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Amidst all the flap about Ron Paul trying to take control of ronpaul.com through the ICANN dispute resolution procedures, an interesting argument has surfaced: namely, that Ron Paul’s name is his “intellectual property,” and he is within his (natural, libertarian) rights to control its use.

Most arguments for “intellectual property” center on the act of creation, and the rights of the creator to his work. I don’t see how those can possibly apply here: the name “Ron Paul” was not created by Ron Paul. If anything, his parents are the “authors” of that name; but it must be acknowledged that they conformed to a social convention by giving him the surname “Paul”. At most, they attached “Ronald Ernest,” and neither of these is a particularly unusual name. Not even unusual connected to “Paul” — a glance at the telephone directory reveals over 100 Ron Pauls, and 92 Ernest Pauls.So, we must ask what it means to “own” your name. Can “the” Ron Paul use his name to identify himself? Certainly. No one has interfered with that.Can “the” Ron Paul control the use of his name so that others may not use it? Certainly not! Ron Paul has no right to tell other parents surnamed Paul that they may not name their child “Ron.” And he has no right to sue the other 100+ Ron Pauls in the United States, telling them that they may not use that name.Here in a nutshell is the distinction between “use” and “control,” a distinction which many “intellectual property” advocates tend to blur. Ron Paul owns his name in the sense that he may use it as he sees fit — for his medical practice, for his political campaigns, or even to market the Ron Paul Supercharged Dildo if that is his fancy. And no other Ron Paul has the right to stop him, as embarassing as it might be for them.But Ron Paul does not own his name in the sense that he may exclude others from using it. If, say, Ron Paul in Minnesota decides to enter the sexual-accessories business, Ron Paul the ex-congressman has no right to stop him from using his own name.Trademark law is largely an attempt to force the rules and limitations of tangible property (exclusive use) onto intangible constructs (like a name). And, as Ron Paul has nicely illustrated for us, those rules don’t fit. To the extent that “property” means “control” or “exclusion,” then no, a name cannot be property.

[WendyMcElroy crosspost

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Aaeru February 12, 2013, 11:18 am

    Any idea why Ron Paul would do such a thing? It is so unbelievable to see him to be clear-cut on almost every other aggression-issue but fail on the IP-issue.

  • Crosbie Fitch February 12, 2013, 12:14 pm

    Aaeru, Ron Paul is ‘fail’ on IP in general. Perhaps he’s a Randian ‘libertarian’?

    As to whether a name can ever be intellectual property, how about this example?

    The name of a winner is written on a piece of paper in a sealed envelope to be announced shortly at a prize giving. The name is very valuable to certain parties. The holder of that envelope considers the name (though they do not yet know it themselves) to be their property.

    Presumably, if you don’t recognise the name as their property, you can pick their pocket, open the envelope, read the name, then replace it all, and continue to wear a shiny halo…?

  • Rad Geek February 12, 2013, 2:28 pm

    Why would that be an example of the “name” being their property, rather than an example of the envelope, or the pocket, being their property?

    The pickpocket has clearly violated the rights of the victim. But if the pickpocket leaks the information she got to a third party, who didn’t pick anyone’s pocket, I have a hard time seeing how property rights would oblige the third party not to publish the information as she sees fit.

    • Crosbie Fitch February 12, 2013, 6:36 pm

      Fundamentally, there is only privacy (our natural power/right to exclude others). Property derives from privacy.

      As with commissioning theft vs unwittingly receiving stolen goods, it is possible for a 3rd party to abet the privacy violation, and compound it, or to do so unwittingly/innocently. At some point, the remedy of the violation is a lost cause, but this doesn’t mean the right wasn’t violated in the first place, nor that one should abandon any remedy as futile.

      That a name is more easily replicated than a mousetrap, or that a mousetrap is more easily replicated than a diamond, doesn’t make any of them less the property of the possessor.

      Nature gives us the power to exclude others from our possessions, but it doesn’t grant us the power to prevent those to whom we give our possessions from producing copies.

      This is the difference between our natural power to exclude others from what we possess, and the supernatural power many crave to exclude others from what they possess.

      The name in the envelope is as much property as a grain of sand or a crystal of diamond, whether of sentimental or market value, however ephemeral or stable it may be.

      We must understand the fundamental difference between property and monopoly – the natural power to exclude, and the power granted by the state (at the expense of our liberty).

      The dividing line is not material vs intellectual, but natural vs unnatural.

      My intellectual work is naturally as much my property as my material work. What is unnatural is to be able to give you my work and have the power to prohibit you from copying or communicating it.

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.