Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Intellectual Property

In the material world, we've got this inconvenient little thing called scarcity. Objects are discrete, and there is only one of each object, but there are many people all with their own plans for the use of such objects, and these objects cannot be used in two mutually exclusive ways at the same time, even though people's plans for such objects may be mutually exclusive. An object can only be and do one thing at a time. A car cannot be in the driveway of my residence ready for me to use, in the Walmart parking lot ready for you to use when you finish shopping, and on the highway being used to take some kids to a soccer game, all at the same time. Yet me, my friend, and my neighbor, and for that matter the rest of mankind, can all think of uses for that car that better suit their own needs than the use I choose for it. But only one of us can get our way.

In the interests of preventing unnecessary destruction of such valuable objects, we have what we call "property". Property is the freedom to enforce one's decisions as to how an object will be used against others who attempt also to act upon decisions made about the same object. Along with this freedom comes responsibility. Actions have consequences. You alone are permitted the freedom to use force to impose your decision as to the use of your property, but you alone bear the consequences for those actions. Should your actions have consequences which others bear, you have violated their exclusive right to decide how their property should be used. For while they may have decided their property should not be used as a dump, you may be dumping your trash onto their property, a decision which you are excluded from making. And in most cases, they will shift the burden of the consequences, the costed opportunities, back onto you. You'll owe them restitution for the opportunities you have cost them.

Property rights only apply to objects, though. They must apply to objects, but they can only apply to objects. Ideas and information are not subject to scarcity. The opportunity cost of using an idea is nonexistent. Everybody can have the same idea and use it their own way at the same time. There is no basis for any exclusivity in decisionmaking power over ideas. And, more damningly, property in ideas is incompatible with property in objects.

Unauthorized reproductions of intellectual "property" does not prevent the original creator from making any decisions which they have the right to make. The only way it could is if every creator of ideas instantly became partial owner of every information storage medium in the universe. Only then would they have any right to tell anyone else that they have no right to reproduce an idea.This is incompatible with any absolute right of property to the owner of the storage medium. Intellectual property not only lacks the foundations needed to justify any exclusivity, but enforcing it means denying the basis for property in the first place. Affirming intellectual property is saying the owner of the printing press can do whatever they want with the press and that the creator of an idea can tell the owner of the printing press what they can print. They're not compatible.

It's not as if people will simply stop creating in a world without copyrights and patents and intellectual property. The open source movement is sufficient proof of this. It is an actively creative group of people, making software that they know in advance they'll have no exclusive right over, that they know in advance, derivative works will be made out of with no permission asked nor expected, that they know in advance their name will not necessarily be seen on it. And yet, there is a market. The common objection that artists and creators and inventors would stop creating if they thought they would not have exclusive right to it. And yet, in the open source movement, people are making money doing what is equivalent to writing books that anyone may obtain for free and reproduce as they want. Clearly, that objection, while it sounds good in theory, doesn't have as much application to the real world as it's proponents might tend to hope.

Ideas are not scarce, and proponents of intellectual property are trying to create an artificial scarcity through force where no scarcity needs to exist in the first place.

4 Comments:

Blogger Sapphire Eyes said...

Hey Zhzi, nice to see you blogging again.

Did that chick ever get Fightyearzero.org back up and running again? (I'm Hologram_'s alter-ego, btw). What a significant cultural statement that album turned out to be, in the grand scheme of things. It wasn't even that good.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Zhwazi said...

Not to my knowledge. I've looked for it a few times but I haven't found it again yet.

12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have SOME disagreements with your article. I don't want to post a book here at the moment, but I DO believe that an inventor or author should have at least the right to have their ideas and writings IDENTIFIED. Selling it is another matter, and one that I am highly divided on.

Out of respect, I seek permission to use anything that another has created intellectually, unless they have ALREADY specifically granted it's use to the public at large (such as the Open Source movement that you have already referenced)

As to invention, I definitely believe that invention falls under property rights, even though the concept is probably on paper. It still describes a concrete object rather than merely an intellectual idea. Patent law as it stands is wrong in form, but not outside the realm of market anarchism. A patent agency need not be coercive, but just a register. Such would also help resolve disputes caused by dualism (for an example look at the history of the Rubik's Cube/Wonderful Puzzler. Eventually both inventors were granted the patent because neither could prove the other had NOT independently came up with the same design at roughly the same time)

Nevertheless, if an inventor WISHED to release the design of their invention in an open source environment, they should have that right just as surely as exclusivity.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Zhwazi said...

Okay, that's what you believe, but why?

A patent describes a concrete object, but it is not one, and can't create a property right in any corresponding object. At least I don't think it does, I don't see how it can. How do you believe it can? And if not, how can IP be legitimate?

11:36 PM  

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