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Iatan Petru

Quick question about Intellectual Property

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So I was wondering about the actual stance of Objectivism on IP rights. I have to say from the start, I looked it up just a little bit, and I found out some interesting ideas, like the difference between rights over an invention and rights over a discovery. I also know that all property is, in a way, intellectual property. One aspect remains unclear to me. There's no doubt that if you make a discovery or invent something, you can give it a physical form and claim ownership over that physical object which embodies it. A story can be written in a book, a film can be put on a DVD, a video game can come in the form of a CD in a carcass and so on.

My question is whether ideas alone should be protected by the law in the way that others cannot use your own ideas, if you've made them public first (even tho they do not exist in a physical form), without your consent.

This question came to my mind when I heard about how fidget spinners were invented. A friend told me a mother of a mentally challenged kid invented that toy sometime in the '70's to keep the child entertained. She decided to make more such toys and sell them, as well as to claim IP rights over the fidget spinner concept. Nobody kept buying those toys so she gave up the IP rights. Now nobody owns the fidget spinner concept (legally) so anybody can produce and sell them without having to pay that woman. However, the story is not as relevant as the principle itself. Again, should it be legal that people should be able to use someone else's invention ideas for their own benefit without the inventor's permission?

While Libertarians and Anarchists give clear justifications for their views, I haven't found a clear position adopted by Objectivists. And I don't wish to sound like an eclectic, but thus far I have to agree with what Anarcho-Capitalists are saying about IP rights:

"Once you make an idea public, you can't take it back. It will exist in the minds of those who were exposed to it. To control a part of a person's mind means to control that person. Furthermore, resources are limited, at least at a given moment, so property rights in general are necessary because nobody can always have enough of anything. There's two of us and only one apple, and since I bought it that makes it mine and you'll just have to do without it. But with non-physical forms of IP that's not the case. A digital copy of a film that's uploaded on a piracy website comes in an infinite amount of supplies. Basically everyone with a computer can download that film and the 'stock' will never be exhausted. Therefore, legal rigths over IP that's not been given a physical form should not exist. Plus, for a government, or anybody, to arbitrarily decide how long will an inventor have IP rights over his invention(s), without any objective pattern of deducing the most appropriate period of time is morally and logically invalid to begin with."

Also this next part is sth I thought of myself (given the example of the film and the piracy website) :

Since the people involved in the production of that film are limited in number (duh) and the film comes in a potentially infinite amount of digital (free) copies, those people cannot possibly contain nor claim ownership over those numerically infinite copies, simply because men are not omnipotent. The same principle, however, does not apply for physical copies of that film, or for physical products in general, because they're also limited in number.

It maybe sounds silly, but they're just my thoughts tho. :worry:

P.S. : I am not doubting that piracy or IP 'stealing' in general is immoral, I am familiar with the concepts of 'unearned matter' and 'unearned greatness' and Rand's thoughts on the morality of the issue, I just want to know whether or not you think it should be legal/illegal and why.

 

Edited by Iatan Petru

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1) IP is not ownership of an idea per se. It's ownership over particular implementations of ideas. The having of your ideas is no issue at all, the debate is whether implementing ideas can imply ownership, as in the right to say how these implementations may be used.

The "existing in the minds of others" is a strawman most times I've seen it used.

2) Objectivism doesn't care about scarcity as a basis to something being property. In the technical definition used by economists, yeah, ideas are non-scarce. But here, what we care about is that ideas are hard to come up with, and only from ideas does anything get made. So that's enough to say a creator of the idea has the legal right to dictate how the idea may be used. But, as I said, the idea has to be an implementation, not just imagining things.

3) The duration of one's IP is technical matter. It's not an argument that IP is in principle wrong. But, the government can and should make some decision.
 

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Welcome to the forum Iatan.  If you hang around awhile, you'll see that there is not such thing as a "quick question about IP!" lol.

There are two was to discuss this topic.

1) Should Intellectual Property even exist? (I say yes, some on this forum say no).

but this question should be separated from....

2) What should the exact laws protecting Intellectual Property be, if you accept that it should exist.

With regards to No. 2, since laws must exist in writing, and since man is not infallible, it would be unreasonable to expect that everyone would agree on every rule and regulation regarding patents AS THEY CURRENTLY EXIST (either in the U.S. or Romania).  And there is not much to be gained by talking about rules and regulations in general.

Edited by New Buddha

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3 hours ago, Iatan Petru said:

Since the people involved in the production of that film are limited in number (duh) and the film comes in a potentially infinite amount of digital (free) copies, those people cannot possibly contain nor claim ownership over those numerically infinite copies, simply because men are not omnipotent.

There is a very precise and legal difference between a Patent and a Copyright.  The film producer or studio does not claim ownership of the physical copies of the film, he controls the Copyrights.  That is, there are laws that exist regarding the reproduction, display or public broadcasting of the work.

There also exists Tradmarks.  Star Wars is trademark-protected property, so too are the characters, etc.  Another studio cannot make a "Star Wars" sequel, prequel, etc., without permission.

Edited by New Buddha

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15 hours ago, Eiuol said:

1) IP is not ownership of an idea per se. It's ownership over particular implementations of ideas. The having of your ideas is no issue at all, the debate is whether implementing ideas can imply ownership, as in the right to say how these implementations may be used.

That is the issue I am curious about. Should it be considered moral, and should it be made legal, to dictate others on how to use, after all, their freedom of speech? If implementations of ideas can be controlled, then if we  go  down the slippery slope like that, what makes A.C.T.A. not okay? It's definteley sth that greatly limits the freedoms of others. However, if we go to the other extreme, and have no Patents and Copyrights at all, then of course, we'd have plenty of "unachieved greatness" cases, as Ayn Rand puts it. So what's the objective pattern to determine which is the correct middle way here? Is there even one?

