Reason and a group called “R Street” did some a panel discussing IP. The panel consisted mainly of tech/libertarian pundits who do not take a principled propertarian stance on IP, and talking a lot about areas most of them are not specialized in. The panelists bat around various ideas about IP but never oppose it in principle, and never adduce good arguments for it, either. This kind of discussion only confirms my view that There are No Good Arguments for Intellectual Property. Here we have a situation where most libertarians are turning against IP and seeing how monstrous it is:1 Austrians, anarchists, Rothbardians, left-libertarians, tech-libertarians—and we a panel of mostly timid policy wonks.2 It’s good that most of them are skeptical of IP and want to rein it in, but none of them are IP abolitionists. They basically think IP has “gone too far”. Missed opportunity.
And it’s not impossible for mainstreamish/popular-format libertarian programs to do a good job—see, e.g., my Stossel show appearance from earlier this year, which at least features two hard-core, principled, libertarian opponents of IP (me and David Koepsell). At least on Stossel there were two people who know the law and have a principled, and libertarian, take on IP. Not so on the Reason/R-Street discussion. It’s a bit surprising, since in the past, there have been a couple of IP pieces at Reason that were pretty solid in opposing IP.3
Libertarians have long been divided on the subject of intellectual property such as patents and copyright. Does natural law extend to intellectual property rights, just like “real property” rights? Or is IP just another government-granted monopoly that limits freedom?
The Progress Clause of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress authority to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” During the Constitutional Convention, this provision was adopted by an overwhelming vote and with little debate. But IP was much more limited at the nation’s founding than it is today.
In fact, copyright terms are now 580 percent longer than at the start of the 19th century and patents are now granted for software, designs, and business methods that don’t look anything like the traditional definition of “inventions.”
How should libertarians regard the current legal and regulatory framework and does it help or hinder progress in the digital age? And when considering reform, how can policymakers balance the interests of creators while limiting the potential for regulatory capture and industry-driven cronyism?
On October 8, 2015, R Street and Reason co-hosted a discussion on the pitfalls and merits of intellectual property at Reason’s DC offices. Joining the panel was Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute, Wayne Brough of FreedomWorks, Eli Dourado of the Mercatus Center, and Sasha Moss of R Street Institute. The discussion was moderated by Reason’s Nick Gillespie.
Related: Check out Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch’s take on IP during “What’s Your Take on IP & Net Neutrality?” during Ask a Libertarian day.
Edited by Joshua Swain. Cameras by Swain and Todd Krainin.
About 26 minutes.
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- Masnick on the Horrible PROTECT IP Act: The Coming IPolice State [↩]
- The Death Throes of Pro-IP Libertarianism; The Four Historical Phases of IP Abolitionism; The Origins of Libertarian IP Abolitionism. [↩]
- Update: See Lindsey’s article Why intellectual property and pandemics don’t mix: “patent law, properly restrained, constitutes one important element of a well-designed national innovation system…. [↩]