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Intellectual Property and the Support of the State

An Open Letter to Leftist Opponents of Intellectual Property: On IP and the Support of the State

We libertarian opponents of IP sometimes perplex IP advocates and leftists. There's an analogy here to the way libertarians, and especially anarcho-libertarians, are treated by mainstreamers. The press does not know what to do with libertarians, for example. They typically use "libertarian" to denote civil-libertarian ACLU types; while libertarian thinkers and institutions are often described as "conservative." And "anarchy" is usually associated with chaos, bomb-throwing, or leftist anarchists--rather than with anarcho-libertarianism, which is the only genuine form of anarchism. (See my What It Means To Be an Anarcho-Capitalist.)

There is a common assumption in society that "intellectual property" is a legitimate type of private property right. Thus socialists and leftists oppose IP because of their hostility to private property rights, capitalism, corporatism, and industrialism. Thus, many IP opponents are leftist, anti-capitalist types (for example, Richard Stallman and Eben Moglen are, IIRC, at least somewhat leftist [if I am mistaken in this, I stand corrected; in any event I would welcome email providing backup of this, or examples of other leftist anti-IP arguments).

Likewise, many libertarians accept the fallacious notion that IP is a type of property, and thus support IP because they support property (and because many well-known libertarians, such as Ayn Rand, were strong advocates of IP).

Conversely, those who innately or independently oppose IP, are often classified as leftists, or even believe themselves to be leftists (I believe a similar phenomenon explains why the press tend to be left; they naturally tend to be pro-freedom of speech and freedom of press, but accept the mainstream dichotomy that if you are for personal liberties, you are against economic liberties, and vice-versa; they do not understand that economic and personal liberties are essential and complement each other).

The truth is that the only principled case against IP is the libertarian one, as I've argued in my Against Intellectual Property. The problem with IP is that it undermines and infringes on private property rights: it lets some person gain rights of control over the property already owned and acquired by others (for example, a patent or copyright gives the holder a veto right over certain uses others might put their own property (their bodies, paper, raw materials) to). To oppose IP is to uphold private property rights--libertarian rights. To oppose IP while also supporting socialism is a confusion.

And more than this. IP is not possible without legislation; legislation is not possible without the state. And conversely: with a state, you always get legislation; and legislation always leads to a proliferation of bad laws (see my Legislation and the Discovery of Law in a Free Society).

What this means is that not only is your case against IP weakened if you do not adopt libertarian principles and reasoning to undergird it. But if you support the state at all--if you are not an anarcho-libertarian--then you do not really oppose IP. If the state exists, it will legislate, and it will probably enact IP laws, along with plenty of other bad laws. So, if you support the state, you really can't complain about IP laws. As Ludwig von Mises pointed out, "No socialist author ever gave a thought to the possibility that the abstract entity which he wants to vest with unlimited power—whether it is called humanity, society, nation, state, or government—could act in a way of which he himself disapproves."

IP opponents must not oppose only the "worst excesses" of IP. They must oppose all IP, root and branch, on principled, pro-private property, grounds; and more than this: they must oppose the state itself, and legislation as a means of making law.

So shape up, non-libertarian IP opponents. If you want to make a real case against IP, you must ground it in sound political principles. For some suggested reading, see:

(Cross-posted at Mises Blog)


Comments

What kind of twisted reasoning is that? I oppose IP because it stifles human progress. You demonstrated this vividly with the case of James Watt.
And just where on the political spectrum would I fit? Those, who posit a natural right to intellectual property, and hence have an opposition to commercial reproduction privileges such as copyright and patent where they interfere with this natural right?

Where do you put those proponents of natural rights who would be in opposition to the complete dissolution of intellectual property, the dissolution of the natural exclusive rights of authors and inventors, that you seem to be proposing?

Crobie,

You persist in seeing a dichotomy between what you sometimes call "commercial privileges" (and oppose) on the one hand, and "intellectual property" (which you uphold) on the other.

Property does not include a subcategory known as intellectual property. An author of a book owns his manuscript and has the right of first disposal of it, as well as his own copies of the published version. He does not have the sole right to make copies, translations, sequels, etc. Likewise an inventor has the right of first disposal of his own invention, and to own and sell copies of it, but not the right to exclude others from doing what they wish with their copies, as long as these uses are consistent with everyone else's natural right to life and property.

"Intellectual property" is just a monopoly grant by the state. Fritz Machlup and Edith T. Penrose pointed out in their 1950 article on the 19th century patent system that the term "intellectual property" was invented by the French legislature to dress up and sanitize what was in fact a government-granted monopoly, or commercial privilege as you would say. We should reserve the term "IP" for a monopoly grant (of copyright, patent, trademark, trade dress, etc.), or what I sardonically like to call the monopoly formerly known as intellectual property.

The bottom line is that there is no such thing as a natural right to intellectual property--or to any other kind of monopoly.

Oh god.. Please stop trying to define out the leftist anarchists.(I also hate it when leftist anarchists tries to define out anarcho-capitalists)

You guys are all anarchists.

Look, I love this blog, but this post ranks among the stupidest things I've ever read.

If you want to argue that people ought to "oppose the state itself, and legislation as a means of making law", then fine, do it -- on an anarcho-libertarian blog. But please don't waste our time with the pretense that your entire set of political views are somehow a *prerequisite* for opposing IP.

"But if you support the state at all--if you are not an anarcho-libertarian--then you do not really oppose IP."

Yes, I do. I really do. If you can't accept that, I'm sorry, but that's a limitation of your thought process, not mine.

It is, in fact, possible to disapprove of particular laws without concluding that the whole concept of government should be thrown out with them. Those of us who do so aren't confused -- we just happen to disagree with you. Perhaps you should focus on what we agree on, instead of alienating us, if you want to gain any traction.

Shotts: "What kind of twisted reasoning is that? I oppose IP because it stifles human progress. You demonstrated this vividly with the case of James Watt."

But human progress requires cooperation and the peaceful use of scarce resources, which requires private property rights--assigning a unique owner to each contestable scarce resource. And this assignment has to be fair and objective to be acceptable to a community, which means it has to be based on an objective link to the property, which is obviously first use (Lockean homesteading; if not, then there is no ownership, only possession, since the later possession by a thief or usurper is as good as that of the earlier user).

Fitch: "And just where on the political spectrum would I fit? Those, who posit a natural right to intellectual property, and hence have an opposition to commercial reproduction privileges such as copyright and patent where they interfere with this natural right?"

Fitch, I am not really familiar with your ideas so I'm not sure where you would "fit". But I suppose you would fit about where a leftist fits, who claims to support "human rights" but who denies property rights, and who supports the taxation and regulation by the state of his fellow man (for without property rights, civil liberties are meaningless; and of course regulation and taxation infringe on all rights).

"Where do you put those proponents of natural rights who would be in opposition to the complete dissolution of intellectual property, the dissolution of the natural exclusive rights of authors and inventors, that you seem to be proposing?"

I am not quite sure what position you are describing, but if I understand you correctly, I'd have to say you are simply confused or inconsistent: you advocate rights and liberty on the one hand, while advocating means or institutions that undermine it, on the other.

Kiba: "Oh god.. Please stop trying to define out the leftist anarchists.(I also hate it when leftist anarchists tries to define out anarcho-capitalists) ... You guys are all anarchists."

The truth is that libertarianism is morally correct and superior. This is supported by evidence and experience, philosophy, economics, intuition, common sense, and political theory. The truth is that it is wrong to aggress against others. It is wrong to steal from or murder them. Period. We all know this in our hearts. Some of us are so invested in the institutions of the state that we do not want to be consistent in our advocacy of liberty and rights.

Leftist anarchists--anyone who denies private property rights--is either ignorant, misled, confused, or stupid--or wicked. Anyone who is in favor of peace, prosperity, cooperation, and civilization, will of course favor liberal institutions if he has an iota of economic literacy.

Leftist anarchists have a choice to make. If they really oppose the state, if they really oppose institutionalized violence, then they have to realize (again, given a bit of economic literacy) that the absence of institutionalized violence means a private property order.

Jesse,

"Look, I love this blog, but this post ranks among the stupidest things I've ever read."

What part is incorrect? Are you a statist? Do you favor death, misery, and poverty, as opposed to peace, cooperation, and prosperity? Do you deny that a free market economy is essential to achieve these things? Do you advocate aggression? Or do you deny that states necessarily employ aggression?

"If you want to argue that people ought to "oppose the state itself, and legislation as a means of making law", then fine, do it -- on an anarcho-libertarian blog."

I have argued it, and I see no reason not to mention it here since an integrated view of rights, politics, and economics informs the case against IP.

"But please don't waste our time with the pretense that your entire set of political views are somehow a *prerequisite* for opposing IP."

This is my view. You are free to reject it. As Samuel Johnson said, "Sir, I have found you an argument; but I am not obliged to find you an understanding."

""But if you support the state at all--if you are not an anarcho-libertarian--then you do not really oppose IP."

"Yes, I do. I really do. If you can't accept that, I'm sorry, but that's a limitation of your thought process, not mine."

How about explaining why? If there is a state, will it not enact bad laws, including IP laws? If you do not oppose the state--an agency of institutionalized violence--then you cannot oppose IP on the grounds that it infringes property rights. On what grounds do you then oppose it--?--whim? taste? arbitrary personal preference? I oppose IP because it is a species of aggression--institutionalized interference with individual rights. If you oppose it for these reasons, you have to oppose the state--unless you deny that the state necessarily commits aggression. If you oppose it for other reasons, I'd be curious to hear them, but I doubt they'd be principled or coherent.

"It is, in fact, possible to disapprove of particular laws without concluding that the whole concept of government should be thrown out with them. Those of us who do so aren't confused -- we just happen to disagree with you. Perhaps you should focus on what we agree on, instead of alienating us, if you want to gain any traction."

