As I’ve noted before, there are no good arguments for intellectual property.1 It’s really astonishing. Utilitarians say it’s “necessary” to “incentivize” innovation–but they have no evidence to back this up; it’s mere assertion and assumption.2 Randians and others who try to find a more principled basis for IP invariably make several mistakes–for example, that “creation” is an independent source of ownership,3 or that value is objective, intrinsic, “created,” and an ownable substance; and/or the quasi-Marxian idea that we “own” our “labor” and “thus” are “entitled” to some kind of “reward” for laboring.4
It’s hard to say which argument for IP is the worst, since they all just keep repeating the same errors, over and over. Rand’s was bad–a confused mixture of most of the fallacies noted above, a deontological-Marxoid-utilitarian hodge-podge masquerading as libertarian-Lockean principle (even Locke didn’t think his natural rights theory included IP; Rand I (“‘Creation’ means the power to bring into existence an arrangement … of natural elements that had not existed before”) should have known better than Rand II (“Patents are the heart and core of property rights”; Objectivists: “All Property is Intellectual Property”). Galambos’s was even worse, with its ridiculous amateur-engineer scientistic-crankish notions of “primordial” and “primary” property (every time you use “liberty,” you should drop a nickel in the Thomas Paine Descendant Royalty box).5 And there are some other arguments that are so absurd it’s hard to take them seriously.6
J. Neil Schulman, perhaps sensing some problems with standard arguments for IP, at least tried to set forth an original argument in his “logorights” theory. But it, too, is flawed.7 More recently, another libertarian sci-fi Neil, L. Neil Smith, make a half-hearted rear-guard attempt to justify IP, but it was not much more than assertion and repetition of old Randian IP assumptions.8
And now comes arguably the worst. As I’ve noted, “free market” proponents of IP and some leftist opponents of IP make the same error: they both assume IP is a legitimate subset of property rights. The IP libertarian supports IP because they believe it is a type of property. The leftist opposes IP because they agree with this classification, but they are opposed to property. So the leftist correclty opposes IP, but for the wrong reasons.
Leave it to an anarcho-capitalist cum socialist to come up with the worst possible combination of confused beliefs. In The case for socialist intellectual ownership, Voluntary Human Extinctionist Francois Tremblay (VHEMT’s motto: “May we live long and die out”) argues, as best I can tell:
- property is bad;
- therefore IP, as a form of property, is bad;
- but Intellectual Ownership (IO) is justified since we need to reward “the individual who laboured to discover,” but not “the owner of the idea itself, being an abstract piece of property”.
- “In the IO system, everyone is encouraged to manufacture products which take advantage of the innovation. There is no restriction of the kind we see today. The only limitation is that the cost-price must be raised by a certain percentage, reflecting the added cost of the innovation itself. In the case of artistic works, this percentage might be up to 1%, but in the case of innovations, it would be a range something like 0.1%-0.01%, the specific percentage in each case depending on how significant the improvement is.”
So…. he rejects property (bad) … and he rejects IP because it’s property … but he supports a variation of IP called IO based on the hoary, pseudoscientific Marxoid idea of labor-ownership. Hmmm. About as confused as can be. It’s like an innovation-VAT. Way to penalize innovation! As my C4SIF colleague Nina Paley noted to me:
Whaa? How exactly would the “added cost of the innovation itself” (?) be controlled, enforced, etc.? Looks like it would require a ton of surveillance. … I definitely mind the implication that a surveillance state is a “solution.”
The only limitation is that the cost-price must be raised by a certain percentage, reflecting the added cost of the innovation itself. In the case of artistic works, this percentage might be up to 1%, but in the case of innovations, it would be a range something like 0.1%-0.01%, the specific percentage in each case depending on how significant the improvement is.
And who is going to decide “how significant the improvement is”? Yikes.
Just goes to show you what happens when you lose your libertarian moorings, reject property rights, and adopt Marxoid fallacies about “labor” and other nonsense. As we say in law, res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itsself).
- See also The Death Throes of Pro-IP Libertarianism. [↩]
- See “There’s No Such Thing as a Free Patent“; “Reducing the Cost of IP Law“; What Are the Costs of the Patent System? [↩]
- Locke on IP; Mises, Rothbard, and Rand on Creation, Production, and “Rearranging” [↩]
- See The Death Throes of Pro-IP Libertarianism; and “Rand on IP, Owning ‘Values,’ and ‘Rearrangement Rights’,” discussing Hoppe’s criticism of property rights in value. [↩]
- Galambos and Other Nuts; Galambosian IP Recursion; Against Intellectual Property, p. 27. [↩]
- Absurd Arguments for IP. [↩]
- See Kinsella v. Schulman on Logorights and IP; On J. Neil Schulman’s Logorights. [↩]
- See “The L. Neil Smith — FreeTalkLive Copyright Dispute” and Jeff Tucker, “L. Neil Smith on IP“. For a sampling of some of other recent, futile libertarian attempts to defend IP and to stem the migration to the anti-IP side, see: “IP: The Objectivists Strike Back!“; “Shughart’s Defense of IP“; “Richard Epstein on ‘The Structural Unity of Real and Intellectual Property'”; “Yeager and Other Letters Re Liberty article ‘Libertarianism and Intellectual Property'”; “Objectivists: ‘All Property is Intellectual Property'”; “Objectivist Law Prof. Mossoff on Copyright; or, the Misuse of Labor, Value, and Creation Metaphors.” [↩]