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Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

IP as a Joke

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.





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I've yet to find a decent counter argument against my decent argument for intellectual property, which I've expounded on comments on this site at some length.

I recognise that you refuse to engage with it and simply term it 'incoherent'. There's not much I can do about that. I can only argue with those prepared to argue.

Given the US constitution is a pretty well respected recognition of natural rights, it can be useful common ground to avoid building the argument for IP from the ground up every time (which takes time and patience).

I have also argued it is self-evident that whoever creates something owns it (ceteris paribus).

So, if anyone apart from Stephan is willing to consider the possibility that a decent argument for IP exists, then I reckon I've got one. I'm quite happy to argue it (given time), but unfortunately it can't withstand the old fingers in the ears and "la la la... can't hear you" gambit.

Crosbie wrote:

I have also argued it is self-evident that whoever creates something owns it (ceteris paribus).

I haven't read that (couldn't find it, you should link or say where), but: this sentence is simply ridiculous. I break off a branch of your tree. Now I've created a stick so it's mine. I created your black eye BTW.

The issue of ownership of non-physical concepts is just insane. Just think about it in its own right (I mean don't attach it to what you *want* it to be or whatever laws say). And why do you want it? One word: greed. Well, I guess recent events have shown what greed can do to the world.

All in all I can see parallels between pro-IP and people with religious preoccupations. Trying to convince them is pointless: they just 'know' they're right and go to any length to avoid the simple conclusions that are right in front of them.

Snorkie

You break a branch from my tree.

Well firstly this contradicts 'ceteris paribus' - which I added precisely because I knew there'd be folk like you who'd immediately pick the inherently difficult to resolve situations that arise from the fait accompli of a rights violation. :-/

Why didn't you start off with an example based upon breaking a branch from your own tree?

Indeed, can you find any situation concerning material or intellectual property in which given no rights violation (endangerment of life, violation of privacy, impairment of truth, or constraint of another's liberty), creative work doesn't result in the creator owning the result of their work?

Anyway, let's get back to this thorny example of your stick and my tree.

It is my tree and you have damaged it in the process of stealing a branch. You are clearly unable to restore the tree. I will nevertheless require a remedy.

You now have a stick, a work you have created that is consequently yours, that I have no right to. However, it is formed from my branch, and its transformation cannot be reversed. You may offer the raw material of the wood and your added creative work that transformed it into a stick if you wish as part of a remedy, but I (and a judge) may not find it acceptable/equitable/sufficient. It may nevetheless be forfeit if you can provide no other remedy in its place.

A stick may be one of the first material creations known to primates, but it is not a particularly creative or laborious work.

As for a black eye. Again you're back on a violation of my right to life (viz the integrity of my body). No-one can deny the black eye is your work, but its medium cannot be owned, nor can the work be preserved without further violation of my right.

[Why do people tend toward violence in their hypothetical examples? It's as if this betrays latent aggression.]

As for links to previous occasions when I've argued that creation confers ownership, see: Kinsella Interview on Lew Rockwell Show podcast: Intellectual.

Sigh. I was trying to break out of your legal mystification process and give you two examples that show that there may be something fundamentally wrong with the whole principle.

Your response is typical for people infected by 'legal' or 'religious' arguing (maybe that's why it's so popular in the US, crammed with lawyers and believers). Sure, don't try to understand what the other person is saying, but try to find hooks to attack back. And sure, I could reply something like, whatever, let's look at a stone you find by the side of the road. You do something with it. When does it become yours? When you break it in pieces (after all, you made the pieces)? When you make a sculpture from it?

You have built protective walls around your line of thinking, and you can't go back because it would hurt everything you tried to accomplish for years. If you could let that go, you could ask yourself why you want to build such a network of arguments just to support an idea that is utterly nonsensical. You equate doing something with having something. That is for physical things hard to stomach, for non-physical things I simply can't see how intelligent beings would even consider the possibility that 'I thought of this first so I own this thought'. It's mind boggling.

Oh and:

[Why do people tend toward violence in their hypothetical examples? It's as if this betrays latent aggression.]

Well well nice false argument setting the tone. It could never have been a simple extension of the same argumentation, no, I must be aggressive.

Snorkie

Snorkie, I don't think you're trying at all hard enough at a decent argument.

Just ditch all the ad hominem (and examples involving violence against me), and focus on what should apparently be easy for you to demonstrate, i.e. that which is fundamentally wrong with intellectual property and the principle of creation conferring ownership of both material and intellectual work.

If you discover a stone by the road and no-one has a better claim to it, then it's yours if you want it (tragedy of the commons withstanding). Make what you like out of it. What is your point?

I'm quite happy to argue that I own my thoughts (however original or unoriginal), as I have on previous occasions.

Let's put your mind boggling to one side and focus on the argument eh?

Crosbie,

Just ditch all the ad hominem (and examples involving violence against me),

Oh please. This association (yeah Snorkie is a violent ad hominem guy so his arguments must be crap) is what I call a strategy. Strategy is a replacement for simple, honest exchange of valid arguments to get to good conclusions.

> What is your point?

Your summary is just ... designed ... to not reflect the point. My point is that it may be someone else's, or not. You don't necessarily steal it, but the fact that you do something with it doesn't make it yours. I hoped you could cut the crap of 'having the right to do something in the first place'. I hoped I could pre-empt your persistent deflections. But that's not part of your 'mission', right?

> Let's put your mind boggling to one side and focus on the argument eh?

Arguments? You just want to be in your 'domain' hijacking every argument the other makes to ... WIN. That's all there is to it. The world can be divided by those who WIN and those who LOSE. Ooooh be sure you're not losing - no matter how.

Bye Crosbie, I'm off to discussions with people that are not just posting to WIN.