It is my view that the problem with IP is that it is institutionalized aggression; and I am against it *because of this*. I naturally oppose all aggression, and assume that all civilized people do, too. I also believe the only consistent and coherent critique of IP is one informed by this awareness.

If you support democracy and the state, say, then how can you object to IP law on principled grounds--? If "der volk" support it, who are you to gainsay them?

Stephan,

Do you advocate aggression? Or do you deny that states necessarily employ aggression?

If by "aggression" you mean the use of force against people who have broken the law, or the threat of imprisonment as an incentive to pay taxes, then I must say I'm not opposed to it on principle. I'd like to minimize it, of course, but not at the cost of giving up road maintenance or public schools.

If there is a state, will it not enact bad laws, including IP laws?

Sure. A lot of them. But if we-the-people pay attention, many times we can prevent those laws from being passed, or at least get them repealed after the fact. And even when those efforts fail, I think the result is still better than any of the alternatives I've heard (the most reasonable of which simply move force from a central government to a set of private mercenary-corporation-governments).

If you do not oppose the state--an agency of institutionalized violence--then you cannot oppose IP on the grounds that it infringes property rights. On what grounds do you then oppose it--?--whim? taste? arbitrary personal preference?

I see property rights as a means to an end. Physical property is inherently scarce, some uses can interfere with others, and this naturally leads to ownership, or at least something like it.

For example, if I want to drive a particular car to New York, and you want to drive it to Los Angeles instead, we can't both have our way, because the car can only be in one place at a time. The fundamental nature of cars is that, one way or another, someone will decide who's allowed to use it. In a Mad Max society, one of us might shoot the other and take it; in a totalitarian society, the Party might grant one of us the use of the car as a reward for our loyalty; in a capitalist society, the car belongs to whichever one of us bought it.

It's unfortunate that one of us doesn't get his way -- his freedom is restricted with regard to the things he can do with that car -- and it'd be nice if we could avoid that somehow, but we can't. All we can do is come up with a fair and just way to determine ownership. (That's where arguments about Lockean homesteading and whatnot fit in.)

On the other hand, information is free from those shackles. No one needs to decide how a song, a movie, or a program may be used, because it's impossible for one person's use to interfere with anyone else's. If we allow information to be owned anyway, then we're restricting our freedom for no good reason: we've kept the means but lost the end.

If you support democracy and the state, say, then how can you object to IP law on principled grounds--? If "der volk" support it, who are you to gainsay them?

What I support is more like constitutional democracy: certain principles are more important than the whims of "der Volk".

I believe IP violates the big-C Constitutional principles of free speech and privacy, but the more fundamental principle that it violates is the one that those are derived from, the same one that's at the core of social libertarianism: "if what I'm doing isn't hurting anyone, stay out of my way".

Of course, the courts have a different interpretation (and so did the Framers).

Finally, as for who I am to gainsay them: I'm a member of the minority, which might someday be the majority. Democracy is a system for running a government, not separating right from wrong. I don't have to give up my principles just because they've been voted down.

You persist in seeing a dichotomy between what you sometimes call "commercial privileges" (and oppose) on the one hand, and "intellectual property" (which you uphold) on the other.

Intellectual work is as naturally property as material work. Both may be originated in the private domain and hence both are naturally subject to the manufacturer's private ownership and natural powers of exclusive control and protection and hence become private property (to which authors' and inventors' exclusive rights should be secured for as long as they shall live).

Property, its ownership being transferable, should leave no privilege of control to its manufacturer or any other party. Unfortunately, copyright and patent are such privileges that prevent intellectual property being utilised or exchanged without interference.

Remove those privileges, and the owners of intellectual property have as much power over their fellow men as owners of material property.

What could be more natural?

Property does not include a subcategory known as intellectual property. An author of a book owns his manuscript and has the right of first disposal of it, as well as his own copies of the published version. He does not have the sole right to make copies, translations, sequels, etc.

I believe an author does have "the sole right to make copies, translations, sequels, etc." of their own property. If I buy an author's manuscript, then this manuscript is my property and because it is my property I have "the sole right to make copies, translations, sequels, etc." of my own property. If I make a copy of this manuscript and sell the copy to you, then you have "the sole right to make copies, translations, sequels, etc." of your own property. Your sole right to your property does not interfere with my sole right to my property, nor does it interfere with the author's sole right to their property. However, if a copy of the manuscript is not someone's property then they have no right to make copies, translations, sequels, etc.

I hope this helps explain to others that there is an intervening position of 'Natural IP' that lies between the 'IP with privileges' we have today and 'No IP whatsoever' that some are arguing for. I suggest Natural IP is a position that derives from 'natural rights libertarianism'.

Crosbie,

Any exclusive right to copy still interferes with the property rights of others.

That is, if you have the exclusive right to copy a book that you own, what that really means is you have the right to stop everyone else from writing down the words (or ideas, in the case of a translation/sequel) that they've seen inside it.

It means I need to ask your permission if I want to use my pen and paper in certain ways, even in the privacy of my own home, when there's no contract between us and no chance that you'll even be aware of my use (let alone affected by it).

How is that libertarian or natural?

Jesse, if I allow you into my home and let you read one of my books, then I have no right to stop you recalling those words from memory when you get home and setting down on paper. What you set down on paper is your intellectual property, as much as your paper is your material property.

However, you still need my permission to read my books - unless it is clear that I have made them available to guests.

I have a natural, exclusive right to control who may make copies of my books, my intellectual property.

If I discover that you have stolen one of my books and made copies of it without my permission, despite having secretly replaced the book, then you have violated my exclusive rights - you have committed intellectual property theft. It matters not that I still have the book.

If on the other hand I sell you one of my books, then you can make all the copies of it that you want. After all, it's your material and intellectual property. There are no reproduction privileges retained by me or anyone else that constrain your liberty or interfere with your property.

Jessie:

Do you advocate aggression? Or do you deny that states necessarily employ aggression?

If by "aggression" you mean the use of force against people who have broken the law, or the threat of imprisonment as an incentive to pay taxes, then I must say I'm not opposed to it on principle. I'd like to minimize it, of course, but not at the cost of giving up road maintenance or public schools.

Well, you made it easy for me. Government schools? Government roads? Government jails for failure to pay government taxes? Government jail for non-compliance with whatever arbitrary rules the state decrees, regardless of the rule's justice? You are quite obviously a statist-socialist, who has no problem with condoning and even advocating aggression. As such, you are advocating criminality.

Aggression is the unconsented-to use of force against the person or property of an innocent victim. If I use force against an aggressor, to stop his aggression or in response to his aggression, that is not aggression--it is defensive or responsive force, and it is quite legitimate. But it is legitimate only if it is in response to aggression. To jail me for not paying taxes is aggression--a criminal act--because my failure to pay taxes is not wrongful, not itself aggression.

If there is a state, will it not enact bad laws, including IP laws?

Sure. A lot of them. But if we-the-people pay attention, many times we can prevent those laws from being passed, or at least get them repealed after the fact. And even when those efforts fail, I think the result is still better than any of the alternatives I've heard (the most reasonable of which simply move force from a central government to a set of private mercenary-corporation-governments).

This is incorrect and confused, but I won't deal with it here as it gets us off topic and in any case it is beside the point. The fact is that aggression is unjustifiable and you have not even attempted to justify it here by repeating these trite bromides that government schools are only too happy to spoonfeed young minds.

If you do not oppose the state--an agency of institutionalized violence--then you cannot oppose IP on the grounds that it infringes property rights. On what grounds do you then oppose it--?--whim? taste? arbitrary personal preference?

I see property rights as a means to an end. Physical property is inherently scarce, some uses can interfere with others, and this naturally leads to ownership, or at least something like it.

For example, if I want to drive a particular car to New York, and you want to drive it to Los Angeles instead, we can't both have our way, because the car can only be in one place at a time. The fundamental nature of cars is that, one way or another, someone will decide who's allowed to use it.

Yes; and it it's the same with all scarce resources--like my money, or my body. Either I own it, or someone else does. If you say the state may jail me or take my money, you are saying I am not the owner of these things--that society, or the state is. This is collectivism and wicked. It is the opposite of civilization. It is not the type of rules that are compatible with peace and prosperity and cooperation.

It's unfortunate that one of us doesn't get his way -- his freedom is restricted with regard to the things he can do with that car -- and it'd be nice if we could avoid that somehow, but we can't. All we can do is come up with a fair and just way to determine ownership. (That's where arguments about Lockean homesteading and whatnot fit in.)

Yes. It's very simple actually: if you are in favor of peace, cooperation, and prosperity, you will favor a fair way to determine ownership--and you will favor ownership. Ownership means the right to possess or control. But this implies that whoever owns something, has a better right to it than someone who comes along later--a "latecomer". I.e., the owner has a better claim than a thief. But recognizing this implies that the first owner--the homesteader, the person who appropriates a hitherto-unowned resource--has a better claim than anyone else (except someone he sells or gives it to). So the very idea of ownership implies the Lockean notion of homesteading.

On the other hand, information is free from those shackles. No one needs to decide how a song, a movie, or a program may be used, because it's impossible for one person's use to interfere with anyone else's. If we allow information to be owned anyway, then we're restricting our freedom for no good reason: we've kept the means but lost the end.

NOt only that: by recognizing rights in immaterial things, you have to give rights in already-owned scarce resources, which is a type of theft.

The problem is you are inconsistent, as I noted previously: you seem to support the allocation of ownership rights in a just and fair way, and thus to oppose aggression; yet you also support it, in your support of jailing those who don't comply with the arbitrary rules of this collective you bless with your imprimatur of legitimacy--the criminal gang known as the state. This gang gets away with it because people like you give it legitimacy. Without this, without popular support, it would be less than a mafia. As it is, it is more than a mafia.

