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I'm hesitant to start this thread on oo.net due to several issues I have had with people taking the opposite stance and due to my suspicion that even some Objectivists do not understand the nature of copyrights and patents, and hence oppose them. In a moral society -- one in which it takes man's life as the standard and recognizes individual rights as stemming from the nature of man qua man -- issues such as copyrights and patents are an extension of the fact that the creator of a product has the absolute right to set terms and conditions of using his product. To post this message here, I have to agree to oo.net's Terms and Conditions, and everything I post here is covered by copyright law. Now, I could post some sort of Terms and Conditions of presenting an essay here of my own and say that if you read my posts, you have to agree to my terms and conditions (within the bounds of the T&C of oo.net). But that would be extremely cumbersome if we all had to sign a T&C agreement for everything we partook in or bought in our capitalist society. So, by law, it is recognized that the creator of a product has certain rights that are protected, without him having to get each end user to sign a T&C for every product he makes. Under copyrights and patents, and by buying or using the product, you basically agree not to duplicate the creator's work -- you agree to participate in that transaction without stealing from that producer. And, yes, copying and pasting or downloading without permission and then re-distributing a production digital format is a type of stealing. You are basically taking his product and claiming it as your own without proper compensation agreed to between you and the producer of that product. It's not that copyrights and patents are granted by the government, but rather a proper government recognizes the rights of the producer and defends them. I'm mentioning this because there are some Objectivists who believe that getting huge fines or long jail sentences for copyright and patent infringements should not happen. But if you steal a copyrighted or patented product, the producer has the right to get just compensation or to punish you for stealing his product. So, for a case like Aaron Swartz, who tried to download and then re-distribute the the entire JSTOR data base and then post it to the internet without the owner's permission, deserved to be punished for that infringement. I'm not sure I agree with a fifty year sentence, which the prosecution was aiming for, but when one keeps in mind that JSTOR charges $25 or so for each article, and that he downloaded many hundreds and thousands of such articles without permission, then it can be said that he stole hundreds of millions of dollars worth of intellectual property. And he had to be punished for this action. Now, it turns out that JSTOR is run by academia, which is, in part, paid for and supported by tax dollars taken by force; but not everything is paid for by the taxes, those universities do charge tuition and other fees, and they do their own research and compile them into JSTOR. The muddies the issue to some degree, but does not change the principle that the creator has a right to set terms and conditions of using his product. Universities and academia should not be supported by taxes, but this does not mean that each and every tax payer or former student or MIT Fellow has unlimited access to those files and articles. This is a clear case of the "Tragedy of the Commons" whereby ownership is difficult to establish, but it does not mean that Aaron Swartz himself owned those articles and property. For more information, and to get this thread off to the right start, I highly recommend reading Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal and especially Miss Rand's article on Patents and Copyrights: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/patents_and_copyrights.html
Having <a href="http://forum.objectivismonline.com/index.php?showtopic=22911">introduced myself</a> already, I am now making my first substantive post. This is the first of an intended series of interrelated posts. While it might change based on the flow of discussion, I expect to advance the following argument: because property rights are subjective by nature and must be defined by government, democracy must therefore be a more fundamental principle than property rights. I question whether there are any fundamental property rights or whether all property rights flow from the social contract, i.e., are necessarily defined, and therefore created, by government. The most difficult case, to which I plan to devote my next post, is the question of ownership of natural resources, including land. This post explores what seems to be a far simpler case, a case closer to being fundamental: ownership of inventions of the mind. To put it in terms of Atlas Shrugged, I will save the case of d’Anconia copper for my next post and take on Rearden metal here. The principle that one should own the product of one’s own invention seems, at a minimum, to be reasonable: among other things, it encourages progress and productivity. But I wonder whether it is truly a fundamental and inviolable principle. The case becomes more difficult when we think of the most common type of invention in this era: inventions for hire. If one man (or corporation) hires another (or an entire workforce) to develop an invention, should the invention belong to the one who puts up the money or the one(s) whose mind and work actually creates the invention? But, let’s leave that aside and take the easier case: Rearden metal, which was created almost entirely by Henry Rearden’s tireless individual efforts of sweat and mind over many years. Unless Rearden keeps the metal entirely to himself, property rights in even this most personal of inventions must be defined by government. Under current U.S. law (and that of most other nations), Rearden has essentially two options for maintaining his property rights: trade secret protection and patent filing protection. If he chooses the first option, trade secret protection, Rearden’s rights are perpetual … at least until somebody else duplicates his invention, either by independent research or by reverse engineering. As long as Rearden puts contracts and other confidentiality procedures in place, the law protects him from others wrongfully appropriating his trade secrets, principally by giving him the right to monetary compensation (i.e., transferring the thief’s profits to Rearden). Rearden’s other option is to file for a patent on his invention, which requires him to publicly disclose all of the invention details, but provides him with a monopoly on it over a fixed number of years, even against those who might independently develop the same invention. Patent law is clearly a creation of government, designed to balance the rights of the individual inventor against the collective benefit to the public of disclosure of the details of the invention. It would be difficult to argue that the exact contours of this legal regime can be objectively determined. At a minimum, the government must make a subjective decision as to the number of years that the patent monopoly is afforded. Until reading The Virtue of Selfishness, I thought that this fact was an indictment of Objectivism itself. However, I now see that Ayn Rand recognized the need for government to set out the details and that there could be well-intentioned disputes among the law makers: Objectivism, it seems, only requires that government set out its standards in an objective way (“the rule of law”) rather than through arbitrary and subjective guidelines that must be interpreted by an outside arbiter (“the rule of man”). The question I have for this forum is whether there is a central kernel to property rights in inventions that objective reason requires. That is to say, is there some fundamental property right that no legitimate government can modify or impinge?