The Snork

Snorkie, I'm interested in understanding the nature of intellectual property and how ownership is conferred by creation. Therefore I would like the best arguments I know to meet other good arguments, whether divergent or opposite. With a testosterone laden perspective this may be mistaken as a kind of 'fight club' where insight and improvement of argument is secondary to winning or losing a 'battle of words'. I don't know about you, but I've got better things to do. Come back when you fancy an argument, whether just five minutes or the full half hour.
@Crosbie: Using my own resources to emulate something of yours is not theft. So, why would you consider my work to be yours? How far are we going to take the idea of intellectual property? If I were to rebuild my house to look like yours, am I stealing your IP? Probably not as the idea is preposterous. But somehow this ridiculous idea is applied to everyday things and other creative works.
Jayel, You are perfectly at liberty to simulate, imitate, or emulate anything of mine that I give or sell to you, but not my intellectual property, that intellectual work of mine, those mechanisms I have designed and created to which I have not given you access.

If by some coincidence, necessity and contemporary knowledge inspires and informs us to arrive at a stunningly similar invention (so similar that people would suspect one had informed the other), then this produces no conflict. We still have a natural exclusive right to our own intellectual property. There is no supernatural force of morphic resonance that can reach between us to singularise our designs such that there must be a single owner, that one of us may exclude the other from their own property. That would be preposterous.

In the case of you building a house to look like mine. You clearly have visual access to the exterior of my house, but you do not necessarily have access to the interior. So you are at liberty to copy the exterior, but not the interior. If you burgle into my house in order to survey its interior then you will have stolen my intellectual property, i.e. the architecture of my house.

Crosbie, if he breaks into your house in order to survey its interior, then he will have committed a crime regardless of whether or not we (preposterously) consider the interior of your house to be "intellectual property". No one's disputing that breaking into houses is a crime.

What benefit is there in considering the interior of your house to be "intellectual property", anyway? Suppose we don't, and someone breaks in to make a bootleg blueprint of your living room. He goes to jail, of course, because B&E is still a crime, but when he gets out, he decides to sell copies of those blueprints. Nothing's stopping him from doing that... but so what? Just what harm do you suffer from other people being able to build replicas of your living room? What societal cost is caused by that act to justify restricting the freedom of people to share blueprints?

Jesse, you may have decided that intellectual work/property should not be recognised and that therefore it can have no value - ipso facto its theft is of no consequence.

However, others do place a high value on intellectual work (including thieves). The individual has a natural ability, power, and consequently right to protect everything within their private domain, intellectual as well as material work. This exclusive right to intellectual work should be protected as much as their exclusive right to their material work.

Of course, there are arguments that say that material property should not be recognised either, i.e. that if another has a greater need, there is no wrong in them appropriating accordingly - and that this is socially beneficial.

Societies eventually realise that you can't escape the nature of people, who will guard their possessions and require them to be guarded and restored/remedied in the event of theft or damage.

With copyright we are recognising that you can't guard a monopoly given this requires derogating from people's liberty to utilise and distribute their possessions as they see fit. However, only a tiny few are actually demanding the 'liberty' to appropriate the private and unpublished works of authors and inventors, or that any such theft may be ignored as inconsequential.

Suppose I want to learn a piece of information that is vital to me. I want to know if the owner of a certain landline is at home right now.

What I can do is call the phone, and if the owner picks up, I know that he is at home. In this manner I can trick the phone and it's owner into giving up the information I need.

Now, suppose that instead of needing to know if the owner is at home, I would like a copy of the latest manuscript of one of my favorite writers. Instead of sending electrical pulses to a phone, waiting for eletrical pulses back, I now send electrical pulses to the computer, waiting for eletrical pulses back. Because of a security vulnerability in the operating system this author uses, these eletrical pulses I receive back contain the manuscript.

Have I committed theft? In my opinion, quite obviously yes, but for me that is easy to justify, since I consider the manuscript the intellectual property of the author, and he did not willingly give it up. How are you going to call this theft if intangible things cannot be property? Or do you think that my actions in this story have been perfectly acceptable?

Crosbie, you wrote, "The individual has a natural ability, power, and consequently right to protect everything within their private domain, intellectual as well as material work."

I'm with you on material property, but I'm nowhere near convinced that anyone has a "right to protect" information that they possess, at least if you're going to define it as a right to prosecute anyone who obtains a copy of that information. That's a monopoly whether or not you like to think of it that way. You're granting authors a monopoly over the distribution of certain information; the only difference I see between your proposed monopoly and the copyright monopoly we already have is that yours ends as soon as the author makes the information publicly available, whereas copyright ends after a fixed number of years.

Kid, I'm not going to call that theft. I don't think it is. It's unauthorized computer access (hacking), and we already have laws for that. The hacker gains a copy of the manuscript, but the author doesn't lose anything: that manuscript is still safe and sound on his hard drive. You can't be the victim of theft if you still have everything you had before.

Jesse, you have to understand that we are not talking about a monopoly on the information itself but a monopoly on a specific copy of that information.

The monopoly does not end when copies are made and distributed, the author still has the monopoly on the distribution of the copies under his control, and each owner of the other copies has a monopoly on the distribution of the copies under their control.

This monopoly on the distribution of a copy is not a problem. In fact, it is perfectly natural.

The problems arise when you make a law saying the author of a work has a right to control the distribution of other people's copies of it. This has nothing to do with property, indeed it is a gross violation of it. Those copies ought to be controlled by their respective owners, not the author. It is, after all, ridiculous to sell something and then still get to control it after you've sold it, instead of the new owner. What kind of sale is that?

Kid, a specific copy of information is physical property. A copy is always contained in some medium: a CD, a hard drive, a book, a painting, etc. Thus, a copy is covered by plain old property laws, just like a car or a shoe or any other physical object. If someone wants to "distribute" a painting from your wall, he'll have to take it off your wall first; at that point he becomes a thief, just as if he'd taken the shoes out of your closet.

There's no need for any additional "IP" laws unless you want to grant additional rights above and beyond what property owners already have, namely the right for the owner of a copy to prevent others from making their own copies. But isn't that what you're arguing against in your last paragraph?

unless you want to grant additional rights above and beyond what property owners already have, namely the right for the owner of a copy to prevent others from making their own copies.

I do want to grant this right. I think this it is perfectly natural to have this right. I don't want you making copies of my copy.