If you support democracy and the state, say, then how can you object to IP law on principled grounds--? If "der volk" support it, who are you to gainsay them?

What I support is more like constitutional democracy: certain principles are more important than the whims of "der Volk".

I believe IP violates the big-C Constitutional principles of free speech and privacy, but the more fundamental principle that it violates is the one that those are derived from, the same one that's at the core of social libertarianism: "if what I'm doing isn't hurting anyone, stay out of my way".

Of course, the courts have a different interpretation (and so did the Framers).

Finally, as for who I am to gainsay them: I'm a member of the minority, which might someday be the majority. Democracy is a system for running a government, not separating right from wrong. I don't have to give up my principles just because they've been voted down.

This is all confused drivel (see my quote above from Mises about socialists and the state); in any event, none of it justifies the aggression that you are openly endorsing here. You can endorse aggression, but you cannot justify it. As the great Roman jurist Papinian said, "It is easier to commit murder than to justify it."

Crosbie:

You persist in seeing a dichotomy between what you sometimes call "commercial privileges" (and oppose) on the one hand, and "intellectual property" (which you uphold) on the other.

Intellectual work is as naturally property as material work. Both may be originated in the private domain and hence both are naturally subject to the manufacturer's private ownership and natural powers of exclusive control and protection and hence become private property (to which authors' and inventors' exclusive rights should be secured for as long as they shall live).

Property, its ownership being transferable, should leave no privilege of control to its manufacturer or any other party. Unfortunately, copyright and patent are such privileges that prevent intellectual property being utilised or exchanged without interference.

Remove those privileges, and the owners of intellectual property have as much power over their fellow men as owners of material property.

What could be more natural?

This is very confused, IMO. "Intellectual work" is NOT "naturally property". I have explained in detail elsewhere the fallacy of viewing creation as an independent a source of property rights. It is not. See, e.g., my talk, "The Intellectual Property Quagmire, or, The Perils of Libertarian Creationism"; and Against Intellectual Property, pp. 36 et seq, et pass.

Property does not include a subcategory known as intellectual property. An author of a book owns his manuscript and has the right of first disposal of it, as well as his own copies of the published version. He does not have the sole right to make copies, translations, sequels, etc.

I believe an author does have "the sole right to make copies, translations, sequels, etc." of their own property. If I buy an author's manuscript, then this manuscript is my property and because it is my property I have "the sole right to make copies, translations, sequels, etc." of my own property. If I make a copy of this manuscript and sell the copy to you, then you have "the sole right to make copies, translations, sequels, etc." of your own property. Your sole right to your property does not interfere with my sole right to my property, nor does it interfere with the author's sole right to their property. However, if a copy of the manuscript is not someone's property then they have no right to make copies, translations, sequels, etc.

I'm not quite sure what this means. Copyright means more than this, of course. If you are simply stating that the owner of a tangible item like a given copy of a book has a right to do what he wants with it, including copying it, ... okay. The question is, when information or knowledge of patterns is gained by others, are they free to act on this, or not? It's very simple. IP advocates say NO: the person who "originated" the PATTERN itself have a veto over the uses of property owned by others, i.e. partial ownership.

I hope this helps explain to others that there is an intervening position of 'Natural IP' that lies between the 'IP with privileges' we have today and 'No IP whatsoever' that some are arguing for. I suggest Natural IP is a position that derives from 'natural rights libertarianism'.

sorry, but it does not help to explain it--it is not clear at all what you are saying or advocating, unless you are merely stating a truism or a simple, obvious fact (that owners of things can do whatever they want with them).

Jessie:

Crosbie,

Any exclusive right to copy still interferes with the property rights of others.

That is, if you have the exclusive right to copy a book that you own, what that really means is you have the right to stop everyone else from writing down the words (or ideas, in the case of a translation/sequel) that they've seen inside it.

It means I need to ask your permission if I want to use my pen and paper in certain ways, even in the privacy of my own home, when there's no contract between us and no chance that you'll even be aware of my use (let alone affected by it).

Quite right--but it was not clear whether Crosbie favored an "exclusive" right to copy a given pattern (which is what copyright and patent do), or merely the exclusive right to control a given owned scarce resource (like a given copy of a book or a given machine).

Crosbie:

Jesse, if I allow you into my home and let you read one of my books, then I have no right to stop you recalling those words from memory when you get home and setting down on paper. What you set down on paper is your intellectual property, as much as your paper is your material property. However, you still need my permission to read my books - unless it is clear that I have made them available to guests.

I have a natural, exclusive right to control who may make copies of my books, my intellectual property.

Not exactly: you have a property right in your BOOK. The book is a physical thing. Having the right to control what is done with it gives you the practical ability to decide who can access the patterns in it. But that does not mean you have some spooky "natural right to my intellectual property." It's like free speech: as Rothbard pointed out, there is no separate, independent, free-floating "right to free speech". Rather, there are property rights. You may use your own property to do whatever you like--to speak on it, to print pamphlets, etc. But you have no right to speak on the property of someone else.

If I discover that you have stolen one of my books and made copies of it without my permission, despite having secretly replaced the book, then you have violated my exclusive rights - you have committed intellectual property theft. It matters not that I still have the book.

In this case, the thief has committed theft of your book; and if he has made the information patterns in it public, then that helps to magnify the *damage* he has done to you--but innocent third parties who now have this digital pattern on their computers, or memories in their heads of the plot of the book etc., may use this information with their own property, and you have no right to stop them.

If on the other hand I sell you one of my books, then you can make all the copies of it that you want. After all, it's your material and intellectual property.

Adding "and intellectual property" is redundant and confused.

Crosbie, thanks for the clarification. We agree that other people need your permission to read your books. What I'm not seeing, though, is how this scenario involves intellectual property rights.

It seems to me that if someone takes your book without permission to make a copy of it (or for any other purpose), he's infringing on your physical property rights. That's not "intellectual property theft", it's just plain old theft.

Similarly, if you invite a guest and he looks through your library without your permission, how is that any different from snooping in your garage or under your bed? Your books are your physical property, and as such you get to decide who can use them and how. That would be true even if the pages were blank.

Stephan,

You are quite obviously a statist-socialist, who has no problem with condoning and even advocating aggression. As such, you are advocating criminality.

Yes, yes, I've heard the spiel before. Last time, it got a smirk; this time, a chuckle. Look around you: is it working? Converted any advocates of criminality lately?

You're going to have to deal with an awful lot of "statist-socialists", since nearly everyone in the world fits that description. As a member of that group, let me tell you that the approach you're trying isn't a fruitful one.

If you say the state may jail me or take my money, you are saying I am not the owner of these things--that society, or the state is. This is collectivism and wicked. It is the opposite of civilization. It is not the type of rules that are compatible with peace and prosperity and cooperation.

Telling people that their usually prosperous, mostly peaceful civilization is neither civilized, nor peaceful, nor prosperous is a poor way to convince them of anything. What country do you live in that puts the rest of the industrial world to shame?

I'm not going to debate the legitimate use of force here, or what the power of the state means for private property rights. Those are quite irrelevant to my opposition to IP (though maybe not to yours). I'm just pointing out that it's counterproductive to beat people over the head with your politics and suggest that the only real members of a movement are the ones who got there the same way you did.

Intellectual work is as naturally property as material work. Both may be originated in the private domain and hence both are naturally subject to the manufacturer's private ownership and natural powers of exclusive control and protection and hence become private property (to which authors' and inventors' exclusive rights should be secured for as long as they shall live).

Crosbie,

There is no such thing as an intellectual work that can be separated from the material substratum in which it is instantiated. For example, a book can't exist apart from the paper, ink, and cover in which it is materially expressed (or its digital instantiation). Even if an author memorizes it and carries it around in his head, his brain serves the same purpose. If he dies, the book dies with him. Material property also has an intellectual component. It didn't fall from the sky like manna from heaven--it had to be created by someone, which involved thinking, designing, and transforming physical property, then marketing and selling the finished product.

So the distinction you make between intellectual and material property cannot stand scrutiny. Furthermore, the way that intellectual property is used by its defenders is consistent with this point, and can only exist because of a grant by the legislature. Even William Patry admits in the first volume of his treatise on copyright that there is no such thing as a natural right to copyright, and that it comes from a legislative act. Too bad Lysander Spooner, an avowed enemy of all legislation (he referred to it as "an absurdity, a usurpation, and a crime") couldn't connect the dots on this point.

Bill writes:

Property does not include a subcategory known as intellectual property. An author of a book owns his manuscript and has the right of first disposal of it, as well as his own copies of the published version. He does not have the sole right to make copies, translations, sequels, etc.

Crosbie replies:

I believe an author does have "the sole right to make copies, translations, sequels, etc." of their own property. If I buy an author's manuscript, then this manuscript is my property and because it is my property I have "the sole right to make copies, translations, sequels, etc." of my own property. If I make a copy of this manuscript and sell the copy to you, then you have "the sole right to make copies, translations, sequels, etc." of your own property. Your sole right to your property does not interfere with my sole right to my property, nor does it interfere with the author's sole right to their property. However, if a copy of the manuscript is not someone's property then they have no right to make copies, translations, sequels, etc.

I hope this helps explain to others that there is an intervening position of 'Natural IP' that lies between the 'IP with privileges' we have today and 'No IP whatsoever' that some are arguing for. I suggest Natural IP is a position that derives from 'natural rights libertarianism'

Bill replies:

Of course an author has the sole right to make copies, etc. of his own property, but if he sells or gives it away, then the new owner has a right to do the same with his newly acquired property. You are playing a semantic game in order to defend what you wrongly see as an intermediate position.

