Intellectual Property Monopolies Clarified

Tibor Machan always has something interesting to say in his columns at the Daily Bell web site. For example, his article “Intellectual Property, Anyone?”.

One comment pointed out that one reason that many intellectuals, even some libertarians, defend “intellectual property” monopolies, is “the envy that the intellectual suffer for the successful, troglodyte businessman”…

That may be true for many, but not for all.. But there is at least an idea that other parties who use someone’s new idea are somehow “freeloading”. I do believe in “credit where credit is due”, but this is impossible to do “justly” in the long run when you create incentives for “rent-seeking”. That’s what a copyright and patent regime does , especially in a land of corporations, or, the present land of corporations.

It inevitably becomes a battle of wits and trickery. Two people who have the same idea, but one of them lives closer to the patent office. Is that “fair”? I’m a software engineer, but some of my code is generic functions that I’ve written before. Whose code is that?

The US Constitution included the mention of copyright and patent, with a parenthetical clause that says the purpose was utilitarian. It a land of individual artisans, maybe, maybe not.

The most convincing argument, though, against “intellectual property”, in my opinion, is the total, absolute, unequivocal requirement by definition of an agency (government, mob, dictator, etc.) with powers to violate the non-aggression principle, PLUS the total, absolute, unequivocal arbitrary and capricious nature of where the boundaries are on “intellectual property”. That is, how far does it reach? How many years?

One science fiction writer, Robert Sawyer I think, wrote once that he thought copyrights should be limitless, without expiration, and inheritable to all generations!

This is all because we have come to think of copyright in this way. I have read that before the introduction of the printing press, there was no such thing as copyright, and copyright itself was “invented” by kings and authorities for the purposes of censorship. Think the “stamp act”. Think permits for the First Amendment akin to permits for the Second.

Although Thomas Cahill in his book “How the Irish Saved Civilization” pointed out that the reverence for books that the Irish learned from St. Patrick led to a noble’s exile for sneaking into his neighbor’s palace in the dark of night to copy the neighbor’s books in the dark!

The idea of monopoly rights for inventions for utilitarian purposes is also part and parcel with the idea that a monopoly of force over a bounded geographical area –or unbounded, as some world dictatorship advocates would have it– is necessary for scientific, artistic, and technological advancement.

One example demonstrates the lie of the collective utilitarian argument used in the USA Constitution. Tim Berners-Lee, and hypertext (and related ideas), and his colleagues, public-domaining the Web, and we all can see the results.

A more expansive article of evidence is the “open source” movement (as in the Open Source Foundation, which grew out of the idea of “free software”, with “free as in free speech, not free beer”, Richard Stallman’s preaching point. Tens and maybe hundreds of thousands of programmers are contributing to projects that by now ALL of us use.

Linux servers dominate the nodes used to carry the Internet. Firefox and Chrome and other freely shared browsers are pushing Internet Explorer out of the way. More and more of us are using Open Office or Libre Office or the Google applications to do their documents. This has inspired a parallel movement to do the same thing with hardware inventions, but not just computer hardware, but physical inventions. Open Source programs for 3-D printing for example.

And note that the barriers for entry into the class of patent-holders also holds back new inventions. With the new law Obama recently signed, it’s also a matter of who gets to the patent office first, and no matter if you had prior art, no matter if it was already in the public market. Get the patent and start trolling.

Another argument against patents as incentives for invention is the obvious fact of incentives to suppress them. A new energy patent holder (see, and use the hyphen!) might be tempted to sell it to an oil company for a billion bucks, and the oil company might consider it a bargain! And don’t forget the rumor of the light bulb that never burns out. Amazing how long those lights last in your car’s dashboard. And remember Tesla’s suppressed inventions. He might have been able to continue some of that today, with crowd-sourcing.

But the clincher, in my opinion, is the fact that no matter how you might enforce copyright or patent monopoly in the real world, there is no “natural” way at all, no “self-evident” way at all, to do it without arbitrary and capricious decree by somebody against any and all others.



Tags: , ,

%d bloggers like this: