For Timmy’s sake…

…and for the sake of his blog, I have responded to Ian B of Counting Cats here rather than at Tim’s place. The summary for those new to the problem: What started off as a broadly economic and policy based discussion on IP law turned into a rather more moral rights argument. This is Ian’s latest comment from the original thread. Ian’s stuff is in italics and indented. Where Ian is quoting me or others, the original text is also in red.

Okay, the commies are massing haha! As usual. I will answer the pertinent points rather than per person; a collectivist approach will probably be beter understood anyway by the Red Guards here. :)


“Nope. It’s a property right.” [this was by Ian, I am quoting him.]

I would like you to back this up.

It’s a definition of property. That is what a property right is. I cannot put it any other way. It’s like asking “back up your assertion that Tim Worstall is a human being”. All I can say is, “Tim Worstall is a human being.”

No, sorry, insufficient. That gets you trapped in a loop of asking what property is, and why IP qualifies. After all, you can define property without necessarily asserting property rights, too.

Following this logic, Paul Lockett weighs in with the commonplace misuse of the word “monopoly” by communists. And also objects to “communist”. I’ll take the latter first; a person who believes in communalised, rather than individual, property is by definition a communist. Not necessarily a Marxist of course; but a communist. Many people are IP communists. Many others are land communists. And so on.

More communist stuff. Give it a rest. Your definition isn’t even accurate, but since it doesn’t effect any of the substantial points, I’ll willing to run with it for the time being.

Now, is the word “monopoly” appropriate here? Depends on your personal taste. But, if IP is “monopoly” then so is land ownership; the landowner monopolises his land. So is owning your toothbrush; you are monopolising your toothbrush and- as with this “IP monopoly”- in each case the State will use force to defend your monopoly.

Not all property rights rely on the State to be enforced. Ian makes this point a lot, and as he’s criticized anarchism before (particularly anarcho capitalism) I don’t blame him. It’s true that in this sense all property is a monopoly. But it is a highly defined monopoly. A toothbrush in my ownership is limited to that one unit of toothbrush. It does not prevent third parties from manufacturing similar toothbrushes, selling toothbrushes, and any other of the myraid of acts that are considered actionable under patent law, were I to hold a patent in toothbrushes. More importantly, the edges of what these acts are are not in fact determined and easy to recognize, as they are with most corporeal property. Rather, they are constantly expanding, through a variety of means. As their reach is unlimited, but conventional property rights very limited, it is true to say that intellectual property provides a monopoly of an incomparable nature to corporeal property.

Moreover, as the patterns of interference caused by intellectual property are infinitely greater than those caused by corporeal property, the tendency to violate the liberty of others in an unjust way is also infinitely greater. The law of equal liberty does not bode will with unlimited rights to control the corporeal property of others.

Hence, Mr CL’s claim-

Intellectual property is not comparable to corporeal property, as IP necessarily requires massive state action to enforce against the property and free expression of all other people in ways any other form of property does not.

-is false. All property requires similar “massive State action”; as we see in cases of trespass, or looting. In each case, if mass violation of property rights occurs, the State either ends up using massive (often deadly) force, or the property right cannot be enforced and widespread violation results.

So, the accusations that IP is qualitatively different to other property rights are false.

I just reaffirmed my claim above. This goes into an argument about anarchism vs statism which is actually not at all relevant to the issue of hand: the moral basis of IP rights.

We say property rights, for the most part, not because property rights are sacred or more important than free speech, but because they work.

Yes, all rights are ultimately justified on some Utilitarian basis, however much some may like to claim to be able to pluck them from a Platonic Plane. Specifically, as capitalists we prefer a rights framework to ensure the existence of a market and thus production. That is, they allow a trading system between strangers; the basis of any free market.

On its own, this statement is true. Especially the first sentence, which I quite like. let’s see where it goes…

By the way, it is likely that Mickey Mouse et al will never come out of copyright because the swine at Disney have lobbied for extensions faster than they have run out so far.