People own their own property and can make whatever legal (in the natural rights libertarian) use they want to with it. What they can't do is what the state gives "IP" rights holders the so-called right to do--have a monopoly of certain uses of all copies of it, and the right to prevent other people from certain uses of their own property, such as making copies and most types of derivative works from it ("fair use" and parodies excepted).

Crosbie continues:

I have a natural, exclusive right to control who may make copies of my books, my intellectual property.

If I discover that you have stolen one of my books and made copies of it without my permission, despite having secretly replaced the book, then you have violated my exclusive rights - you have committed intellectual property theft. It matters not that I still have the book.

If on the other hand I sell you one of my books, then you can make all the copies of it that you want. After all, it's your material and intellectual property. There are no reproduction privileges retained by me or anyone else that constrain your liberty or interfere with your property.

Bill replies:

In the first statement you refer to books as "my intellectual property." In the third you refer to them as "your material and intellectual property." Which is it? It would be bizarre to deny that they are material property. I claim its just as bizarre to refer to them as "intellectual property," either on the State's terms or on yours. If I steal one of your books and you call the police, are they going to charge me with "theft of intellectual property" or just plain theft of your property?

Your hifalutin' "exclusive right" that I have violated is the right to own your property unmolested from a thief like me. It has nothing to do with intellectual anything. If I make copies of your property and sell them, then I have earned ill-gotten gains, which are not mine, and which should be disgorged and turned over to you, with any damages and court costs I owe you . Again, "intellectual property"--a pretentious creation of the State, "the biggest mass murderer, armed robber, enslaver, and parasite in all of human history," in Rothbard's immortal words, has nothing to do with it.

If I own the property, I can make copies, etc. of it. Again, this has nothing to do with the monopoly formerly known as intellectual property.

Property arises from the natural right to privacy (the individual's natural power to control and protect a space around them). Matter and information are both natural aspects of the physical world that being enclosed by the private domain are subject to the control and protection of the private individual. The material aspect is created from manipulation of matter, the informational aspect created from the intellect's processing of information. Matter and information may behave differently, but they may both be owned, and when in apprehensible/recognisable form may both be classed as property.

Thus one could indeed say that property rights arise out of creation, since it is by rearranging materials in one's private domain with the assistance of one's hands and intellect that one creates new material and intellectual works. Works that are material and intellectual property of the creator.

Works invariably have both material and intellectual aspects, but this doesn't justify ignoring one aspect to simplify legislation. Intellectual work may well be easily communicated and reproduced, but this warrants greater recognition of its need for security, not less.

Incidentally, when writing about intellectual property theft one need not necessarily bring the reader's attention to the fact that the material embodying the intellectual property is also the material property of the same owner. When the material aspect is of little value, the object may be simply termed intellectual property.

Theft of property in the act of burglary is the unauthorised removal of property from someone's private domain, whether of a predominantly material or intellectual nature. It is not neutralised by the leaving of the original or other copies, no matter how many are manufactured for the victim's benefit.

You may feel the distinction between 'Natural IP' and 'No IP' is semantically trivial, but I see it as extremely significant and of the utmost importance in the information age. We are talking about whether authors' and inventors' exclusive rights to their writings and discoveries should be recognised and secured by the state. I believe they should be recognised and secured since it is critical for them to be able to exchange their completed labour (intellectual work) in a free market. If someone can simply steal a copy of their work and deny compensation on the basis that intellectual work is a priori not property then progress of science and the useful arts will be greatly discouraged.

It's bad enough that the state suspends its recognition of part of an individual's intellectual property rights in order to privilege publishers, but to abandon recognition of intellectual property rights completely is ludicrous.

It seems our fellow correspondent, Kid, has finally grokked this, who's next?

Naturally, authors have the exclusive right to their writings or inventions. After selling a copy, however, you cannot reasonably expect to retain the exclusive right to the same copy that you just sold. This seems so incredibly obvious to me that I cannot possibly fathom how so many people could ever have been convinced otherwise.
[Comment at 07/02/2008 09:01 AM by Kid]

So, I say, just abolish the privileges of copyright and patent. Why are folk so set on throwing the baby (IPR) out with the bathwater (C&P)?

I agree that people have conflated copyright with natural rights (since copyright is an unnatural extension of a natural right), and people have conflated copyright and patent with intellectual property rights, rather than privileges granted to creators. But this conflation doesn't actually corrupt intellectual property and rights pertaining, even if the name connotes the ills of mercantile privilege. After all, this conflation was done precisely to disguise and lend a veneer of legitimacy to privilege (otherwise explicitly forbidden by egalitarianism). The natural rights, underlying our recognition of material and intellectual property, are self-evident.

Thus one could indeed say that property rights arise out of creation, since it is by rearranging materials in one's private domain with the assistance of one's hands and intellect that one creates new material and intellectual works. Works that are material and intellectual property of the creator.

Libertarians have been down this road many time, and the verdict is that property rights do not arise from creation. If I steal into an artist's studio, then paint a picture, I do not own it even though I created it. I expropriated his property, so the creation theory begs the question of ownership. Property comes into existence in one of two ways: by either homesteading and transforming unowned property, or by justly acquiring someone else's justly owned property and then transforming it into a new piece of property (e.g., buying wood and then making it into a piece of furniture).

Note the justly owned qualifier on both ends. I saw a guy on the street the other day hawking a bicycle, which I guessed was about as hot as the pavement on an August noon. If I had bought it and turned it into a racing bike, it still wouldn't have been mine, even though I created something new. The real owner would have had a valid claim to take it from me and charge me the cost of retrofitting it to its original state.

Jesse:

You are quite obviously a statist-socialist, who has no problem with condoning and even advocating aggression. As such, you are advocating criminality.

Yes, yes, I've heard the spiel before. Last time, it got a smirk; this time, a chuckle. Look around you: is it working? Converted any advocates of criminality lately?

I don't know. What's the relevance of this question? That if I don't persuade you, my argument is flawed? That we shouldn't call things as they are? What? I view criminals as a mere technical problem, to be dealt with like we deal with wild animals, storms, etc. If they can be persuaded, fine, but often they cannot.

You're going to have to deal with an awful lot of "statist-socialists", since nearly everyone in the world fits that description. As a member of that group, let me tell you that the approach you're trying isn't a fruitful one.

I'm quite aware most people are statist to one degree or another. I am also aware that it is not my fault, and that no matter WHAT "approach" I try, most of them are likely to remain that way. I also never, ever engage in blaming the victim.

If you say the state may jail me or take my money, you are saying I am not the owner of these things--that society, or the state is. This is collectivism and wicked. It is the opposite of civilization. It is not the type of rules that are compatible with peace and prosperity and cooperation.

Telling people that their usually prosperous, mostly peaceful civilization is neither civilized, nor peaceful, nor prosperous is a poor way to convince them of anything. What country do you live in that puts the rest of the industrial world to shame?

What proposition of mine do you disagree with in substance?

I'm not going to debate the legitimate use of force here,

Right, why do you need to--? You have won already. You already get your way. You get to have your little gang steal from me and force me to comply with your little laws, even if I disagree. I don't blame you--if I didn't care about justifying my actions or those that I endorse, I wouldn't waste time on those my gang had already subjugated either.

or what the power of the state means for private property rights. Those are quite irrelevant to my opposition to IP (though maybe not to yours). I'm just pointing out that it's counterproductive to beat people over the head with your politics and suggest that the only real members of a movement are the ones who got there the same way you did.

It's not "counterproductive" to getting at the truth. What was *your* goal?

Crosbie:

So, I say, just abolish the privileges of copyright and patent. Why are folk so set on throwing the baby (IPR) out with the bathwater (C&P)?

I agree that people have conflated copyright with natural rights (since copyright is an unnatural extension of a natural right), and people have conflated copyright and patent with intellectual property rights, rather than privileges granted to creators. But this conflation doesn't actually corrupt intellectual property and rights pertaining, even if the name connotes the ills of mercantile privilege. After all, this conflation was done precisely to disguise and lend a veneer of legitimacy to privilege (otherwise explicitly forbidden by egalitarianism). The natural rights, underlying our recognition of material and intellectual property, are self-evident.

I have to say I am not sure what in the world you are talking about. Perhaps if you carefully and coherently defined your terms and laid out a brief explanation of the argument justifying this view of things.

Cosbie's intellectual property sound like regular property. Perhaps, cosbie ought to drop the term intellectual property, because currently, it denotes monopoly privileges, not properties that just happen to be ideas.
Cosbie's intellectual property sound like regular property. Perhaps, cosbie ought to drop the term intellectual property, because currently, it denotes monopoly privileges, not properties that just happen to be ideas.

I agree that Crosbie should drop the term "intellectual property," but he thinks there is a dichotomy between what he calls "intellectual property" and material property, and that therefore the term is useful, even necessary. However, there is no such thing as a property right in an idea, which is a fatal problem for his view. There can't be intellectual property even on his definition. Copyright law also disavows property in an idea, but holds that its expression can be protected as property.

Crosbie,

Theft of property in the act of burglary is the unauthorised removal of property from someone's private domain, whether of a predominantly material or intellectual nature. It is not neutralised by the leaving of the original or other copies, no matter how many are manufactured for the victim's benefit.

Yes, theft requires the removal of property. The harmful aspect of theft is that the rightful owner is deprived of the use of that property, because it has been removed.

But if you stretch the definition of "removal" to include copying -- where one party gains something, but the other party doesn't lose anything, even for an instant -- then that harmful aspect disappears, and you're left with two categories of "theft": one that results in harm, and one that doesn't. Why should we concern ourselves with the kind that doesn't? (And why should we accept that definition in the first place when it results in such a bizarre distinction?)

We are talking about whether authors' and inventors' exclusive rights to their writings and discoveries should be recognised and secured by the state. I believe they should be recognised and secured since it is critical for them to be able to exchange their completed labour (intellectual work) in a free market.