However, if I make a copy of my copy, and sell this copy of my copy to someone else, I'm no longer owner of that copy of my copy. It's somebody else's copy now. And that somebody else is the one who controls the distribution of it. If he wants to make copies of his copy of my copy, I cannot object. After all, I sold it to him.

Kid, I still don't see how this monopoly you want to grant is in any way "natural". In nature, in the absence of copyright laws, there's nothing stopping me from writing down a poem I see, or taking a photo of a picture I see, or recording a song I hear. The government has to step in and stop me from doing it. (In fact, I'd go so far as to say that a right that must be enforced by a third party cannot be natural.)

So, you want the right to stop people from copying certain aspects of your physical property that they might observe. Where do you draw the line? If I can't duplicate the arrangement of colors from your copy of a painting, can I at least copy the size of that painting, or will you sue me if I cut a canvas to the same size as yours?

What is there to stop someone from claiming that his "intellectual property" rights also cover the subject matter of his painting, or the type of paint he used, or the size of his canvas, or to the fact that he hung it on the north wall at 10:05 AM? How are any of those attributes any less worthy of being "owned" than the particular arrangement of pigment?

The government has to step in and stop me from doing it.

Oh, copying isn't really coercion, is it? I guess you're right, it's not a natural right, then.

So, you want the right to stop people from copying certain aspects of your physical property that they might observe.

One might argue that willingly exposing to the public counts as 'giving.' The exterior of my house is willingly exposed to the public and may therefore be freely copied. The interior of my house is not willingly exposed to the public and may therefore only be copied with my permission.

You are still free, of course, to arrange your interior in any way you like. If you arrange your interior in a way indistinguishably similar to mine, that still doesn't give me any claims against you. What matters is if you copied my interior without my permission. What you independently discover is yours.

Does it really have to be indistinguishable from yours? Like I said, what if you claim that your "intellectual property" extends to, for example, the number of chairs in your living room? If I see that you have 3 chairs in your living room, and I put 3 in mine as a result, am I opening myself up to a lawsuit?

After all, you could say that most copies aren't truly indistinguishable from the originals. Some people can hear the difference between a moderate-quality MP3 and the original song. A digital photo of an oil painting will have slightly different coloration, and won't capture all the detail (e.g. the 3D texture). Once you decide that copying some attributes is verboten, how do you know when to stop?

EVEN IF your copy is indistinguishable from mine, that would not necessarily give me any claims, unless you actually copied it from me. That is what I was trying to say.

Anyway, I'm not arguing for this so much as to give additional rights beyond physical property. I just I want to make sure abolishing intellectual monopoly doesn't lead to intellectual work not being recognized as valuable anymore. Suppose I leave the door to my office unlocked. You walk in, make a copy of my manuscript, put my copy back and walk away with yours. I want that in this situation, the owner of the manuscript has some kind of claim against the thief (and I consider it theft) for the full (possible million-dollar) value of the manuscript and not just that I had to get my carpet cleaned because you put some mud on it.

If I put my manuscript on display, letting anyone read it, then you can obtain the information without violating my rights, and thus the information is a gift from me to you. Supposing you have a very good memory, you can then write down my manuscript without me having any claims against you.

Kid, in the situation you describe, how can the author possibly have suffered multi-million dollar damages?

He still has the information that's written on the manuscript, and the physical medium of the manuscript itself. He hasn't actually lost anything except a feeling in his mind: it seems to me that your argument is based on the premise that his wish to be the sole possessor of that information is worth millions of dollars -- and, furthermore, that that wish is the source of the manuscript's entire value.

Jesse,

Just to make sure: your position is that if a publisher goes into an author's office, copies the manuscript, publishes the book, and pays the author a $3000 fine for trespass, it's perfectly okay?

I guess we just have a disagreement about what is morally right.

We agree in the case where no rights are violated: the information obtained is completely free and unshackled.

However, we have wildly different ideas about what ought to happen when the information is obtained by violating its owner's rights.

In my opinion, the owner of the information has a right to control that information. When someone breaks into her office and makes a copy it should be recognized that both her exclusive right to the office and her exclusive right to control the information she owns has been violated. She should be duly compensated for both violations.

It makes no sense for us to discuss proper intellectual property law if we cannot first reach agreement on this.

Kid, in the situation you describe, how do you plan to measure the author's alleged damages? If the author claims that his exclusive possession of that manuscript is worth fifty billion dollars, do you just have to take his word for it?

I could see myself supporting a provision to claw back the trespasser's profits, based on the principle that crime shouldn't pay: any money you make as a result of illegal acts ought to be forfeit, as an incentive to avoid breaking the law in the first place.

But there would have to be some changes. First, the money wouldn't go to the author: it was never his to begin with. The penalty isn't a damage award (after all, the author suffered no damages) but a fine, and fines are paid to the state, including the original $3000 for trespassing.

Second, the amount of the penalty wouldn't be based on the author's arbitrary valuation, but on the actual profits earned by the trespasser. If he gave copies away for free, then there aren't any profits to seize, and so there can be no fine beyond the $3000 for trespassing.

Third, it would make no difference whether the person whose home was broken into were the original author of the manuscript, or just some guy who happened to have a copy. The information in the manuscript cannot be owned; everyone who owns a copy of it is on equal footing. All that matters is that breaking into his house was an essential step in this criminal profit-making scheme.

and fines are paid to the state

We probably shouldn't go on a tangent here, but I find it hard to restrain myself. To me, the idea of awarding damages to the state instead of the victim is ludicrous (and if nobody is damaged, then why is it a crime?).

Second, the amount of the penalty wouldn't be based on the author's arbitrary valuation,

nor by the trespasser, but, of course, by a judge's objective assessment of the situation

it would make no difference whether the person whose home was broken into were the original author of the manuscript, or just some guy who happened to have a copy.

Absolutely. I am not saying we should grant an author a special right, rather that we should recognize everybody's right to control the information they own. The only thing special about authors is that they start out with the first and only copy, and thus a monopoly (which I think is a good thing as it allows authors to get paid for what they do).

