Libertarians in Favor of Intellectual Property? Stop.

Bad Arguments Vol. 58

intellectual property

In recent days, I’ve seen an alarming amount of libertarians come to the defense of Intellectual Property (IP) and the laws associated. While there’s some valid reasons for wanting some form of protection for the creation of ideas, or at least a way to guarantee compensation, most of the defenses that have been put forth, and the current laws for that matter, fail terribly.

The purpose of IP, on paper at least, is to treat ideas and non-tangible creations such as songs, characters, software, etc. the same way we treat normal forms of property and, by extension, offer the same protections and ownership rights to the originators of these ideas. Does it work this way though? Frankly speaking, no.

The first issue with IP is in treating ideas the same as physical property. If I purchase normal forms of property from someone, then, I can do what I wish with that property as it is then mine. The same cannot be said of music, movies, software, or any of the other forms of property protected in this way. I cannot copy or redistribute IP-protected property despite having purchased it, nor can make my own if it ends up being too close in appearance to the original. In this sense, the implementation of IP laws violate the property rights of the purchaser by extending control of the property past the original ownership.

Another issue with trying to treat IP the same as physical property is in how ideas are owned. Can another person retain ownership of something that is within my mind? Once I read a book, hear a song, or watch a movie, the ideas are then in and originating from my mind when I try to recall or use any given part of them. I, quite hopefully, don’t need to go further in explaining why the state being able to dictate ownership of portions of people’s minds is an atrocious idea.

Some of you might say “But what about the artists?” I have three counters to that particular question. Firstly, “the artist” generally makes jack-all on the songs themselves. Outside of self-publishing artists or those that own their own labels, the bulk of income from song sales ends up in the pockets of the lawyers, managers, and label shareholders associated with the production of the albums. Secondly, being an artist doesn’t change or invalidate all of the baggage that comes with IP laws as they stand, even if they were scaled down. Lastly, a counter question; what about all of the people that either die or suffer because of the price of medication? Without IP, others could manufacture many important medications, and do it at a far lower cost. A great example is the soaring costs of insulin, heart disease medications, and cancer treatments. I would rank people’s health above some pop star making their next million.

There are some legitimate questions to be addressed of course, such as incentives around R&D without exclusive ownership, or protecting brands and consumers from knockoffs. There have been quite a few solutions to those, such as using blockchain tech to track origins of ideas, that address those concerns or, at least, put forth competent solutions. I use to be in favor of IP for many of the reasons that I’ve countered above, but there is little logical weight to it’s enforcement. As far as our battles for liberty are concerned, defending IP is a poor hill to die on.

Read more from Killian at Think Liberty here.


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