An author or inventor doesn't need any special monopolies in order to exchange his labor in a free market: he can simply sell his time, the same way a mechanic or accountant does.

Nor does he need any special monopolies to exchange the property that results from that labor: he can sell a book or an invented gadget the same way anyone sells any other physical object.

What you seem to be looking for is a hybrid of labor and property, a disembodied quantum of "completed labor" that can be exchanged independently from any physical item (like a book) or human action (like an hour spent writing). What reason is there to believe in such a thing? Why aren't the existing concepts of labor and property enough for these industries?

Stephan,

What's the relevance of this question? That if I don't persuade you, my argument is flawed?

That tying these blunt, fundamental arguments about the philosophy of government to the anti-IP message (1) does not further the anarcho-libertarian cause, because calling people names is unpersuasive, and (2) hinders the anti-IP cause by alienating pro- and anti-IP individuals alike.

There aren't a lot of places for those of us who oppose the very notion of intellectual property. Even on a site like Slashdot, you're more likely to hear "the RIAA has gone too far, copyright should be about the author's rights, not corporate profits" than "who the hell are you to tell me what numbers I can burn onto my own CD-Rs?"

But you've got a great one right here... and now this is what you want to do with it? Scare off everyone except the purest of the pure, even the ones who share your views on the topics that, judging from the sidebar, are the main purpose of this blog?

What proposition of mine do you disagree with in substance?

Well, there's the proposition that what you describe as "collectivism" is incompatible with peace, prosperity, and civilization (which implies that none of those qualities exist on earth, since every nation imposes taxes and jails lawbreakers).

But mainly, I disagree with the proposition that only anarchist libertarians are capable of "really" opposing IP laws -- i.e. that supporting the very idea of government is somehow equivalent to supporting IP laws.

This is like arguing that only the Amish can truly oppose drunk driving, because anyone who uses a car is implicitly supporting every possible use of cars by funding the auto industry. It makes you look unreasonable to anyone who's capable of distinguishing between good and bad uses of a car, or in this case, supporting some government acts while opposing others -- and that set includes almost everyone you'll ever encounter.

Libertarians, seem to have a schizophrenic approach to so-called intellectual property. On one hand, many recognize that our copyright and patent laws are "broken" and actually frustrate innovation by creating "toll-booths" to extort money with any conceivable transaction. The pro-intellectual property wing seems to want to privatize everything. One of the everythings identified for privatization, is the radio spectrum.

Over at Technology Liberation Front there has been a rash of articles on privatizing the radio spectrum. To be brief, those who propose to privatize our airways seem to be oblivious to how complex that would be. It is technological complex and radio wavers ignore property boundaries. Therefore it is virtually impossible to define a clear property line.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that privatization could be implemented.

1. In the traditional (hard core) property ownership model, the land-owner owns all the rights to his/her property. Given that => the airspace, including the spectrum, belongs to the property owner. However, those advocating privatization of the spectrum have not yet acknowledge that by selling spectrum to the telephone companies and radio stations that they would be "stealing" property. (Yes, I know it is far fetched, but it is for purposes of illustrating how a arguments can be "structured" to avoid inconvenient truths. Libertarians seem to believe that governments over use eminent domain to seize property, but if a private entity were to seize private property for their business that would be OK!?!?!?!?)

2. Currently the FCC, a government agency manages the airways. In theory they manage it for the public good. With privatization the FCC would go away, but the technical complexities of managing the spectrum would remain. What this means is that the owners of the spectrum would probably form an industry association. This industry association, unlike the FCC would not be obligated to manage the airways for the public good. If one looks at what the RIAA and the MPPA as models, both the consumer and the small spectrum owners will get screwed.

I wouldn't see a private FCC being any better than a public FCC. Big business is virtually indistinguishable from big government.

3. Currently, some portions of the spectrum are essentially free. WiFi is an example of this "free" resource. Unanswered in the spectrum debate so far is whether the frequencies used by WiFi would remain free. Given the demand that everything be privatized, I would suspect that these frequencies would be privatized too. What this would imply is that you would have to pay someone rent for the simple privilege of using your WiFi setup. This makes no economic sense. Why should a homeowner pay someone to rent a piece of their own property?

Talk about a firehose! =:-}

Bill, I wasn't really intending to go into the tangent of creation conferring ownership, but if creation involves privacy conflict or violation, then this doesn't negate the creator's ownership of their creation, it just involves a conflict. There is no clear cut owner in the case of conflict. If I paint a picture on your canvas with your paint this doesn't mean you own the IP. Similarly, it doesn't mean I can lay claim to your materials. Conversely, if with my my materials I make a copy of your design I find on your laptop, simply because they are my materials doesn't give me a claim to your design. One cannot simply always rule in favour of the owner of the materials. The difficulty of disentangling privacy conflicts does not invalidate IP.

As for owning ideas, as I've said before, this is natural. I own my own ideas. If I tell you one of my ideas, you own that idea too (you might not have created it, but it's your idea - in your mind and yours to do with as you wish, and no-one can take it from you). However, only when ideas are apprehended (fixed in a medium outside our minds) can they be considered intellectual property.

Jesse, I'm sticking with 'theft=unauthorised removal'. Whether or how the owner suffers, if at all, is consequential and does not negate the fact of theft.

I agree that authors and inventors do not need additional monopolies, but they have a natural monopoly, their 'exclusive rights', that the Founders recognised (subsequently protected, but unethically and artificially extended, by copyright).

Kiba, 'my intellectual property' does indeed sound like 'regular property'. After all, I have been trying to argue that both material and intellectual aspects of works are naturally property. In other words, property is not exclusively material work, with intellectual work free for all who find it.

The key difference is that the intellectual work of property is far more easily reproduced and communicated than the material work. We cannot yet put a deck chair in a duplication/teleportation machine.

I wonder if, to cope with this firehose, a more disciplined exploration of the arguments would be better facilitated by a wiki?

Crosbie,

As John Perry Barlow pointed out (before he joined a lawsuit against Wolfgang's Vault), you can only experience an idea. You can't own one. Property by definition is something you can fence off from the rest of the world. An example is your computer. You own it and can prevent anyone else from using it. Even "intangible property," such as a mortgage, has a tangible form, if only a written contract, and a piece of property underlying it.

An idea can't be fenced off. Even if you think of one and don't share it, anyone else can in principle think of it independently. No one else can use your computer independently, or claim ownership in your mortgage.

There is no such thing as a property right in an idea.

Bill, I distinguish between owning something (controlling use and access), and property (... of/to objects able to exist independently and be transferred/exchanged).

I can fence off my ideas and do. I control use and access to the ideas within my mind. I own my ideas.

I don't know where you get this crazy notion that somehow I claim ownership of your ideas, since if I made such a claim, I'd have to recognise that you could claim ownership of my ideas - which is the last thing I'd recognise.

So, I think we're agreed that neither of us can claim ownership or superior rights to each others' ideas (unlike patent).

However, I remain in total disagreement with your claim that I don't own my ideas.

"Just you try and take 'em away from me sonny! If I want you to have them I'll give 'em to you."

Let me clarify a statement (to avoid the inference of possessive pronouns conferring ownership):

I don't know where you get this crazy notion that somehow I may claim ownership of any ideas within your mind, since if I made such a claim, I'd have to recognise that you could claim ownership of any ideas within my mind - which is the last thing I'd recognise.

Jesse:

NSK: What's the relevance of this question? That if I don't persuade you, my argument is flawed?

That tying these blunt, fundamental arguments about the philosophy of government to the anti-IP message (1) does not further the anarcho-libertarian cause, because calling people names is unpersuasive, and (2) hinders the anti-IP cause by alienating pro- and anti-IP individuals alike.

I disagree with you, but even if you are right, this does not mean my arguments are incorrect. Unlike most activist-minded types apparently, I happen to place truth on a higher level than "tactics" and "what sells."

NSK: What proposition of mine do you disagree with in substance?

Well, there's the proposition that what you describe as "collectivism" is incompatible with peace, prosperity, and civilization (which implies that none of those qualities exist on earth, since every nation imposes taxes and jails lawbreakers).

And why is it substantively wrong, just because it's unpleasant to realize? Of course every nation on earth is collectivist, socialist, statist--they all have states, which are criminal gangs. Yes, this is the fundamental problem of our time. Not naming it doesn't do anything. I'm not for the ostrich approach.
I distinguish between owning something (controlling use and access), and property (... of/to objects able to exist independently and be transferred/exchanged).

You are the only person in the world who makes this distinction. Ownership means owning a thing, such as land or a good (e.g., a computer). There is no such thing as property existing independently of an owner, except for abandoned property, and even that becomes owned once someone takes possession of it and becomes the new owner.

Now I guess I understand why you think there's this other type of IP. However, there is no such thing because your underlying theory is invalid.

Ownership means owning a thing, such as land or a good (e.g., a computer).

Yup, and my claim is that ideas are a thing that can be owned.

I'm not claiming that the ideas we possess and own within our minds are intellectual property.

As I said earlier "only when ideas are apprehended (fixed in a medium outside our minds) can they be considered intellectual property".

There is no such thing as property existing independently of an owner, except for abandoned property, and even that becomes owned once someone takes possession of it and becomes the new owner.

I'm not disputing this.

I don't think you've demonstrated my underlying theory is invalid.

We agree that ideas within our minds are not intellectual property.

We agree that a person cannot claim superior rights to the ideas that may exist in anyone else's minds - even if they are indistinguishably similar to their own.

We agree that the author of an intellectual work (an idea fixed in an external medium) should not be granted any privilege to control the use, dissemination, or reproduction of that work by those to whom they distribute it to.

The only remaining significant disagreement is the recognition of intellectual property, and that the exclusive rights of authors and inventors are natural.

