Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Clarification on Intellectual Property Debate

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

I attempted to use the search function for this but was having trouble finding a suitable answer.

Could someone clear up the Objectivist stance on intellectual property rights. I know there is a very heavy debate going on between Libertarians (particuarly, it seems, the Mises Institute) and Objectivists on this issue. I am having a very difficult time clarifying what the overall positions are of both the libertarians and the Objectivists as well as what the specific points of contention are. If anyone knows of an article, essay, or can in their own words explain sufficiently these 3 things in a clear and concise manner I would greatly appreciate it.

My concern over this stemmed from a little debate I just got into that started with a libertarians comment:

Essentially what's at issue is copyrights. But what is a copyright? It's a right bestowed upon others by the government that says you are the only person who can produce or sell a particular thing. In economics, we call that a government-granted monopoly. Everyone who's taken a course in economics knows what to think about monopolies. Look at it anyway you wish. I look at it from an economic point of view. And from that view it's clear.

which was a response on his part to this comment by someone else I know:

Thoughts/feelings? Don't know much about it yet, looking for perspective.

http://anti-acta.com/

I tried looking up this Oist vs. Libertarian debate on IP on google and this is the first thing I came up with....

http://blog.mises.org/11327/ip-the-objectivists-strike-back/

Which is a bit of a harsh post against our position, I also am not sure if that first quote they have from Rand is accurate or out of context.

Edited by CapitalistSwine
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The essential work on that topic is Rand's "Patents & Copyrights", ch. 11 of CUI. Yer on your own with the libertarian position.

As for the libertarian guy:

It's a right bestowed upon others by the government that says you are the only person who can produce or sell a particular thing. In economics, we call that a government-granted monopoly.
This is a quite mistaken characterization of IP. As the name literally says, intellectual property is a kind of property. It is in the nature of property that the owner of the property should have exclusive control over the property. My wife and I have a monopoly over our house and lot. The right to this property is not bestowed by the government, it is recognized, just as the right to land that you own is not bestowed by the government, it is recognized by the government. (Be cautious, because some libertarians also deny the right to own land).

I don't think you can go very far in trying to understand the libertarian position philosophically, because they don't have a philosophical foundation for property rights.

As for the Rand quote, here is the entire paragraph:

Today, patents are the special target of the collectivists' attacks—directly and indirectly, through such issues as the proposed abolition of trademarks, brand names, etc. While the so-called "conservatives" look at those attacks indifferently or, at times, approvingly, the collectivists seem to realize that patents are the heart and core of property rights, and that once they are destroyed, the destruction of all other rights will follow automatically, as a brief postscript.

Unsurprisingly, Kinsella's extract attempts to give the false impression that Rand believed that property rights derive from patents and copyrights, whereas in fact she was clearly identifying a political strategy by collectivists to attack all property rights.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The replies so far are clear and correct. As noted the Objectivist position is easy to identify from Ayn Rand's writings. The so-called "libertarian" position is more difficult to identify because libertarianism has no central archive. Moreover, I do not know of any revision of Ayn Rand's ideas on this subject from the Atlas Society, suggesting a consonance of understanding among Objectivists. Libertariansism lacks that.

That much is fine.

Ideally, rather than quoting authorities, each person would think this through for themself and to the extent that each person is correct, independent investigators will agree, albeit perhaps via different paths, and perhaps with different facts explained by different concepts.

I ask: "What (if anything) makes "intellectual" property different from other kinds?

It is true that kings granted royal patents, but they also granted other property titles, such as "The Duke of York" giving one person the right to certain lands in York. There may be "libertarians" who see that as a reason to deny all property rights, but reliable polls by Gallup, Harris and Pew reveal some fraction of people who think that they are "evangelical Christians" but who are not certain that God exists. So, you have to be specific about who is saying what. Some "libertarians" deny property rights and some "Christians" deny God.

David Odden identified the key problem. "My wife and I have a monopoly over our house and lot. The right to this property is not bestowed by the government, it is recognized, just as the right to land that you own is not bestowed by the government, it is recognized by the government."

The problem is that of "monopoly." A thing cannot be in two places at once. Two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time. However, you can copy these words --- which I own by the Berne Convention to which the USA is a subscriber nation -- and not deprive me of them, or of my access to my own copy. Apparently, these words have become public goods: non-exclusive and non-rival. What is exclusive and rival is authorship. You can take the words, but you cannot claim to have written them.

