I’ve noted before (see Hoppe on Intellectual Property) Professor Hoppe’s anti-IP views. In fact, it is Hoppe’s clear Austro-libertarian views on the nature and origin and purpose of property rights that clearly imply IP is illegitimate, and helped lead me to my own IP abolitionist views. In an excllent recent interview at The Daily Bell, with Anthony Wille, “Dr. Hans-Hermann Hoppe on the Impracticality of One-World Government and the Failure of Western-style Democracy” (LRC version), Professor Hoppe makes his opposition to IP crystal clear (no doubt, much to the chagrin of Hoppeans who are still clinging to IP, such as Dave Narby here, and Stranger on this thread):1
Daily Bell: Where do you stand on copyright? Do you believe that intellectual property doesn’t exist as Kinsella has proposed?
Dr. Hans-Hermann Hoppe: I agree with my friend Kinsella, that the idea of intellectual property rights is not just wrong and confused but dangerous. And I have already touched upon why this is so. Ideas – recipes, formulas, statements, arguments, algorithms, theorems, melodies, patterns, rhythms, images, etc. – are certainly goods (insofar as they are good, not bad, recipes, etc.), but they are not scarce goods. Once thought and expressed, they are free, inexhaustible goods. I whistle a melody or write down a poem, you hear the melody or read the poem and reproduce or copy it. In doing so you have not taken anything away from me. I can whistle and write as before. In fact, the entire world can copy me and yet nothing is taken from me. (If I didn’t want anyone to copy my ideas I only have to keep them to myself and never express them.)
Now imagine I had been granted a property right in my melody or poem such that I could prohibit you from copying it or demanding a royalty from you if you do. First: Doesn’t that imply, absurdly, that I, in turn, must pay royalties to the person (or his heirs) who invented whistling and writing, and further on to those, who invented sound-making and language, and so on? Second: In preventing you from or making you pay for whistling my melody or reciting my poem, I am actually made a (partial) owner of you: of your physical body, your vocal chords, your paper, your pencil, etc. because you did not use anything but your own property when you copied me. If you can no longer copy me, then, this means that I, the intellectual property owner, have expropriated you and your “real” property. Which shows: intellectual property rights and real property rights are incompatible, and the promotion of intellectual property must be seen as a most dangerous attack on the idea of “real” property (in scarce goods).
Daily Bell: We have suggested that if people want to enforce generational copyright that they do so on their own, taking on the expense and attempting through various means to confront copyright violators with their own resources. This would put the onus of enforcement on the pocket book of the individual. Is this a viable solution – to let the market itself decide these issues?
Dr. Hans-Hermann Hoppe: That would go a long way in the right direction. Better still: more and more courts in more and more countries, especially countries outside the orbit of the US dominated Western government cartel, would make it clear that they don’t hear cases of copyright and patent violations any longer and regard such complaints as a ruse of big Western government-connected firms, such as pharmaceutical companies, for instance, to enrich themselves at the expense of other people.
Update: See also Hoppe on Intellectual Property.
- A forum discussing Onar Åm, “The Moral Basis for Intellectual Property Rights“; e.g. my comments here; Stranger’s comments, e.g. this one. [↩]
Although I may agree with the premise that property laws in general are based on an underlying concept of scarcity – and control over the exploitation of those resources – Professor Hoppe seems to be intent on “killing the messenger”: the vehicles for communicating the IP product and not the IP itself. The scarcity being protected, in this case, is not in the vehicle for communicating the IP but in the intellect that brought the product into being and to benefits it produces to society in general. IP laws and the royalty stream that IP licensing may generate go to remunerating the intellect of the IP holder as well as providing them with the means to pursue future “discoveries”, and not the vehicle used for communicating that IP as Prof Hoppe seems to argue. Even from an historical point of view, those “great thinkers” who contributed most to expanding the body of human knowledge were landed aristocrats or wealthy industrialists whose investments in property gave them the means to pursue intellectual goals instead of toil in the fields to fill their bellies. Consequently, I do not take issue with IP and its protection per se but would be more in favor of legislating for the expiration of those rights with the death of the IP holder. After all, as long as the IP holder lives so does that intellect.
But please allow me to turn to the premise of scarcity. Since Malthus, as chicken little famously stated, the sky is falling. And yet it hasn’t. As humans innovate we find increasingly efficient ways in which to use the resources at our disposal making those finite resources last more than expected. Who would have ever imagined 100 years ago being able to sustain a world population of over 6 billion people? Quite an achievement, if I do say so myself. In fact, the level of scarcity has never reached such a level as to warrant the need to protect the resource holder’s rights against those who consume those resources. Unfortunately, this is more the result of power politics than an actual.
I will go even further and argue that, in today’s world, our ability to efficiently use the world’s resources to satisfy our basic needs is so proficient that power is wielded less by those who control the resources and more by those who control the markets that consume them. All you need to do is see that economies of most developed/wealthy countries is the equivalent of 60%, or more, of their GDP to be convinced. It is this switch from a production based model to a consumption based one that stretches the confines of IP laws. Today, it is better to have copyrights and patents with the longest possible lives as this corresponds with the needs of corporations in terms of market development and exploitation and investor ROI.
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