The information in the manuscript cannot be owned

That depends on what you mean with "the information." Let's not make the mistake of thinking "the information" leads an existence independent of any copy, and that we can debate about whether this abstract notion should be owned or not. The information in the manuscript leads no existence independent of its instantiation.

However, the information in the manuscript can perfectly well be owned, notwithstanding the possibility that other people own indistinguishably similar information. If the owner's right to control this information is violated, then he ought to be adequately compensated.

Kid, I personally find it ludicrous that a person who suffered negligible damages should get a huge payday just because a crime was committed that involved his property.

If I'm caught running a red light and get fined $250, the purpose of that fine isn't to make someone whole: no one actually suffered a $250 loss as a result of my reckless driving. It was just a dangerous thing to do - dangerous enough that we use the power of the state to discourage it. The fine is merely a disincentive.

Similarly, if I break into someone's house, make a copy of his unpublished novel, and then sell a bunch of copies and earn $1 million, no one has suffered a $1 million loss - certainly not the author, whose only loss is a broken window. The author would be in exactly the same position if I had kept that first copy for myself instead of making more, or if I had given copies away for free instead of selling them. Why should he get a million dollar windfall just for being the victim of this particular incident of trespassing?

The point of fining me $1 million is not to enrich the victim, who after all hasn't been made any poorer by my actions, but to take away the fruits of my criminal activity as a disincentive to other criminals. It sends the message "don't break into someone's house as a means to make money, because you won't have that money for long". It doesn't really matter where the money goes as long as I don't have it, but I don't see how it's any more desirable to give it to the victim than to give it to the state, or to charity, or to set it on fire.

As for the supposed right to control the information written on a manuscript, the only thing there that can be subject to ownership is the manuscript itself: paper and ink. The arrangement of that ink is information, and as such it cannot be owned: the concept of ownership applies to scarce resources that must be rationed, not intangible ideas whose use need not (and realistically cannot) be limited to a chosen set of people.

So this supposed right only exists to the extent that it can be achieved by controlling the property itself, because the property is all that you actually own. You have no right to control what you don't own. You have no right to stop someone from telling his friends how the ink is arranged on your paper, any more than you do to stop him from telling them that the paper is 8.5" x 11", white, and located in your top drawer. Those are simply facts, and you can't own the truth. Anyone who observes them is free to tell others about his observations, and anyone who hears those observations from him is free to write them down or share them with others.

If I'm caught running a red light and get fined $250, the purpose of that fine isn't to make someone whole: no one actually suffered a $250 loss as a result of my reckless driving. It was just a dangerous thing to do - dangerous enough that we use the power of the state to discourage it.

I wouldn't mind if it was merely dangerous to the driver. What I mind is the danger caused to the other people on the road. Those are the victims. If it would be practical to have damages paid to the people that were actually endangered by the reckless driver, I would be in favor of it.

Similarly, if I break into someone's house, make a copy of his unpublished novel, and then sell a bunch of copies and earn $1 million, no one has suffered a $1 million loss - certainly not the author, whose only loss is a broken window.

The value of a copy of the novel depends on its scarcity. If (simplistically) the value of a copy while it is the only one is $1,000,000, and the value of a copy when there are two is $500,000, then by making one unauthorized copy and taking it away the author has suffered a $500,000 loss.

Why should he get a million dollar windfall just for being the victim of this particular incident of trespassing?

He should not get a million for the trespass. He should get the $3000 or whatever it is for trespassing. The intellectual property theft should be treated separately as it is an unrelated violation.

The point of fining me $1 million is not to enrich the victim

but rather to compensate the victim for the damage he suffered. If there is no damage, there is no point to the fine.

As for the supposed right to control the information written on a manuscript, the only thing there that can be subject to ownership is the manuscript itself: paper and ink.

The particular arrangement of the paper and ink is part of the manuscript. So when you own the "manuscript itself" you own this arrangement too. At the very least you have to agree that this arrangement is important and that it constitutes a major part in the value of the manuscript.

the concept of ownership applies to scarce resources that must be rationed, not intangible ideas whose use need not (and realistically cannot) be limited to a chosen set of people.

It seems that you are still confusing "the idea", as some kind of abstract notion leading an independent existence of its instantiation and "the idea" as tied to a copy of it. The use, and distribution, of a single copy does need to (and realistically can) be limited to a chosen set of people. Copies are, by the way, scarce.

So this supposed right only exists to the extent that it can be achieved by controlling the property itself, because the property is all that you actually own.

Right.

You have no right to stop someone from telling his friends how the ink is arranged on your paper

I sure don't. But I do have a right to ask compensation from that someone if he sneaked into my house and checked out my intellectual property without authorization. The property that I'm supposed to control, right?

I declare Jesse the victor in this debate.
Kid,

You wrote, "The value of a copy of the novel depends on its scarcity. If (simplistically) the value of a copy while it is the only one is $1,000,000, and the value of a copy when there are two is $500,000, then by making one unauthorized copy and taking it away the author has suffered a $500,000 loss."

There are two fatal flaws in that logic.

First, the value of an asset is only theoretical until it's sold. You don't "own" the theoretical value, you only own the asset itself. Say you bought a stock yesterday for $50, but today it's only trading for $25: you still have the stock, so you haven't actually lost anything. No one has stolen $25 from you. The drop in value happened in the minds of other traders; it wasn't something that was done to your property.

Second, you can't assign a value to something that was never even offered for sale. If I write a manuscript and lock it in my drawer without showing it to anyone, its value is a complete and utter mystery. Maybe it's worth $1 million, maybe it's worth nothing, or maybe it's so worthless that I'd have to pay someone to take it off my hands! There's no way to know unless I put it on the market and discover what people are willing to pay for it. So it's absurd to claim that making a copy of that unpublished manuscript has caused even a theoretical loss of $500,000, because the presumed initial value of $1 million is pure fiction.

You wrote, "The particular arrangement of the paper and ink is part of the manuscript. So when you own the "manuscript itself" you own this arrangement too."

