≡ Menu

An intriguing anti-IP argument

From Wendy McElroy:

An intriguing anti-IP argument

One of the most intriguing arguments against intellectual property — that is, the claim to owning a copyright or patent on any basis other than contract — was first presented to me by the science fiction writer Victor Koman. It is simple but profound.

A imparts an original idea to B. However, the idea in B’s mind is immediately and, perhaps, radically different from the ‘same‘ idea in A’s mind because B automatically integrates it with every other experience and prior piece of knowledge he has; the idea is filtered through the human being that B is. If the idea is about music and B is tone deaf, then the idea may be retained superficially. If B plays an instrument, then he may immediately apply the idea to the specific one he plays and, so, alter it. But the process need not be conscious. In fact, the vast majority of the process is automatic. The human brain is so constructed as to make most connections, associations, judgments, etc. in much the same way that eyes see without anyone consciously attempting to have vision.

Thus, to tell B he cannot use the now-unique idea that is in his own mind is tantamount to claiming ownership of his body…or, at least, ownership of an aspect of it. A might as well use force (or the law) to prevent B from using one finger or one hand; the principle is the same. In short, enforcing A’s claim is a form of slavery over B. The only proper basis on which A can possibly make such an ownership claim over B is if B agrees to the arrangement — to confidentiality as a condition of employment, for example — and, so, A’s claim derives solely from contract.

I argue against intellectual property being a “natural right” on many other grounds as well but the elegance and originality of Vic’s argument has always impressed me. Of course, I immediately and unconsciously integrated it with Benjamin Tucker’s approach about which I was reading at that time…which is why the topic arose…and, so, the idea I ‘heard’ was different from the one Vic imparted because I filtered it through and into my other anti-IP arguments, my knowledge of psychology, a Randian approach to epistemology, etc. After reading this post, you, too, will hold a somewhat different idea in your mind than the one I am expressing.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Stephan Kinsella October 14, 2010, 11:41 am

    See also Nina Paley’s “Intellectual Property” is Slavery and Roderick Long’s Owning Ideas Means Owning People, both on the Resources page of this site.

To the extent possible under law, Stephan Kinsella has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to C4SIF. This work is published from: United States. In the event the CC0 license is unenforceable a  Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License is hereby granted.