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Hoppe on Intellectual Property

Hoppe Festschrift coverOn occasion a pro-IP libertarian who is also an admirer of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, the world’s leading libertarian intellectual, will express incredulity and dismay at the idea that Hoppe would oppose IP. It has been obvious to me for ten years that Hoppe is anti-IP. He welcomed the publication of my “Against Intellectual Property” article in the Journal of Libertarian Studies in 2000 when he was editor (in fact he came up with the title); and its reasoning and conclusions are based on and perfectly consistent with Hoppe’s anarcho-Austrian-Rothbardian ideas on property, rights, ethics, and economics. But some Hoppe admirers are loathe to admit this (see the comments of Dave Narby here, and Stranger on this thread, for example).

Just to set the record straight, since this issue keeps coming up over and over:

In this comment, one Stephen observes:

Here’s a video of Hoppe where he clearly attacks IP.


[Audience member]

I’ve heard people defending intellectual property rights from the same rules as you use. Could you touch briefly on that?


Very briefly. I should make you aware of a great article by a friend of mine, Stephan Kinsella, who is actually a patent lawyer, but doesn’t believe in patents. That article has appeared a few years ago in the Journal of Libertarian Studies, which is available on the net @ www.mises.org, and if you just type in Kinsella, you get his five or six articles that he has are published for the journal, and from the title you would clearly recognize that it deals with intellectual property rights. But let me say this much at this point: recall, I said property rights can only be acquired in things that are scarce, and only because they are scarce, are conflicts over their use possible. Now ideas, once they have been thought, are no longer scarce. If I think the same idea that you think, I am not taking anything away from you. You can still think exactly the same thing as before. Nothing is diminished on your part. Thoughts are, once they have been thought, free goods and conflicts over them are impossible. Again, imagine what the consequences would be if we would not accept this view. Then we would owe royalties to the widow of Aristotle until the end of our lives. Not even the widow has survived up to this point either, but Aristotle’s little Aristotles run around in Greece. They might still collect money whenever we say A and non-A cannot exist at the same time. And I think I would consider that to be utterly unfair because I can think this idea myself also. I would not have needed Aristotle to come up with this idea, but nonetheless, he was the first one to write it down. So this is the same thing, you are all free-riding on my ideas, I could just collect royalties now from all of you, plus I’ve used some words that you might not have heard before, I might have expressed some thoughts that you will repeat, that you found funny or not so funny, and you will now be eternally indebted to me. I should throw you all into debtors prison unless you just deliver your weekly, or monthly, or annual royalties to me. So keep that, please, in mind.


See also the conclusion to my article Ideas Are Free: The Case Against Intellectual Property:

Professor Hoppe realized this as far back as 1988. At a panel discussion on ethics with Hoppe, Rothbard, David Gordon, and Leland Yeager, there was the following exchange, and I’ll conclude with it:

AUDIENCE QUESTION: I have a question for Professor Hoppe. Does the idea of personal sovereignty extend to knowledge? Am I sovereign over my thoughts, ideas, and theories? …

HOPPE: … in order to have a thought you must have property rights over your body. That doesn’t imply that you own your thoughts. The thoughts can be used by anybody who is capable of understanding them.[18]

Update: see Hoppe Interview on Anarchy and Intellectual Property

Update: see also:

“Furthermore, the tendency [of the process of civilization, i.e., the lowering of time-preferences] will actually be accelerated insofar as A and B…engage in voluntary trade or cooperation and even without any such exchange insofar as they merely observe each other’s activities and copy each other’s knowledge.” —Hoppe, Democracy: God that Failed, p. 10; also in Time Preference, Government, and the Process of De-Civilization – From Monarchy to Democracy, Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines, Vol.5, 2, 1994; also published in John Denson, ed., The Costs of War (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1997)

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Sebaneau January 6, 2011, 5:29 pm

    Unfortunately, all those arguments are fallacious.
    There is no way people can know what you think unless you tell them.
    Mathematical economists may not understand that, but Austrians will.
    And you can communicate your ideas only upon certain conditions.
    As a consequence, intellectual property rights can and indeed are based on the principle that contractual obligations should be respected.

    A missed occasion for me to understand the issue further.

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.