Crosbie Fitch: I don't think anybody disagree with you about ownership. They just disagree with you about if the term "intellectual property" is needed to describe idea ownership.
As I said earlier "only when ideas are apprehended (fixed in a medium outside our minds) can they be considered intellectual property".

This is exactly what IP advocates claim. The difference is that they sanctify this idea with state law and forbid anyone but the (alleged) owner from doing certain things with the property, such as making copies.

I maintain that fixing ideas in tangible media doesn't make them intellectual property. A book is property, but it's a violation of Occam's razor to call it intellectual property in the sense you do.

You still haven't made a bright line distinction between non-intellectual property and intellectual property, the way you define it. Presumably you agree that all property is tangible--a book certainly is, as is any other embodiment of an idea(s). So why the distinction between the two types of property?

You also haven't given a good reason why you can own an idea once it's fixed in a tangible medium. John Perry Barlow used the example of a robber holding up a man at gunpoint and saying, "Give me all your ideas!" It's not going to happen, unlike his money, which the robber could steal.

This is exactly what IP advocates claim. The difference is that they sanctify this idea with state law and forbid anyone but the (alleged) owner from doing certain things with the property, such as making copies.

And that's what I also claim. I too, am an advocate for the recognition and protection of intellectual property. I have often declared this, and that I am against intellectual property theft, etc.

Ideas fixed in physical media make them intellectual property since they are naturally, self-evidently subject to the control of their possessors.

What is wholly unnatural is to privilege authors or inventors, manufacturers of intellectual works, above others, e.g. to grant them the privilege of excluding others from manufacturing similar works, or reproducing further copies from those copies that they purchase. This is quite inegalitarian and hence unethical - irrespective of any claimed social benefit.

So, this is why I'd call this a 'Natural IP' position. I support the recognition of intellectual property as natural, and the exclusive rights of authors and inventors as natural. However, I do not support the artificial monopolies created by copyright and patent. These are unnatural, unethical, ineffective, anachronistic, and, as demonstrated by the book 'Against Monopoly', uneconomic.

So, you can see why we are so close and yet so far. I find IP natural. You don't. We are both against state granted monopolies however.

I wish we could make a separate thread to discuss the natural right of intellectual property. Our discussion on it spans across lots of posts, on most of which it is off-topic (not to the blog, but to the post).

"Likewise, many libertarians accept the fallacious notion that IP is a type of property, and thus support IP because they support property."

Intellectual property *is* a legitimate type of property. The fallacy lies not in the idea of intellectual property but in the idea that you are to be allowed to control your intellectual property after it has left your possession - which is of course ridiculous, and can do nothing to foster progress of any kind.

"The truth is that the only principled case against IP is the libertarian one"

What about the utilitarian one?

"To oppose IP while also supporting socialism is a confusion."

Socialism is a confusion in general. Conflicts between socialism, common sense, and natural right arise everywhere, not just in the area of IP, so I'm inclined to dismiss this as irrelevant.

"IP is not possible without legislation"

Legislation: preparation and enactment of laws

If IP law is not possible without legislation, no law is.

"legislation is not possible without the state. And conversely: with a state, you always get legislation; and legislation always leads to a proliferation of bad laws"

Legislation is of course possibly without a state - that is exactly what anarchist capitalists have been trying to argue all this time in defense against the claim that anarchy necessarily leads to chaos. I agree with you that legislation by a government likely leads to a proliferation of bad laws, though.

"What this means is that not only is your case against IP weakened if you do not adopt libertarian principles and reasoning to undergird it. But if you support the state at all--if you are not an anarcho-libertarian--then you do not really oppose IP."

Unless I oppose copyright and patent law on utilitarian grounds rather than anarchist grounds, or, really, any other ground at all.

If people are to oppose the state on utilitarian grounds, then there are worse crimes to choose from than copyright and patent law. If on libertarian principle, you don't need to bring IP into the picture. All-in-all, I don't think opposing copyright and patent necessarily leads you to opposing the state. I agree with you that if you are capitalist, libertarian capitalist or not, you should oppose copyright and patent as they go against every capitalist principle.

Crosbie has been parroting this rhetoric about how he believes in what he calls ‘Intellectual Property' for a while now, and I have yet to see any substantive difference between that and plain property. It seems to me that what he's really trying to do is to create confusion, paint himself as holding some sort of compromise position, and to trick believers in intellectual monopolies into realizing that they have somehow been corrupting the true notion of ‘Intellectual Property'. In redefining this commonly-(mis)used term, he is creating a mirage just as much as everyone else using the term. I fear such tactics do more harm than good.
I wish we could make a separate thread to discuss the natural right of intellectual property. Our discussion on it spans across lots of posts, on most of which it is off-topic (not to the blog, but to the post).

I agree Kid. That's why I suggested a Wiki might help.

We can all set out our positions and how they significantly differ, name them, and then in any other conversation we can link to them (without distracting the topic). Each position page can then have a discussion page of endless argument. :-)

I think it would have been better if Stephen's views on IP needing to be understood from a political perspective could have been explored without having to make excursions into the nature of IP. Anyone who wants to argue IP itself can then do so on an appropriate page. My apologies for not fitting into a neat anti-IP category, and this spawning familiar arguments.

Maybe, Stephen, you could summarise where we've got so far (where comments are germane to your post) and have another go?

Well, David, that's a reasonable allegation.

Unfortunately the possibility that I'm engaging in trickery does coincide with the possibility that I'm not, that natural IP, without the privileges of copyright and patent, is simply difficult to grok.

I am always in search of concise and more easily grasped explanations - that I attempt to evolve through commenting and posting blog articles on the subject.

As I've said before, it is unfortunate that this terminology has been abused in the past.

However, I fear my explanations would be made vastly more difficult if I invented new words.

Indeed, a wiki is a fine idea.

It is also a place where we can write an abolitionist FAQ to respond to frequent mistakes and arguments made by pro intellectual monopoly supporters.

Who would host such a wiki, though?

Crosbie,

Jesse, I'm sticking with 'theft=unauthorised removal'. Whether or how the owner suffers, if at all, is consequential and does not negate the fact of theft.

I agree. Whether the owner actually suffers is beside the point; he theoretically suffers from being separated from his property, because he couldn't use it during that time even if he wanted to.

But the problem with what you call intellectual property theft is the "removal" part -- removal means taking something out of its place and putting it somewhere else. You don't ask a person who's just seen an educational film what he "removed" from it, for example: he may have gained knowledge, but the film hasn't lost the stuff he learned. Thus, nothing is "removed" when someone makes an unauthorized copy, and so there is no theft.

But then I'm not really sure what you're calling theft anyway, since you've said it's all right for me to write down whatever words I've seen, even if I saw them in a book that didn't belong to me, right?

So I guess I still don't see what makes your "intellectual property" any different from regular physical property, if I'm not restricted from copying one of your books after you show it to me. You have the right to choose whether or not to show me the book, but that's true of any other property: you can also choose whether or not to show me your car or your toothbrush.

Can you give any examples of actions that would infringe your IP rights without also infringing your physical property rights? (If not, then what purpose does this distinction serve?)

The key difference is that the intellectual work of property is far more easily reproduced and communicated than the material work. We cannot yet put a deck chair in a duplication/teleportation machine.

Even if we could, it wouldn't be theft, because the chair would never be removed from its owner (as long as it could be duplicated in place).

Stephan,

[the proposition that what you describe as "collectivism" is incompatible with peace, prosperity, and civilization (which implies that none of those qualities exist on earth, since every nation imposes taxes and jails lawbreakers)]

And why is it substantively wrong, just because it's unpleasant to realize? Of course every nation on earth is collectivist, socialist, statist--they all have states, which are criminal gangs.

It's wrong because it's at odds with reality. You're arguing that S => ~P even though S and P are both true. Every nation on earth is statist and yet many of them are also peaceful, prosperous, and civilized. You say those qualities are incompatible; all available evidence, on the other hand, says they're compatible.

Perhaps you resolve this conflict in your own mind by redefining "peace", "prosperity", and "civilization" to mean something other than what those words mean to me and nearly everyone else who speaks English. That's the most charitable explanation I can come up with (and the most likely one, I think, since you've already redefined "criminal").

It is not, however, something that reflects well on the strength of your position: if your argument is sound, then surely you can argue it in the common tongue instead of resorting to this bait-and-switch.

To put a > into text do you mind typing > ? Unbalanced > signs screw up the underlying html.
Ideas fixed in physical media make them intellectual property since they are naturally, self-evidently subject to the control of their possessors.

On the contrary, ideas fixed in physical media are controlled by no one in the absence of the monopoly formerly known as intellectual property--anyone who happens to possess the idea can use it however he sees fit. It's a good thing too, because innovation would suffer otherwise.

Since anyone can control his own use of an idea fixed in a tangible medium, there is no such thing as an exclusive right to its use, only to an exclusive right to his own copy of whatever medium in which it's fixed. There is therefore no such thing as a natural right to "intellectual property" in the way you define it.

Jeese: Last time I heard, Somalia is an anarchy, not a state. Of course, an actual government exists, but it have no power.

Surprisingly, in the absence of a state, they actually have better lives than they ever did under a government. They also happen to have a thriving telecommunication market that have the cheapest international call in the world.

Government is inefficient anyway. They either overproduce or underproduce. (We have too much roads and we can't maintain them all, impractical urban planning, etc)

Did I not mention that they love to expand in power and scope?

Jesse:
NSK: "Of course every nation on earth is collectivist, socialist, statist--they all have states, which are criminal gangs."

It's wrong because it's at odds with reality. You're arguing that S => ~P even though S and P are both true. Every nation on earth is statist and yet many of them are also peaceful, prosperous, and civilized. You say those qualities are incompatible; all available evidence, on the other hand, says they're compatible.

