The existence of property and a critical examination of intellectual property.

Intellectual property (IP) is a subject of some disagreement among people today, let me lay out why I think IP is unjust and an actual infringement upon liberty.

First, let us examine the underlying suppositions of property itself. Classically, property is derived from self ownership, the idea that we own ourselves. Ownership itself, simply meaning the right of possessing something. Self-Ownership can be derived from a simple deductive exercise,  stemming from Descartes’ existence statement:

Cogito ergo sum

I think, therefore I am.

So If I am, because I think, my thoughts must exist and I must own them. And as I control my thoughts, my thoughts control my actions. So I must own my actions as well, since they are the consequence of my thoughts. From that we can also gather my actions must exist as well. Now, if I own my actions and thoughts, logic dictates, that I must own my self, as I am nothing more than action and thought. So again from that, we must conclude, I exist as well.

As you can see, these are reciprocal ideas.

As that follows, it must as well, that if I own myself, the products of that thought and action must be mine as well. Now let’s call “the use of thought and action”, something simpler. I find the word labor fits here quite well. So If I own my labor, as shown,  and I mix that labor with unclaimed resources the product of that labor, what we call property, should justifiably be mine. And as a result, property must exist.

Now that we’ve established where property is derived from, and how it is justified, let’s take a look at IP. From where does a person gather the right to use government force to stop another person from doing something that isn’t harming anyone? IP is the adult equivalent to a child saying “stop copying me” and justified with force. Let’s reduce the argument down. If you’re sitting under a tree in the forest whittling a wooden horse when another traveler happens upon you and begins doing the same, using his own material, thought, actions, and time. He watches you carefully and comes to a rough approximation of your work.

Do you:
A) Scream “PATENT INFRINGER” and proceed to beat him mercilessly until he pays you a royalty.

B) Be flattered that someone appreciated your work so much they wanted to try it for themselves.

Beyond the obvious false dichotomy, the moral here is obvious, using force to stop a person from approximating a work that you freely and openly decided to produce is unjustified. Obviously, if you hadn’t wanted anyone to imitate your work or view your process you would have hidden yourself away in a workshop. Then if someone had violated your property rights by trespassing to see your process or imitate your work you would have justifiable recourse against them.

IP restricts people from participating in the market and kills competition, it doesn’t drive innovation but it does slow the economy for the sake of “fairness” it is in essence a redistribution of wealth from the person imitating the work, to the person who had produced something similar first.

An obvious objection here would be:

                        “He did not perform the intellectual labor to produce the work.

Notice that the ‘idea of the property’ is not, of itself,  property. It can only become property as a mixture of thought, actions, and resources. As previously shown, labor is a mixture of thought and action. Therefore, an object missing thought or action can not be labor and certainly not “intellectual labor.” So as “intellectual labor” can not be labor without physical action,  so to can we conclude there is no such thing as “intellectual property” without action or resources.

So would a book with ideas be property? Yes, of course but the ideas alone within that book are not. So to steal that book, would be theft. However, to copy it once owned or shared, can not be theft. This is not to say thought, and the development of it, is not intensive or worthwhile, it just does not meet the definition we have put forth of labor or property.

As Stephen Kinsella notes:

The mistake is the notion that creation is an independent source of ownership — independent, that is, from homesteading and contracting. However, it is easy to see that it is not, that “creation” is neither necessary nor sufficient as a source of ownership.

With that said, if you are the inventor of something there are ways to prevent people from copying your work without using a government granted monopoly. Contracts, secrecy, leases, non-discolure agreements etc

Let’s extrapolate a little to the real world and look at practicality. If IP exists, therefore it should ALWAYS exist in perpetuity to the heirs of the inventors estate unless otherwise traded or contracted away. So when I build a birdhouse or build a car or a rifle, I would be subject to IP infringement. Should all things men build be subjected to the rule of its originator, subject to merely the first person to think of it? For what justification can there be, or difference thereof, for a man to prevent me these things? Why do ideas in a book constitute something more precious than my wooden horse? From a purely consequentialist or practical point of view IP, if consistent, is a completely untenable idea.

The blatant irony here of course is that those often against the ideas of self ownership and private property, are the most ardent defenders of IP.

The next most common objection is constituted similar to this:

The imitator can use superior personal capital or resources to take, market, and make billions from something he did not originally produce from poor man. He is exploiting another man.

This happens everyday in the market and its a great thing. I build my wooden horse, and the “exploiter” copies him and mass produces him. I neither had the means nor the capital to capitalize on my horse but the “exploiter” did, as a result everyone wins. I won less but that’s my own fault. If I was smart I would have gone to the “exploiter” before I was so stupid as to let him see it without an NDA (contract) and asked him to produce my horse so we could both benefit. That’s an incredibly beautiful thing to me. Contracts are just wonderful.

I also think these people are attributing parts of the “exploiters”  labor to the first man. Is name recognition, notoriety, and fame not directly a result of good publishing, marketing, and serving customers? As well as the ability to meet demand? Also the first man can still draw on public criticism from the second mans success in order to develop his ideas. In fact, some would say his ideas could benefit more because of his increased exposure. Could that not be seen as an I’ll gotten gain as well?

In conclusion, I think property is well defined, it’s opponents will always deny it exists, but I think I’ve made a good case for it’s existence and thus the non-existence and unjustifiability of intellectual property.