The automobile is a good example of the tangled problems in "intellectual" property rights. The first self-propelled vehicle appeared in the 18th centiry (see here),and in the 19th century internal combustion was tried (here). In the early 20th century, American automobile makers attempted to sue each other over the steering wheel and other integral features, but the courts denied the claims. On the other hand, the Wright Brothers fought Curtiss over who invented "the" way to turn an airplane in flight. (read here)

Again, the basic issue is not the thing itself, as many more can always be made. That makes "intellectual" property different from land. It also makes many other kinds of property different from land. When Ayn Rand wrote about the property status of the airwaves, she considered only frequency. However, even in her day, the earliest radio transmitters were capable of "chopping" which allowed a time-dependent sharing of the same frequency by different owners. In fact, Thomas Edison is credited with the invention of telegraphic multiplexing. Someone still owned the wires, of course, but the right to lease or rent or buy or sell services on them suddenly became different from what was contemplated by a law that only knew land. (And, today, we have timeshare condominums, actually two different innovations in property rights not contemplated by the medieval kings.)

The point is not that these are unsolvable contradictions in property rights, but only that we are the inheritors of traditional (largely non-objective) property law based on land. Thus we have "intellectual" property rights, when, in fact, it might serve us better to begin with invention and authorship as the paradigms of property and from them derive rights to "unintellectual" property.

Edited by Hermes
Link to comment
Share on other sites

In that question, you are getting into a whole complex metaphysical world of metaphors and abstractions.

Monopoly is an idea of physical property: when somebody forces you not to have your own creations, but his.

Intellectual Property is about what allows physical property to exist: it's the consciousness of man a rational being, having rights as an evident of the fact he has the faculty to logically determine them.

Though, you cannot set an intellectual property right on rights since that idea of objective rights hold them as objective: to set an objective right and to hold it nonobjectively is a double standard.

The same about anti-intellectual property: it is to think that nobody is allowed to set copyrights on his creation, but you are.

Now, my favorite part, the logical one:

Rights are contextual. A theft of an X (= property, physical property) is when you steal an X. Theft of an X + Z (Z is a variable of a variable - has no certain meaning, but says: there is something - existent - more in any of that cases. In context: something about intellectual property, an invention) is when you stal an X + Z (intellectual property).

Monopoly of an X is: the state where a man doesn't allow you to have your own X, not because you cannot honestly have it but because some force other not to give you one. A monopoly of an X + Z is the place where a man doesn't to have your own X + Z. I remind: Z's common and necessarily is: it is something in reality, anything in reality or anythings over reality. Therefore, a monopoly of X is when somebody forces not to buy an X. A monopoly of X + Z is where somebody forces you not to create your own intellectual property: not to have intellectual rights. As I said, it has another contradiction that no original force does: it is also a double standard.

X's Z (a variable of a variable, something unroutine) is physical ownership and different pieces of the own idea. X + Z's Z: the idea.

So, you can't figure monopoly of an intellectuality in terms of s physical one does not consist an intellectuality, since reason isn't physical: and does not obey physical laws, although does exist and is itself.

T.R.

Edited by Tomer Ravid
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Its simple really.

Libertarians think that property rights are a "social arrangement" to deal with scarcity (limited resources). Since copying someone's idea does not remove that person's ability to use their own idea (i.e. the idea "is not scarce") a libertarian does not believe an idea is property - therefore forbidding people from using other's ideas without the creator's consent is wrong.

Objectivists, on the other hand, understand that property rights are a recognition of causality in human action. If something exists as a result of a specific person's action (i.e. he built it, wrote it, invented it) that something rightfully belongs to its creator (since it only exists because of him, no one but him has a claim on it). So it really is beside the point whether recognizing IP is "economically efficient" or whether ideas are "scarce", a right to property is recongnition that something exists as a result of someone's action. A recognition of reality.

Ironically, ideas are scarce - even in economic terms. Though any existing idea is infinitely reproducible, they take effort to create in the first place. They are not "unlimited" and "free" like sunlight (in most places) or air (on this planet).

But don't look for principled thinking from libertarians, they (and Kinsella in particular) are incapable of it. All you will get is argument from consequences and vitriol.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Libertarians think that property rights are a "social arrangement" to deal with scarcity (limited resources). Since copying someone's idea does not remove that person's ability to use their own idea (i.e. the idea "is not scarce") a libertarian does not believe an idea is property - therefore forbidding people from using other's ideas without the creator's consent is wrong.
It has always seemed to me that this must be what they think, but have you ever seen an explicit statement to that effect by a libertarian thinker? (I mean someone with cred, not a random guy). The most I've seen is a stipulative statement that one has the right to one's property (among those libertatians who support property rights).
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...