So? What is this desperate need people have for Mickey Mouse? If you don’t want to pay for Mickey, draw your own mouse. What do you need theirs for? And this is where the whole argument gets both curious and revealing. It is claimed above that copyrights “infringe others’ rights”. But how? All you’re denied is Mickey Mouse. There are an infinitude of other possible cartoon mice, or cartoon characters. Nobody is being prevented creating any number of new mice.

Well, firstly, the point here was about the Rule of Law, and crony capitalism. Both of these were ignored. Secondly, as to what Ian says, I am having trouble finding what his point is, or the relevance. It seems to be “Under a copyright regime, Mickey mouse is copyrighted, go make your own”. And this is designed to even touch on the matter of the moral basis of copyright… how?

One can argue that for patents, one man’s patent on a telephone prevents anyone else making telephones (since the laws of physics limit the number of unique inventions). Not so cartoon mice; there cannot be a shortage, or any infringement of others’ freedoms of action at all.

Indeed you can, and I will, argue this for telephones. The patent has universally (in the jurisdiction of the relevant legal system) dictated a use of private property- wire copper, plastic, whatever- in the name of a private interest, the patent holder. This is clearly a rights violation. But the same applies to creative works covered by copyright also. They require resources- printing machines, paper, computers, whatever is relevant to the medium at hand.

And yet, the IP brigade are most furious at copyrights. “How dare they extend copyright on Mickey Mouse?” they squeak! This is the bottom line of it. Such people are those with no capacity to create new works and thus enrich the marketplace; the best they can do is the feeble collage of “mashups” and “mixtapes”; this is the height of their capacity.

A strawman based on no research. Go ask Cory Doctorow about it. He’s on twitter, and easy to get in touch of. How about Dan Bull? He’s pretty good. Anyway, we’re dealing with subjective tastes.

They cannot create IP-free works because they cannot create, period. So they want the illusion of creation, by appropriating the works of others. This is the driving force behind the anger at IP. This, and the simple desire for plunder- the oldest economy mankind knows is to take. It precedes trade. You take from the environment, and you plunder your neighbours in murderous raids. That is what we had before markets were invented. That is the instinct here.

Plundering based on a crony capitalist “right” which, once again, you have refused to give substantive moral basis to. You have assumed the existence of IP as a moral right throughout this whole thing. It is not a self supporting position, it requires a moral basis. I suggest you give more consideration to this. In fact, I’ll give you some help: Try the works of Lysander Spooner, Ayn Rand, and Nozick. That’s just within your own personal libertarian belief system- you can find much more sophisticated pro-IP ideas if you cast your net wider.

I’ll just repeat again; liberals and libertarians support markets. That’s the basis of our system. If you want a market, you have to have that artifical creation, property rights. It took us 99% of human history before we invented them. They were the way out of a prior existence of eternal plunder. That’s the choice. Stick with markets, or go back to plunder.

I prefer the markets, myself.

That’s right. I do.

Which is exactly why I am against Intellectual Property as a moral concept. By allowing unnatural “property” rights to be legislated for, and routinely enforced to the detriment of the many, intellectual property acts as an artificial rent on producers, in favour of the real parasites.



(I am of course, entirely open to public policy discussions on the matter. That’s for another time, maybe.)

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1 comment to For Timmy’s sake…

  • I’m not going to repeat the points I made on Tim’s blog (as it is, temporarily, up) but …

    IP, traditionally, is acceptable as a limited interference in the rights of others to encourage people to produce new stuff by making the exploitation of that new stuff relatively easy.

    However, the corporatist tendency are also abusing the limits both by extensions in time (particularly copyright) and into other areas – methods patents, derivative works, personal use – just as society is becoming massively more open thanks to the digital revolution. This is leading to what will be intolerable tensions between the largest producers and everybody else.

    I would be up for some extensions, personally. I can think it would be sensible to allow drugs patents to run from “first approved for commercial use” rather than “first filing”, just to try to right the regulatory skew that extensive trials periods have introduced for example.

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