Perhaps you resolve this conflict in your own mind by redefining "peace", "prosperity", and "civilization" to mean something other than what those words mean to me and nearly everyone else who speaks English. That's the most charitable explanation I can come up with (and the most likely one, I think, since you've already redefined "criminal").

We have peace and prosperity now to the extent people are civilized; to they extent they are not, peace and prosperity are hampered. This is just the classic distinction between political and voluntary means.

And again, none of this proves that aggression is justified. Aggression is not, and can never be, justified. It is the essence of criminality, and the opposite of civilization. Everyone knows this. It is also the case that states by their nature commit systematic, institutionalized aggression. They are therefore by their nature criminal organizations.

Pointing out that there is some prosperity and peace does not prove that states are not criminal. Consider the example of mafias as shown in The Godfather II. The young don extorted and killed and ruled organized crime in his turf; and in part to help cement his position and gain some grudging acceptance from the bystanders and his victims, he would on occaison do a favor, help someone out, etc. That does not mean he was not a criminal. The state is simply a larger, more embedded mafia, and one that is seen as even more legitimate and "inevitable" by most people, partly because they have gone to government schools which, surprise, push this message at every opportunity. It is no wonder most people cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that the emperor has no clothes.

On the contrary, ideas fixed in physical media are controlled by no one in the absence of the monopoly formerly known as intellectual property--anyone who happens to possess the idea can use it however he sees fit. It's a good thing too, because innovation would suffer otherwise.

Fixed ideas (IP) are indeed controlled by someone in the absence of copyright. They are controlled by their owners - those who have created or purchased them, and thus have them in their possession

Since anyone can control his own use of an idea fixed in a tangible medium, there is no such thing as an exclusive right to its use, only to an exclusive right to his own copy of whatever medium in which it's fixed. There is therefore no such thing as a natural right to "intellectual property" in the way you define it.

Not anyone, only an owner should control the use of fixed ideas (IP). They have a natural exclusive right to control all use/access/modification/reproduction of the IP that they own.

You seem to persist in believing that my control of the IP in my possession (that I own) somehow affects you, or your control of the IP in your possession (that you own), as if by some spooky action at a distance. It is only the state that grants this spooky power - in the form of copyright and patent, that says holders of such privileges have the supernatural power to prevent people making copies or derivatives, even in the privacy of their own homes (and in the case of patent, even if they reinvented something without copying).

Ditch the supernatural power. Leave mortals with the natural power and rights they were born with, and stop trying to give them godlike powers as a reward for their creativity. They can seek their reward in a free market.

You don't ask a person who's just seen an educational film what he "removed" from it, for example: he may have gained knowledge, but the film hasn't lost the stuff he learned. Thus, nothing is "removed" when someone makes an unauthorized copy, and so there is no theft.

Removal=transfer of material or intellectual property across the boundary of a private domain, from within it. Theft=unauthorised removal (not an exhaustive definition).

So, authorised viewing of a film in a cinema involves no removal. Unauthorised viewing of a film is an invasion of privacy. Disseminating what one has learned from unauthorised viewing is a privacy violation. NB This cinema is an individual's private premises.

Authorised removal of a film from a cinema is simply removal. Unauthorised removal of a film is IP theft. Recording the view from one's seat in a cinema may be grounds for ejection, but involves no IP theft, even if the recording is removed from the cinema (since one was authorised to view the film - recording your experience requires no greater access to the IP).

Stealing into the digital projection room at 4am and manufacturing a copy of the film, that one then removes, is IP theft.

But then I'm not really sure what you're calling theft anyway, since you've said it's all right for me to write down whatever words I've seen, even if I saw them in a book that didn't belong to me, right?

It's all right only if the owner of the book gave you permission to read it.

So I guess I still don't see what makes your "intellectual property" any different from regular physical property, if I'm not restricted from copying one of your books after you show it to me. You have the right to choose whether or not to show me the book, but that's true of any other property: you can also choose whether or not to show me your car or your toothbrush.

As I've tried to say before, natural IP behaves in a familiar, natural way just as material property does.

Can you give any examples of actions that would infringe your IP rights without also infringing your physical property rights? (If not, then what purpose does this distinction serve?)

Stealing into the projection room, copying a movie, and removing it violates natural IP rights, without removing any material property.

Buying a DVD and making copies violates noone's natural IP rights, but it does infringe the unnatural privilege of copyright (unless licensed otherwise).

The key difference is that the intellectual work of property is far more easily reproduced and communicated than the material work. We cannot yet put a deck chair in a duplication/teleportation machine.

Even if we could, it wouldn't be theft, because the chair would never be removed from its owner (as long as it could be duplicated in place).

Well, I would call it theft (in certain circumstances). Let's imagine it is the year 2185 and molecular replication machines are all the rage (albeit expensive). Because reproductions are so simple a very high cachet and market value is placed on as yet unreproduced works of craftsmanship. There are 3D printers/fabricators, but these are limited to homogenous metals and plastics.

So, Fred Bloggs reckons he'll get a good price if he spends the next few years painstakingly constructing a scale model of the Mars space station out of match sticks (he finds an old container load in a derelict warehouse - replicated match sticks would be too expensive).

Ten years later his work is almost complete, it just needs a few bits of varnish here and there. At this point, someone steals into his garage, subatomically scans his model via wireless hookup to a lorry mounted replicator, and then embarks upon the production of umpteen replications to be sold at high prices in markets around the world.

By the time Fred gets to market he finds that his model can only fetch a sale price a hundredth of that which he had expected, and then discovers why.

Naturalists would argue that Fred has suffered theft of material work through unauthorised replication. And thus any restitution should take into consideration the market value that Fred would have enjoyed had the thief not exploited it.

Monopolists would recognise the theft but find it insignificant, and would simply focus on the infringement of Fred's automatic two century monopoly on reproductions of his work.

Nihilists would argue that Fred has simply had an intruder that committed no damage or theft, for which only a modest privacy invasion fine would be levied.

Not anyone, only an owner should control the use of fixed ideas (IP). They have a natural exclusive right to control all use/access/modification/reproduction of the IP that they own.

First, what is a "fixed" idea? Are you saying ideas can't change? Do you mean an idea that is "fixed" or embodied in a tangible medium, such as a book? The owner of a book has a right to control his own copy, but doesn't control the content of it--the words, pictures, etc., and the order and arrangement in which they are expressed, and what other people do with the content as well as with their own copies of his book.

Two or more people can have the same idea, but none of them has the right to control what the others do with their own versions.

You still haven't addressed Barlow's point that an idea can't be owned anyway, but can only be experienced.

Do you mean an idea that is "fixed" or embodied in a tangible medium, such as a book?

No, a physical medium. It doesn't have to be tangible.

The owner of a book has a right to control his own copy, but doesn't control the content of it--the words, pictures, etc., and the order and arrangement in which they are expressed, and what other people do with the content as well as with their own copies of his book.

The owner of a book has complete control over access to the book the words in it, and whether copies or derivatives may be made of it.

Naturally, my control over my book and use of the words within it is completely independent of your control over your book and the words within your book - even if our two books are indistinguishably similar.

The notion that similarity has a bearing on ownership is preposterous, and could only be achieved through supernatural means, hence the attempts of the state to grant monopolies in simulation of this supernatural power.

Two or more people can have the same idea, but none of them has the right to control what the others do with their own versions.

Two or more people cannot have the same idea. When I communicate my idea to you, you end up with an indistinguishably similar idea that you own. Alternatively, you may create an idea within your mind that by complete coincidence is uncannily similar to an idea within my mind. However, it can never be the same idea.

So, my control and ownership of the ideas within my mind, cannot possibly affect your control and ownership of the ideas within your mind, and vice versa.

It is quite logical that two people cannot have the same idea. The universe doesn't operate like that. If we were cyborgs with brains augmented by a central memory, then perhaps we could share the same ideas, but we're not. We're individuals with independent minds*.

Similarly for IP. Two books may look the same, but they aren't, they're simply indistinguishably similar. My control of the words in my book doesn't interfere with anyone else's control of the words in their book - even if the books are indistinguishably similar. Nevertheless, we both still own the material and intellectual property comprising the books we have, and can naturally prevent anyone stealing or copying our books without our permission.

What the heck do I care if someone to whom I sold a book last year, who now lives in Buenos Aires, decides to make 10 copies of their own property? Not a jot. But I would care if they made a copy of one of my books, that I hadn't sold them, and then scarpered off to Buenos Aires to mass produce copies. Liberty vs theft. Free as in speech, not as in beer.

* This is why it's so ludicrous for one engineer to be prosecuted for unwittingly manufacturing a device that utilises a mechanism patented by another. Why should one engineer get to own all sufficiently similar ideas?

Crosbie,

Stealing into the digital projection room at 4am and manufacturing a copy of the film, that one then removes, is IP theft.

Most people would call it "trespassing".

Are there any actions that you would classify as intellectual property violations that aren't already classified as physical property violations?

[Writing down the words you've seen in a book is] all right only if the owner of the book gave you permission to read it. [...] As I've tried to say before, natural IP behaves in a familiar, natural way just as material property does.

Sorry, but I still don't see anything "natural" about restricting what I can write down with my own pen and paper. If the pen and paper belong to me, and the words are in my mind, what right does anyone else have to tell me I can't write them down because of how they got there?

Stealing into the projection room, copying a movie, and removing it violates natural IP rights, without removing any material property.

Like I said, this is an infringement of physical property rights. It doesn't even matter if there's a movie in that room: if you're not authorized to go in there, you're trespassing.

So, Fred Bloggs reckons he'll get a good price if he spends the next few years painstakingly constructing a scale model of the Mars space station out of match sticks [...] By the time Fred gets to market he finds that his model can only fetch a sale price a hundredth of that which he had expected, and then discovers why.

