Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

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Objectivists on the PRO-IP Act

Also note the same old error creeping in of thinking that creation is an independent source of property rights (for more, see Libertarian Creationism, Inventors ... are like unto ... GODS...., Rethinking IP Completely, and Objectivist Law Prof Mossoff on Copyright; or, the Misuse of Labor, Value, and Creation Metaphors).

Notes Johnson, "the creator of a piece of intellectual property owns the product of his work." His argument? "If a baker bakes a loaf of bread, he therefore owns it." And likewise, for "music, movies, software." But note the mistake here Johson makes: "If a baker bakes a loaf of bread, he therefore owns it." The "therefore" is the giveaway: he says this because he thinks of the creation of the loaf as the act that gives rise to ownership. Then this leads to the analogy with other created things, like music. But creation of the loaf is not the reason why the baker owns it. He owns the loaf because he owned the dough that he baked. He already owned the dough, before any act of "creation"--before he transformed it with his labor. If he owned the dough, then he owns whatever he transforms his property into; the act of creation is an act of transformation that does not generate any new property rights. So creation is not necessary for him to own the resulting baked bread. Likewise, if he used someone else's dough--say, his employer's--then he does not own the loaf, but the owner of the dough does. So creation is not sufficient for ownership.

The rest of the argument is confused as well. Johnson argues that there are property rights in creations, and glorifies the (utilitarian) Constitution that enshrines them--why, then, ought they last only for a finite time, instead of forever, like other types of property rights do? And take this argument:

The pirate deprives the creator not only of the relatively small amount of money to be paid for the product. He deprives the creator of his very means of living, his ability to control, trade and profit from the work of his mind. That is a crime legally, morally, and on the deepest philosophical level, metaphysically. It is a matter of the creator's ability to maintain his own existence.

But this implies that property owners have a right not only in the physical integrity of their property but in the value of their property; they do not: value lies in the way others esteem your property. (See Rethinking IP Completely, and Objectivist Law Prof Mossoff on Copyright; or, the Misuse of Labor, Value, and Creation Metaphors for further comment on this.)

Finally, when he notes, "The PRO-IP Act ... is a welcome law and a welcome message," he accepts the idea that law can be or ought to be made by legislation. Of course, this is wrong, for several reasons--see my post Regret: The Glory of State Law for elaboration.

Update: see the vigorous debate in the comments section of the parallel post at Mises.org.


Ah yes, the old sweat of your brow, fruits of your labor ploy.

"If a farmer plants a field of carrots, is he not entitled to the carrots he has grown?" the copyright apologists ask. Well, sure, but the hired hand who tills the soil, plants the seeds, and harvests the carrots is only entitled to what the farmer has agreed to pay him, even though it's his brow getting sweaty while the farmer's brow is dry. Because the seeds, soil, and fertilizer belong to the farmer, not the laborer.

And if you ask the same question of any job that doesn't involve turning raw materials into finished products, it falls apart completely. Is a house painter entitled to the houses he paints? Is a valet entitled to the cars he parks? Is an accountant entitled to the numbers he crunches? Of course not.

When discussing the nature/origin of property rights, the discussion seems to lack a critical concept, that of "SALE". I will agree, that at the time of creation you own it. But here is the inconvenient truth, when you distribute (sell) it to people you lose ownership control. The new owners acquire the right to that property and they in turn are entitled to sell it.

Basically, those in favor of so-called intellectual property assert that they own whatever and that their distribution of whatever still leaves them as owners. They hide this fiction by using terms such as "licensing" and "leasing". To restate the intellectual property asserts that the "creator" retains a perpetual property right since the creation can never be "sold". Pure bunk. We need to reaffirm with a loudspeaker that when a product is transferred (sold) the underlying property right to the product is also transferred to the buyer.

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