I can't help but notice that you keep ignoring the other aspects of that manuscript. If you own the arrangement of the ink, don't you also own the size of the paper? The color? The weight? The location where you stored it? The length of time it took you to write? The subject matter? The number of words?

If you own one, then surely you must own them all, right? But then it becomes clear how silly it is to claim ownership over an intangible aspect of a piece of property.

No, you do not own the arrangement of ink on the paper, any more than you own the size or color or any other attribute. You can own a paper that's been decorated with a particular arrangement of ink, just like you can own a paper that's been cut to a particular size, but that doesn't give you any exclusive right to cut paper to that size or lay down ink in that arrangement. Nor does it require others to come up with that size/arrangement on their own, as if their knowledge is somehow tainted when they discover it from observing your copy. If someone looks at your paper and likes what they see, you have absolutely no right to stop them from cutting their paper to the same size -- or from arranging their ink in the same pattern.

You wrote, "It seems that you are still confusing "the idea", as some kind of abstract notion leading an independent existence of its instantiation and "the idea" as tied to a copy of it. The use, and distribution, of a single copy does need to (and realistically can) be limited to a chosen set of people. Copies are, by the way, scarce."

It seems to me that you are confusing the "use and distribution" of a single copy (a physical object made of ink and paper owned by you) with the ability to make additional copies (by rearranging ink and paper owned by someone else to match some of the attributes of your copy).

Yes, copies are scarce. You can own a copy of a book. But owning a copy of a book does not extend to owning every intangible attribute of that copy: you don't own the color, the size, the weight, the price, or even the arrangement of ink, because those things are not subject to ownership. A copy is scarce, but the knowledge needed to make more copies is not -- although it seems you'd like to make it artificially scarce.

Your right to control your property stops where the property itself stops. You have the right to stop people from taking your property away from you, or to put it someplace where it can't be seen. But you have no right to prevent someone from using his own eyes to observe the light that's bouncing off it. And if someone does happen to see it, you have no right to make his erase that knowledge from his memory, or to stop him from using that knowledge in the future (possibly for making additional copies). Your right to control your own property doesn't give you the right to control anyone else's eyes, mind, or hands.

Well, apparently I'm not very good with words. Intuitively, I feel that the $1 million profit that the publisher made with a novel copied from the author's manuscript without permission really "should be" for the author and therefore I think it's appropriate to ship it to him if the publisher gets caught.

I don't know what framework to put this idea in other than that the author owns the manuscript.

In no way am I arguing for any charades in the case where no rights are violated, and the information is obtained 'cleanly'. I just want to make sure authors don't have to go to bed worrying about their novels being published while they are sleeping.

What do you propose to achieve this, then?

Kid, I'd say that if the author wanted that $1 million for himself, he should've sold the book himself. By the terms of the situation you've described, the book is already in a publishable state, and a healthy market exists for copies of it. If someone else swoops in because the author dragged his feet on publishing, that's his loss.

Regarding the problem of authors going to bed worrying that their novels will be published while they're sleeping, my answer is twofold:

1. If you're worried about people seeing your work, just get over it.

2. If you're worried about not being able to profit from your work because someone else has published it, then make arrangements in advance for some entity or group to pay you to write it.

I wonder, would you afford the same protections to, say, a scientist? If I've researched the speed of light but not yet published it, and I write a number down and lock it in my drawer, would you say I "own" that arrangement of ink on the paper? If someone happens to break into my office and read the number, are they forbidden to tell anyone else, or does this only apply to prose?

(And what if, instead of writing down the number, I cut the paper to a particular length in microns which encodes the number? Do I then own the length of that paper?)

There's no creative aspect of the work in this case; the speed of light is a fact, and anyone would come up with the same number if they did the same research. But surely a scientist might have the same worries as an author.

Yes, I would afford the same protections to scientists. You own the arrangement of ink on your paper. You do not own the speed of light. That they are indistinguishably similar does not mean that owning one implies ownership of the other.

If someone happens to break into my office and read the number, are they forbidden to tell anyone else, or does this only apply to prose?

This does not apply to prose either. I cannot forbid you to make use of your knowledge, nor to share it, and if I could I wouldn't know how to enforce it.

Of course, I still believe that the scientist has a claim to some compensation for having his research snooped.

Kid, if you're threatening someone with a million-dollar fine for sharing his knowledge, how can you claim you're not forbidding him to share it? Just because you're punishing him after the fact instead of literally taping his mouth shut? Surely you understand the chilling effect such threats will have on speech -- that's the point of the fine!
I'm not sure if it should be $1 million in ever case, I just think that sometimes a $3000 fine for trespass doesn't cut it, and doesn't adequately compensate the author.

In any case, the chilling effect should not be on speech but on unauthorized snooping of research/publishing other people's novels.

Like I said before, I'm not in favor of any restrictions on information that is obtained without violating any rights.

Kid, so like I said, you are forbidding people to make use of their knowledge or share it, as long as that knowledge was learned in a way you disapprove of.

If your goal is to discourage snooping, then there's an easy way to do it while staying far away from the slippery slope of information monopolies: increase the penalties for trespassing, breaking & entering, etc.

As for "compensating" the author... compensate him for what? What loss has he suffered that needs to be made whole with a giant check? Are hurt feelings really worth that much?

Under your proposal, as far as I can tell, someone who breaks into my house to steal my TV would get a lighter sentence than someone who breaks in to read my books. Does that seem right to you? Or would the TV thief also be forbidden from sharing any knowledge he might have gathered -- how much would you fine him for telling his friends the brand of TV I own or the color of my carpet?

Jesse:

You are perilously close to trade secret law if the only copies of the books in the world are those you own. If you have one book in your library, that no one else has, and that book contains the formula for Coca-Cola, and the thief stole the book, then the damages might be so huge as to be incalculable. Of course, under the laws of many countries, the perpetrator has committed a criminal offense in addition to a civil offense. In some countries, his act could be punishable by death. Is death sufficient punishment for stealing knowledge that only you have? Death certainly prevents the crook from revealing what he knows.

I might not be able to explain it too well, but I feel that if an author has his book copied and published while he's sleeping, he has suffered a real loss. I also feel he is entitled to compensation in that case.

