individual is actually using a software patent (qv. BT/Hyperlink, Museum Tours, JMRI, RIM, Blackboard etc. etc. etc.). That doesn't make the implicit (and often explicit) theft represented by innumerable software patents any less despicable, though. In the crazy patent universe, extortion follows theft: you don't get to be a victim of extortion until you've already been robbed!