Objectivist Yaron Brook on the Leonard Peikoff podcast answers a question about how long the duration of copyright should be. Well, I should say, he attempts to answer the question. No, he doesn’t even quite do that. He just “punts”; says he doesn’t know and that this is the domain of legal philosophy. He says it’s like any other property rights; if someone creates something, it’s “theirs”; but because it’s digital, it “has a certain lifespan.” But what that lifespan is is just a “technical question.” Then he recommends the work of Adam Mossoff, who is the “best thinker on these issues of intellectual property rights.” As I have noted before, the Objectivists have no coherent argument for IP.1
Objectivists insanely claim that IP is the most important type of law. Ayn Rand actually said that “patents are the heart and core of property rights“; Objectivist IP attorney Murray Franck said: “intellectual property is after all the only absolute possession in the world.” Ayn Rand said that “Intellectual property is the most important field of law.”2 So you would think they would, you know, have a theory of how long IP rights are supposed to last. They are the most important property rights of all! Objectivists say that patent and copyright are “just like” other property rights (except: they are more important), but, unlike other property rights, they cannot (for some unfathomable reason) last forever; and they cannot just have a zero term; so it has to be somewhere in between. How principled! What should this term be? Well, …. well … legal experts can figure this out! (Except: they can’t: Legal Scholars: Thumbs Down on Patent and Copyright; The Overwhelming Empirical Case Against Patent and Copyright.) And hint: something that has a limited term is not a natural right, as Tom Bell and others have argued: it’s a temporary state-granted monopoly privilege.3
The idea of an optimal copyright term is pure nonsense. There is nothing natural or objective about the number of years the criminal state decides to grant its monopoly privileges for. What’s the right term? A million years? Forever? Fourteen? Twenty-eight? Life-plus-fifty? Life-plus-seventy? Who knows?4 That Objectivists would refer to IP rights as the “most important” type of property, and have no coherent theory of how long they should last, is pathetic.
- See Locke’s Big Mistake: How the Labor Theory of Property Ruined Political Theory: Transcript; Yet more disanalogies between copyright and real property; Mossoff: “Convincing the Intellectual Property Skeptic”; Mossoff: Patent Law Really Is as Straightforward as Real Estate Law; Classifying Patent and Copyright Law as “Property”: So What?; Objectivists: “All Property is Intellectual Property”; Locke on IP; Mises, Rothbard, and Rand on Creation, Production, and ‘Rearranging’; Locke, Smith, Marx and the Labor Theory of Value; Hume on Intellectual Property and the Problematic “Labor” Metaphor”. [↩]
- See Inventors are Like Unto …. GODS…..; Ideas Are Free: The Case Against Intellectual Property; Rand on IP, Owning “Values”, and “Rearrangement Rights”. [↩]
- See Locke on IP; Mises, Rothbard, and Rand on Creation, Production, and “Rearranging”, where I note that Tom Bell and Ronan Deazley have shown that neither the Founders nor Locke thought that IP was a natural right–that is, they only favored IP as a policy tool. [↩]
- See Tom Bell on copyright reform; the Hayekian knowledge problem and copyright terms; Optimal Patent and Copyright Term Length; Where did the patent term come from?; Masnick, Copyright Length And The Life Of Mickey Mouse. [↩]