If you disagree with that, then I doubt that we're going to get any closer on this issue.

I think your proposed solution

If you're worried about not being able to profit from your work because someone else has published it, then make arrangements in advance for some entity or group to pay you to write it.

is a good one but not fully adequate in every case. For one thing, it is not always possible to arrange this. For another, even if a publisher pays the author in advance to write, it might not be able to profit from the arrangement because a competitor steals and publishes the book before the original publisher can get their hands on it.

Meanwhile, I don't realize what the disadvantage is of allowing people to control their intellectual works like property. I think it's nothing more than natural.

I am not advocating "intellectual property" as it is currently implemented, because I feel that "controlling your intellectual property" should never extend to "controlling other people's intellectual property". When you sell or give someone else a copy, or when someone else create a similar work, that is then outside of your domain. I think that is also just the way property works, and nothing more than natural.

In the end I think we just have a disagreement over what is supposed to happen, as evidenced by:

Under your proposal, as far as I can tell, someone who breaks into my house to steal my TV would get a lighter sentence than someone who breaks in to read my books. Does that seem right to you?

You ridicule it, but I honestly believe that stealing somebody's intellectual work can do way more damage than any TV is worth. Even if books are generally sold for less than TVs. You don't think that is the case, and so your objection to intellectual property law is completely understandable. I think we just have to agree to disagree here.

Kid, can you please, for once, address the issue of which intangible aspects of property a person owns? You've ignored it every time I've brought it up, and I think it's important.

We've established that you believe I own the arrangement of ink on my paper, and thus have a right to stop anyone else from forming the same arrangement on their own paper (if they learned that arrangement from looking at mine).

Do you also believe I own the size of that paper, and have the right to stop anyone else from cutting their paper to the same size? Why or why not?

How about the subject matter? If I write an essay about wizards, and someone else breaks in to read it without my permission and thinks wizards are a good topic to write about, do I have the right to stop them from writing their own essay about wizards? If not, why is this slightly-more-abstract aspect of my paper treated differently?

How about the location of that paper? If I hide it in the top drawer of my desk, and someone breaks in to find it, can I forbid him from telling others that it was in the top drawer?

What I'm trying to learn is whether you believe I have the right to control every imaginable fact that someone might learn about my property, or only a subset, and where the boundary is and why. It seems terribly impractical and invasive to say that I own them all, but I'm not seeing how the pattern of ink on a paper is fundamentally different from any other intangible aspect of that paper.

Heh, accidentally typed the wrong name. That post was from me.
Jesse, a person owns every item of information in their private domain (the colour of their socks to the weight of their cooker), however, only identifiable intellectual works fixed in a physical medium can constitute intellectual property.
Crosbie, I don't know what it means to own something that isn't property.

What are the consequences of "owning" the color of your socks or the weight of your cooker if they don't constitute intellectual property? If someone broke into your home, found out that your toaster weighed 6 lbs, and told all his friends, would you expect to be able to sue him for distributing that information without your consent? If not, then in what sense do you own it?

Owning something means to be able to exclude others from it, i.e. as in excluding others from one's private domain.

Property is that which can both be owned and transferred.

Crosbie, that doesn't really answer the question. What are the tangible, real-world consequences of "owning" something like the color of your socks or the weight of your toaster?

Once someone sees what color your socks are, you can't go back in time and "exclude" him from that knowledge, nor can you reach into his brain and remove it. So how exactly does this ownership manifest?

Pardon me for butting in, but if property is that which can both be owned and transferred, and you can't transfer "intellectual property", then it ain't property.

Without copyrights and patents that act as a kind of "land title deed" there's nothing to transfer; nothing the other guy has one more of and you have one less of. Because you don't stop having it when you tell it to someone else. You'd have to not only tell some guy what color your socks were, but bang a hammer against your own head until you got amnesia or something to transfer it. And then if you looked in your sock drawer afterwards ... oops!

I don't think a property right in the color of socks is terribly useful anyway. The real argument here is about intellectual works. Copies of intellectual works can be transferred.

They can also be copied, and I think only the owner should be allowed to do so, having a claim for damages against any unauthorized copying.

The other position is that everyone ought to be allowed to copy freely, because the original owner doesn't lose anything if you copy.

Most of us do agree, I think, that the owner of a copy should be allowed to copy it freely, which is why we are here at againstmonopoly.org.

Kid, I'm disappointed that you're still refusing to answer this simple question.

I know why you're refusing to answer it, of course. You have to choose between a contradictory position (some intangible aspects are ownable, others aren't, with no good reason for the distinction) and a silly one (all intangible aspects are ownable, down to the color of your socks). But that's the fault of your belief that intangible aspects of property are ownable, and you should at least have the courage to face it head-on.

"Property is that which can both be owned and transferred."

Ah. That must explain Einstein's fabulous wealth.

"Property is that which can both be owned and transferred."

Ah. That must explain Einstein's fabulous wealth.

Jesse,

To be honest, whether you think the information in a tangible object is ownable or not is irrelevant. The question is not whether you think the information is ownable, but whether you feel extracting it from an object you do not own is a bad thing.

If someone sneaks into my house and looks at the color of my socks, I am slightly more pissed, than if that just sneaked into my house and back out.

If someone sneaks in, reads my research, and sneaks back out, I am a lot more pissed than if that person just sneaked back in and back out.

In the real world, of course, the real violations are not looking at somebody's sock color, but, for example, publishing someone's novel without permission.

Therefore, I would expect law and instutions to evolve an "intellectual property law" rather than a "sock color law".

The sock color example is kind of an extreme example, like you can make absurb examples to prove tangible property silly too.

In principle however, I object to looking in the sock drawer too, though not as much as I object to looking in the research drawer or the manuscript drawer.

Kid, if the relevant issue is "extracting" information from your property, then why does it matter whether he makes and distributes copies?

It's one thing to argue that rifling through your drawers, looking for information, should be treated more harshly than just sneaking in. But that's not what you've said. You want to forbid him from sharing that information, from repeating words that would be perfectly legal for him to repeat if he'd heard them from someone else.

