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It dawned on me earlier in the week that the ship of Theseus thought experiment has a great deal of application to intellectual property questions, at least if I modified it a little (turns the modification is like a modification by Thomas Hobbes). A ship is being re-built one piece at a time, and I find that little analysis is needed to conclude that rebuilding the ship in the same way with the same pieces means it is still the same ship. Theseus still owns the ship, it’s the same type of ship, the ship is used for the same purpose, etc. I think that is like Aristotle’s solution to the original problem, at least according to Wikipedia. In addition to all that, it is still property of Theseus. But not because it’s made of the same pieces, therefore, any resulting artifacts will be his! To frame it another way, I’ve seen some people argue against IP by saying “if I build something with materials I own, then I own whatever the resulting artifact is – even if the inventor wants to prevent me from doing so”. My point is that Theseus still owns the ship because of the purpose and particular implementation of an idea still remains, despite the obvious physical transformation. But I want to go through this with a modification of this thought experiment that I came up with: the Piano of Franz. (Yes, that same Franz if you remember an earlier thread, but it’s quite different). Franz has a specific blueprint to build pianos, which are special kinds of pianos with building specifications that Franz developed after figuring out new techniques to bring out important acoustic qualities. His brand of piano is distinct. Right now, he has only built one piano – he needs investors first. Recently, he took the piano apart and will rebuild it, to make sure his blueprints were perfect. The pieces are organized on the floor, and Franz can rebuild it with his blueprints. He goes piece by piece, until it is complete. Does Franz own the piano? This part so far is deliberately simple. I would bet most people say yes, Franz owns the piano. The reasons, though, may vary. As I said, I don’t think it’s just because he owns the individual pieces. The stance I take is that he owns the coupling of an idea with the corresponding physical goods made from that idea. Keep in mind, since property is what one needs to maintain their existence, and by extension, their flourishing. (I’m skipping a lot of inductive steps, I know, I can’t write a book here.) To be able to define what is actually part of maintaining one’s existence (as related to their personal evaluations and decisions), we need to have a reasonable constraint to its range of application. This way, claims to property can be objectively evaluated. A range of application isn’t as simple as saying a physical boundary. That may apply to a basketball, but not an open cattle range - there is no intrinsic boundary to land. Some degree of value is needed as well, otherwise there would be no need to recognize any existents in a special way with regard to individuals. I would argue that the pieces are of no value to Franz anyway, and the value only comes from the fact he knows how to build his brand of piano. Although I’m sure Franz can build other styles of piano that are very old, the pieces are for making a Franz brand piano. So, you couldn’t say “the pieces have infinite uses, why focus on a piano brand?” Building a treehouse is not his intention. In this sense, his pieces are only of value because of what he wants to create. Franz could sell the parts for a price, but since no intrinsic monetary value of goods exist, I can say that relative to him, there is no monetary value. The value is in the potential piano, similar to how value of farmland is potential crops. No actual piano exists, so what I’m getting at is that the property in question is intellectual in nature, not merely concrete existents. Let’s modify this a little bit. Suppose Wolfgang saw Franz’s blueprints, and Franz said nothing special to Wolfgang about building a piano. Unbeknownst to Franz, Wolfgang acquires the necessary pieces to build the piano. Later on, Franz visits his friend Wolfgang’s house after hearing beautiful piano music. When he greeted Wolfgang and saw the piano, he realized it was his own piano that he designed! Franz finds this to be unjust and even as theft, because it was his design and creation. Should Franz have the right to bring Wolfgang to court if he so chooses? In the earlier case, if Wolfgang took a finished piano or even the piano pieces without permission, that is a clear case of theft, and should be taken to court. But where does the difference come in with Wolfgang creating a piano with his own materials? An easy answer is to say that the two pianos are not exactly the same, so inventing a type of piano does not imply owning pianos that Wolfgang (or anyone else) creates. People own what they make, and it follows that what they make is their property, fitting all the standards I mentioned earlier with constraint to range of application. My answer is that there is no difference, except perhaps what the property in question is. The easy answer I find to be too materialistic by ignoring the very means and person that enabled Wolfgang to build the piano. Franz did a lot of research, then took time to develop the specific piano design. He had to figure which wood to use, how to bend the wood, how to set up the curves, etc. The whole value of the piano is in every case dependent upon what Franz developed. Other people even find value in the piano. To the extent that the design is useful to many people, not just the piano itself, there is reason to say Franz should have the right to control the design in any manner he chooses – who can use it, how he wants to profit from it. If anything, the usefulness and value to multiple people makes a design worth recognizing as property, especially since Franz designed it for the reasons anyone would create or seek property. The value a variety of people hold towards the piano is indicative that at least some people find the piano design a contributor to flourishing, even for Franz. In ethical terms, this means Franz has a right to his designs and what people may make from those designs, or to shorten the phrase down, intellectual property. In the same way that rebuilding the ship of Theseus still means the ship is owned by Theseus, rebuilding Franz’s piano still means the piano is owned by Franz, even if the result is more than one tangible Franz brand piano. * Aside: I first thought of all this by watching a but a totally different topic. Spiral theory of knowledge!
Intellectual property. So if I go outside and build a mud hut somewhere I own it. It is my hut because I built it; that is, without myself, my idea and my actions it would not exist at all. So if I go and invent the idea of a hut I own it; without myself and my idea, no huts (as such) would ever be invented. . . ? AND if someone goes out and builds a hut without my permission, they are initiating coercive force against me: So, if someone uses my idea at all they are acting as a human photocopier. Thusly, if someone copies my idea without my permission, they are in effect stealing it from my mind; it is theft in the same way and for the same reasons as physical theft. Note the distinction between physical theft and intellectual theft; see what happens if it's removed. Note the implication of MINDLESS AUTOMIZATION inherent in treating potential property (ideas) as if they were actual property. But are human beings capable of being truly mindless, and are ideas (which are POTENTIAL values) synonymous with actual values? 1. An item's creator is its owner 2. The first person to think of an idea is its de facto creator C: Intellectual property I find the minor premise dubious but, even if we accept that, can you own someone's MIND (entailed by owning their ideas)? Note I say 'their' ideas and, even if someone else thought of it first, it would be unintelligible to say that one person owns the ideas in someone else's mind. Finally, I defy you to conceive of an implementation of IP which does not violate individual rights. The prohibition of murder doesn't violate anyone's rights; nor does its implementation. Same for rape and (physical!) theft. So, if one man does have the right to his intellectual property after someone else has VOLITIONALLY learned of it (I'm not disputing the alternative) then his right doesn't have to violate anyone else's rights; does it? My argument, as a syllogism: 1. An item's creator is its owner 2. Ideas of items are potentials; not actuals 3. Whoever takes an idea (from any source) and acts on it owns the consequences