16 hours ago, Eiuol said:

The "existing in the minds of others" is a strawman most times I've seen it used.

Well I don't know exactly how it's a strawman argument here. Let's take New Buddha's example with the Star Wars franchise for instance.

Sure, people can 'help themselves' and not reproduce or make new SW materials if they want, but should they be forced to? Keep in mind what the quote says next : "To control a part of a person's mind means to control that person". If you care enough to make sth public, you can't expect others to automatically limit their freedom of speech from that moment on. To make it sound better: Your freedom of IP implementation should not come at the expense of someone else's freedom of expression/speech.

I've seen a documentary about Objectivism on History channel some time ago, and there was a quote there, something like "The purpose of the rational man is to conquer nature, the purpose of the parasite is to conquer Man".

How that is related to this topic is that, at least they way I see it, when someone claims IP rights over something, he doesn't do it because it would benefit him that only he should exploit his ideas, but because it would prevent others from achievements obtained from exploiting that idea. Again, that's just another way of saying that the purpose of claiming IP rights is merely to limit others.

 

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40 minutes ago, Iatan Petru said:

So what's the objective pattern to determine which is the correct middle way here? Is there even one?

You are misusing the term "objective".  As an example, we have laws setting speed limits in school zones.  Should the speed be 15 MPH, 20 MPH, 25 MPH?  Should it apply only between 7:00 AM-9:00 AM and 2:00 PM-4:00 PM?  Or should it be all day?  If you agree that speed limits should exist, then you (or your elected representative) must make a decision.

Just because there are multiple ways to implement a principle does not mean that any one way is not "objective".  Also, if you try 25 MPH and it turns out that it is too fast or slow, then you change it.

Laws regarding Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks do change over time.  If you agree in principle that Intellectual Property should exist, then you must write laws.  There are mechanisms in place for people to challenge particular laws, and if upheld by the courts, then the decisions serve as a precedent for future cases.  It's not a perfect system, but it is objective.

A lot of libertarians and miniarchists (IMHO) tend to just wave their hands and make some reference to the "Invisible Hand" and believe that all problems will just magically disappear and all will be rainbows and unicorns.  I see this as one of the major difference with Objectivism.  By and large, Objectivists are supportive of government.  I personally think the U.S. government at the Federal, State, City and County levels, regardless of their flaws (and occasional misapplication of some principles) is one of the greatest achievements of Man.

Edited by New Buddha

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There is no slippery slope. Property is a proper way to dictate how people may act. The limitation is that property doesn't supersede a right to life or the means in which to live. The thing is, property is the means to live, that is, we need to control the fruits of our labor in order to live. If your actions or using your property denies the possibility of someone else using the fruits of their labor, or denies the possibility of living at all, then that action would be forbidden. Some speech would be forbidden by this reasoning, especially inherently life-threatening groups' speech, like actual neo-Nazis.

Property is a way to point at who created or implemented a particular idea. "You must allow me to use it too" is a limitation on the creator for the consumer's desire. A legal recognition makes it so that one must go to the creator and ask, thus the creator is able to benefit as he deserves. Not only that, benefit from all of the ways creation has enabled him, the creator, to live. This requires protection from those who do not want to respect his right to life. And by life, I mean making life better, not bare sustenance.

"because it would prevent others from achievements obtained from exploiting that idea. "
Only if no one in the entire world shared it at all. But people offer licenses, or a wide length of time to use a photo, or hand it out for free as long as their name is on it. So many options.

Some may say that is fine through contracts, except that's IP. If IP is invalid, so is a contract about IP. It implies a right to dictate the implementation of an idea.

 

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If you want to know whether Rand's philosophy of Objectivism holds IP rights as part of Property rights as part of Individual Rights the absolute answer is YES.

It is trite now to state that you must make up your own mind as to what you take as correct... I.e. Whether or not you take it to be an error or an insight on Objectivism's part.

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On 6/2/2017 at 9:25 PM, Iatan Petru said:

My question is whether ideas alone should be protected by the law in the way that others cannot use your own ideas, if you've made them public first (even tho they do not exist in a physical form), without your consent.

This question came to my mind when I heard about how fidget spinners were invented. A friend told me a mother of a mentally challenged kid invented that toy sometime in the '70's to keep the child entertained. She decided to make more such toys and sell them, as well as to claim IP rights over the fidget spinner concept. Nobody kept buying those toys so she gave up the IP rights. Now nobody owns the fidget spinner concept (legally) so anybody can produce and sell them without having to pay that woman. However, the story is not as relevant as the principle itself. Again, should it be legal that people should be able to use someone else's invention ideas for their own benefit without the inventor's permission?

Yes, because an inventor's rights are of limited duration.  The very idea of property is founded on possession, but the paradoxical thing about intellectual property is that it must be spread around and traded away to get value out of it.  In fairness he who possesses the thing must eventually get fully vested property rights including right to copy.  Its just a matter of how long should the original author or inventor continue to have control before the those who actually possess the IP have de facto control due to possession.

Even in real estate law there is 'adverse possession', where an absentee owner can lose right and title to land that is occupied, improved and put to use by someone actually on the land doing work.  Another relevant legal principle is rule against perpetuities which

Quote

"In essence, the rule prevents a person from putting qualifications and criteria in his/her will that will continue to control or affect the distribution of assets long after he or she has died, a concept often referred to as control by the "dead hand" or "mortmain".

It is morally and legally justifiable that those long absent should eventually lose a claim to property right.  Copy right laws and patent laws simply standardize the practice rather than letting the courts be tangled up in deciding every case individually. 

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