Freedom of speech means you should be able to say or publish anything at any time - without physical restraint or interference, e.g. censorship.

Liberty means there are repercussions for certain speech, especially authoritative publication, e.g. falsehood, violations of privacy, threats to life.

Thus if you publish the knowledge (obtained by a tip-off from a burglar who snuck into Fred Smith's bedroom via a poorly secured window and peeked into their sock drawer) that Fred Smith has pink socks, then this is to compound the burglar's privacy violation.

Fred Smith own's the colour of their socks, but the colour of their socks is not intellectual property, i.e. it can't be transferred because it is not identifiable as a distinct/independent work and thus can't comprise property. However, his socks can be transferred of course, as material and intellectual property, given the sock represents both a material as well as an intellectual work. The colour of the socks comprises part of the intellectual work that the socks represent (their shape, design, weave, fibre, pattern, colour, etc.).

If the burglar had taken a photo of the socks then this would constitute IP theft, since the image of the sock captures a large part of the intellectual work the sock comprises, and is also able to identify the intellectual work.

However, no-one has a natural right to a monopoly, whether in the material design of the sock or its visual appearance. Once you've bought Fred Smith's socks (if he wanted to sell them) you can copy them to your heart's content - and are also as a consequence able to publicise the fact that Fred sold you some pink socks. If by some coincidence you unwittingly produced a pair of socks that were indistinguishable from Fred's, well, that's fine too (however you won't necessarily know that Fred has a pair just like them).

This is how intellectual property works without monopoly. There are still laws against copying intellectual work, it's just that they're restored in alignment with natural law, i.e. you can copy what you privately possess, but not that which someone else privately possesses. Your freedom is not unethically constrained by being prohibited from invading or violating another's privacy.

Crosbie, what's "natural" about a law restricting my speech? In nature, nothing stops me from repeating my observations to other people. Once I observe the color of your socks, that knowledge is inside my head (or my camera), and I possess it as much as you do.

You say the color itself is not "identifiable as a distinct/independent work", but I'm not sure what that means. Someone put effort into choosing that color from millions of potential colors, didn't they? A set of six colors has approximately as much information as a haiku.

You also point out that the color is just one piece of information, but you say a photo of the sock captures enough information to constitute "IP theft". So if I tell someone the color of your socks, that's OK, but if I go on to explain the shape, design, weave, fiber, and so on, at some point I will have said too much and my speech will become illegal. How do I know where that point is, and how is it "natural" to be allowed to repeat only an arbitrary subset of the facts I've observed?

It seems to me that "natural law" in your post means nothing more than "my personal preference".

Jesse, you are free to do or say anything, but for certain uses of your freedom in which you impair the freedom of others (violating their natural rights), you should be prosecuted by a government empowered to prohibit such acts. I appreciate that not everyone finds the idea of such an empowered government ideologically palatable, but I am assuming the existence of such as a premise in my arguments - I am simply arguing that such a government is not and should not be empowered to grant monopolies.

The difference between a colour or number and a collection of colours or numbers is that a collection (picture) is more likely to have a sufficiently unique/identifying pattern that it can be recognised as a distinct work and transported as such when fixed in a physical medium. A colour may be valuable information (if critical for a laser), but it is not apprehensible by the intellect as an intellectual work, e.g. as the result of intelligent design. So, while the dimension of 675nm does not constitute an independent intellectual work (IP), it is information owned by the laser engineer who measured it (he can deny others access to his measurement). The entire laser device is property however, both material and intellectual.

Natural law is self-evident, and can be observed as the natural power and needs of the human being whilst they live in harmony with their habitat and others as equals, i.e. freedom and exclusive control over their immediate space. Some power and desire to dominate or conquer others may be natural, but this conflicts with others, is inegalitarian and is not harmonious. Thus natural law is not simply preference, e.g. individuals might well prefer to constrain the speech of others, but that doesn't make it a natural right. However, individuals can and do constrain others' freedom to invade or violate their privacy. This is where property derives. Privacy is natural law, in the natural power of the individual to protect, and their natural right, and it delimits liberty. You remain free to invade or violate another's privacy (subject to the physical constraint and security of their private boundary), but with a government protecting it you should be prosecuted for doing so (with remedies), unless a greater natural right was at stake, i.e. life. A government so protecting the natural right to privacy may thus prohibit (flagrant) disclosure of information obtained through burglary, and the distribution and reproduction of intellectual property similarly obtained (preferably returned or destroyed as appropriate).

Crosbie, I certainly agree that uses of your freedom in which you impair the freedom of others, violating their rights, ought to be prosecuted. But it's a stretch to say that anyone's freedom is being limited here, other than the person whose speech you want to outlaw!

Observing some information, copying it, and distributing the copies is a perfect example of something that does not and cannot impair the freedom of anyone else. If I peek into your sock drawer and tell my friends what I saw, you're still free to do absolutely everything that you were free to do before; I have not limited you in any way, and in fact you might never even know that I was there.

As for privacy and natural law, the "natural power of the individual to protect" obviously extends only to what can be naturally protected. You can naturally protect your home and the papers therein by securing them against intruders (and responding in kind to intruders who use force).

You cannot, however, naturally stop someone from sharing his observations with others: to do that, you need to initiate force against him, and in practice you need a government to investigate and initiate force on your behalf (since the sharing may be taking place without your knowledge, thousands of miles away).

Why would I need to prevent anyone from sharing observations?

In my opinion, the rights violation is not sharing the information but obtaining it in the first place.

Does the owner of the sock drawer not have a natural right to exclude others from peeking in it? How about the owner of a book?

All I want is that the owner is properly compensated for any unauthorized snooping.

I do consider snooping research or a manuscript to be a far more significant violation than peeking in the sock drawer and therefore the damages ought to be far higher for those (in fact I don't expect significant damages for peeking in the sock drawer).

Kid, certainly the owner of a sock drawer or a book has the right to prevent others from looking at it. The question is, what happens when that right is violated by a trespasser? We can't make him un-see what he saw, so what do we do instead?

It seems your position has evolved over the course of this thread, because earlier you were objecting to making copies, but now you're apparently only objecting to the snooping that uncovered the information needed to make those copies.

So let me see if I understand it as it is now: if I break into your home and peek at your manuscript, you want to fine me an arbitrarily chosen amount for going through your private possessions (somewhere in the six- to seven-figure range, and bearing no relation to the cost of making/obtaining the manuscript or the profit either of us have earned from it), but I'll still be free to make and distribute all the copies I want?

I think making copies is bad because the owner should be the one to make the copies. In my opinion, it's wrong to go around copying things you don't own.

Why is it bad to make a copy if you do so with your own materials? Well, you still need the use of the original to make a copy, which I think is the owner's to grant and not yours to take.

If I ride a rollercoaster without paying, and get caught, do I owe something? I can't 'unride' the rollercoaster. Well maybe, maybe not, but I feel that the person who publishes an author's manuscript without permission, does owe the author something. A significant sum.

Kid, in that case, you've just answered your own question: "Why would I need to prevent anyone from sharing observations?"

Because that's what copying is: sharing observations. I see a sequence of words on your paper, I want to tell someone else what that sequence of words is, and in order to prevent me from doing so, you're threatening me with a million-dollar fine for sharing what I observed.

How can you say "the rights violation is not sharing the information but obtaining it in the first place" and then mere hours later turn 180 degrees by saying that someone who shares the information owes "a significant sum" in fines?

There has been a lot of evolution in this thread, maybe it's easier to see because I'm joining late and just read the whole thing start to finish.

Jesse, you need to quit cherry-picking the figure of a million dollars - that started as your arbitrary example, and the way I am reading it Kid simply picked that up for the sake of convenience. It is understandable that this far into the discussion you may both have forgotten that, but maybe it's best anyway to forget about assigning figures to the value of this or that work because it really seems to be clouding the debate. You can't claim to be arguing on principle if the number of zeroes behind a dollar sign has any effect.

The actual dollar value of the imagined manuscript is not the issue, it is the fact that the manuscript might yield a profit. The author has most likely crafted this manuscript--this principal work--with the expectation of sharing in whatever that profit may be, quite possibly at the loss of some other means of supporting himself or his family. Of course, the author must account for the risk that the principal work will not make a profit (it's not as though he commands an hourly wage), but how far should we expect an author to go in protecting the content of his work-in-progress?

If I steal his manuscript and sell it to a publisher as my own, do you see any violation of a right for which the author should reasonably expect some compensation? Or do you suppose that those who depend upon creative works for a living should stuff their pants pockets with all documentation of those creations just because somebody might otherwise take it? Seems to me your model gives the greatest incentive to those who can sniff out a good idea and sell it off before the person who thought of it has the chance. My best bet might be to start stealing a publisher's mail in the hopes of tapping into a steady stream of profitable manuscripts. If you do not feel the same please explain why.

If you do feel the same but do not see such an arrangement as objectionable, please explain why in detail.

Boris, the "million dollar" figure is unimportant. What is important, however, is the notion of "a significant sum": Kid's intent is to impose a sentence that will seriously impair the well-being of whoever decides to share the observations that Kid doesn't want him to share. The purpose isn't to prevent that person from profiting from the break-in (he might have shared for free and not made a cent), nor to compensate the author for losses he suffered (the author's actual loss is negligible compared to the fine), but to restrict that person's speech.

I think your concerns about the author who intends his manuscript to make a profit miss the mark because they're implicitly founded on the informational monopolies that most of us here oppose. If the author is being paid for his time spent writing, then it doesn't matter who sees the manuscript; if he's expecting to be paid royalties, he has a lot of disappointment in his future, because without copyright he won't be getting royalties anyway.

You ask, "If I steal his manuscript and sell it to a publisher as my own, do you see any violation of a right for which the author should reasonably expect some compensation?"

Yes, I do. Depending on how exactly you carry out this scheme, I see potential violations of the author's property rights (breaking into his home, theft of his papers) which he should be compensated for, and also fraud (falsely claiming authorship in order to make a sale) which the publisher should be compensated for.

I do not, however, see any inherent violation in simply conveying information from the author's manuscript to the publisher. I don't believe the author has any right to control the information contained in the manuscript -- only the ink and paper from which it's made.

Those who depend upon creative works for a living should not live in fear of their works being shared. Rather, they should look forward to it, and they should employ a business model that eliminates the conflict between the artistic desire to have one's work appreciated by a wide audience and the practical desire to make money.

As for sniffing out a good idea and selling it before the person who thought of it has the chance... that seems like an unlikely way to make a living. First, it's impractical, because the window is very short: you'd have to act between when the work is finished and when the author sells it himself. What makes you think you're better at selling his manuscript than he is?

Second, it assumes a model of production that only works if the government is granting monopolies: otherwise, why would any publisher pay either of you for a manuscript that's already been written? More likely, the author would be getting paid for writing (or simply writing for free), and the most you could achieve would be to mildly embarrass him by showing the world an unfinished draft. Likewise, if you started stealing a publisher's mail, you'd find nothing worth reselling: authors wouldn't send in manuscripts, and even if they did and you stole some, the manuscripts wouldn't fetch a high price because there would be no associated monopolies.

> Have I committed theft? In my opinion, quite obviously yes, but for me that is easy to justify, since I consider the manuscript the intellectual property of the author, and he did not willingly give it up. How are you going to call this theft if intangible things cannot be property? Or do you think that my actions in this story have been perfectly acceptable?

Well, I simply wouldn't call it theft in the first place because it's not. I'd call it hacking and punish it as such. And I'd counter with another question: why do we need so many new laws when computers are involved when old ones are perfectly reasonable?

Speaking of which, I own the air I exhale, because I "created" it. Please be sure you don't infringe upon any of my air rights! Tracking what air I own is something you have to do at your own cost. Oh, and I invented this whole type of ridiculous analogy, so you're not allowed to use it against me, either. I mean, I invented air rights, so you can't have any.

Once I get some good lobbyists, you guys are going down!

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