... and the "why" boils down to "someone else is selling a similar thing for less". They're using their own matchsticks (or molecules) and arranging them in a similar fashion to Fred's, then selling them cheaper than Fred hoped to sell his. Fred thought the market would place a high value on a painstakingly hand-crafted model, but apparently he was wrong; people would rather have a cheap, replicated model.

It's sad that Fred spent all this time developing something that he thought would command a high price, only to be let down -- but that sort of thing happens all the time. Look at all the investment that went into, say, HD-DVD, or New Coke: there's no guarantee that just because you spend time and money developing something, you'll be able to sell it at a profit. Risks like that are part of business, right?

I guess that makes me a nihilist.

The notion that similarity has a bearing on ownership is preposterous, and could only be achieved through supernatural means, hence the attempts of the state to grant monopolies in simulation of this supernatural power. [...] But I would care if they made a copy of one of my books, that I hadn't sold them, and then scarpered off to Buenos Aires to mass produce copies.

Don't you see the contradiction here? You want to restrict the words that people can write or print, using their own equipment and media, based on where they saw those words: it's OK to write down words that someone willingly showed you, you say, but not words that you saw without permission from whoever owned the thing they were originally written on. But how can you possibly enforce that restriction without "supernatural means"? How, therefore, is it any less preposterous?

Jesse,

Crobie is very confused, as evidenced by this statement:

a physical medium [...] doesn't have to be tangible.

A physical medium is a tangible thing by definition. Anything that's tangible is a physical object.

Stephan Kinsella wrote:

The truth is that it is wrong to aggress against others. It is wrong to steal from or murder them. Period. We all know this in our hearts. Some of us are so invested in the institutions of the state that we do not want to be consistent in our advocacy of liberty and rights.

And who or what, precisely, is going to protect the poor/lower classes from theft and murder, if not a state and its police? Certainly not a private security firm, given that they can't afford to pay.

Government schools? Government roads? Government jails for failure to pay government taxes?

Sure, if you want the poor and lower classes to be able to travel and get an education. Imagine the plight for these people if all schools become private schools, charging tuition; all roads toll roads; and so forth. Which is what happens without government, or even with government but without taxes.

There are only three ways to get basic services and therefore to have equal opportunity in the workforce: pay user fees, use publicly-funded ones, or receive charity. Charity is undependable and the less well off can't afford the user fees. Government and taxation seem needed to keep the playing field reasonably close to level so that the principles of capitalism can actually work as intended. Capitalism breaks down when there's no longer equal opportunity or equal access. As things stand, the playing field isn't perfectly level in lots of places, even with government-subsidized postsecondary education, government-provided secondary and primary education, and a relative lack of toll booths limiting travel to job opportunities. Imagine how much worse it gets without those things.

Someone wrote:

The real owner would have had a valid claim to take it from me and charge me the cost of retrofitting it to its original state.

I'm bothered by the notion that someone who purchased something in good faith might be screwed out of it, with or without government involvement. If the person they bought it from acted in bad faith, then it is that person that should suffer the negative consequences.

Sure, the original owner was deprived of something they had a reasonable expectation of being able to keep. Take it from the later, good-faith buyer and now two such events have occurred. Two wrongs don't make a right.

It's not really clear what SHOULD be done in such a circumstance, but "the system" (in whatever form) screwing some innocent person just to try to make things right would seem to me to be counterproductive.

Someone else wrote:

Well, there's the proposition that what you describe as "collectivism" is incompatible with peace, prosperity, and civilization (which implies that none of those qualities exist on earth, since every nation imposes taxes and jails lawbreakers).

Furthermore, one might note that most of the places on Earth without effective governance are violent and destitute. There seems to be a distinct correlation between peace, prosperity, and civilization and good (i.e. minimally intrusive) government, and their absence with bad or lacking government.

David K. Levine wrote:

To put a > into text do you mind typing > ? Unbalanced > signs screw up the underlying html.

Mere users should not have to concern themselves with such technical matters. The blog software really should fix this automatically, for any less-than or greater-than signs that are not part of recognized HTML tags. If the software that you're using doesn't, then this ought to be changed.

Somebody wrote:

Government is inefficient anyway. They either overproduce or underproduce. (We have too much roads

We have traffic jams and gridlock everywhere. Commuting is a nightmare. And you claim we have "too much[sic] roads"? Gimme a break!

Anyway, please do suggest an alternative that will perfectly fit to demand, like a private business would, but will not underserve the poor like a private business would.

I know! Have an uber-minimalist government whose only task is to tax the rich and pay the poor. Everyone's earnings gets "slanted", up at the low end and down at the high end, so that working more or doing a more skilled job gets you more, but at the same time nobody lacks for the basic necessities. Private enterprise actually does everything else, but now nobody is going to be completely unable to afford the resulting user fees.

Or is even that too much of a government for your liking?

Stephan Kinsella wrote:

It is also the case that states by their nature commit systematic, institutionalized aggression. They are therefore by their nature criminal organizations.

There will always be some organizations that behave in such a manner. The only thing we get to influence by deciding on anarchy vs. statism is whether they are at least somewhat accountable to a voting and tax-paying public or are a completely unaccountable protection racket that randomly shoots people in the streets.

Government or mob, pick one. Without one you WILL have the other.

True anarchies will also invariably neglect those who aren't sufficiently wealthy, as has been repeatedly mentioned in various comments to this blog over the years.

In reality, there are all kinds of complex public-policy issues that simply are not going to work under a capitalist anarchy. A lot of them involve negative externalities, the environment, and natural resources. For example, a capitalist anarchy will pave over the world and carpet it in mines, fields, and buildings; the only national-park-like green spaces will end up being a few little areas (most of them artificial) with tollbooths at the entrances and some chunks of desert, tundra, ice cap, and mountain-top here and there. And even those will probably have tollbooths. Then there's the matter of water rights. Anyone who owns a chunk of land a river winds through gets to dam it completely if he sees fit, even though it may flood half his neighbors and it will dry up the river downstream, affecting more of his neighbors and various additional land-holdings besides. In your view, water that enters his land becomes his property; he can hoard it all, or charge money to those further downstream.

The planet gets wrecked under your form of anarchy, right when it seems to need increasingly coherent stewardship instead of anarchy. That's neverminding the plight of the poor in your world, as if they weren't bad enough off now!

Oh, no, not this anarchist/libertarian crap again.

Who provides for the poor in your world? Oh, let me guess, they're on their own. Tough luck; guess you get to starve.

Or maybe you think charity will reliably provide for them? How is that working so far in relieving third-world poverty?

Or maybe you think that some companies (security firms? insurance?) with rich clients will pay the poor some welfare just to reduce the likelihood that they'll steal, agitate violently, or otherwise raise their expenses? Why pay them though if it's cheaper to just gas them all in the streets? That's what they'd do, and who'd stop them? In your world, there's no International Criminal Court, no police that aren't bought and paid for by someone else, nobody whatsoever that will protect the poor from such measures, because nobody will protect or aid anyone who can't afford to pay their fees. Poor people become defacto fair game. It's open season. The ones that get wiped out efficiently in mass purges by security and insurance companies will be the lucky ones; the rest get to scrabble like rats and be subjected to the whims of wealthy sadists who'd find in them an unending supply of victims that have no laws, no police, no money, and no other forms of protection or defense.

In fact, your anarchy comes to suspiciously resemble an aristocracy in very short order. These are the kinds of conditions common throughout Europe during the Dark Ages, differing only in that there's no kings, dukes, or noble squires forming a hierarchy of "de jure" rule. Still the same sort of wealth pyramid, though, and still the same pattern of increasing freedom and security with height thereupon, including having essentially none of either at the bottom.

Currently, "welfare states" like in Scandinavian Europe and Canada still have such a pyramid, but there is a certain level of freedom and security even at the bottom, and there are certain guarantees that keep the poor from being unprotected by the law AND keep the rich from being above the law. This does a better job of safeguarding most of the rights to property and life for most of the people most of the time than your anarchy would, which would theoretically give them all to everyone all of the time, except that each must pay to defend them more than those that would take them away are paying to usurp them; in practise, this means the poor enjoy none of those rights and the top 1% or so of the population in terms of wealth enjoy as much as everyone in those Scandinavian countries does now -- and only the one richest guy has them all all of the time, since he is the only one who can pay more for his own protection than the second-richest can pay someone to, say, kidnap him.

The dynamics of anarchy is unstable. Inevitably a pyramid of defacto power develops, and whoever's at the top might as well be crowned and called "king". You end up with a defacto aristocracy, a system diametrically opposite to what you profess to desire.

Who provides for the poor in your world?

*sigh*

Are there any actions that you would classify as intellectual property violations that aren't already classified as physical property violations?

You are advocating that there is no need of a property right in beer since you can't think of a situation where a property violation in beer wouldn't be a property violation of the bottle.

I think that is absurd. Just because it's difficult to imagine beer without a container - or intellectual property without a container - doesn't mean that property rights in such things are illegitimate.

For one thing, if there is no property right in beer, then I should pay the same amount of damages when I use your full bottle (and give it back empty) as when I use your empty bottle and give it back empty. The violation is the same in each case - I take your bottle and put it to my mouth.

If the pen and paper belong to me, and the words are in my mind, what right does anyone else have to tell me I can't write them down because of how they got there?

Of course you can write them down. You might owe me damages, though, if you copied those words from my copy without my permission. If you copied them from YOUR copy without my permission, you don't owe me anything - even if your copy was originally copied from my copy. You own your copy and you can make copies of your copy.

The harmful aspect of theft is that the rightful owner is deprived of the use of that property, because it has been removed.

If you borrow my house without my permission while I'm on vacation, that's not bad just because I might come back and need my house. I might not suffer at all from your presence. I might benefit - you might make some repairs and you keep the house clean while I'm away. It's still bad. It's bad because it's my house, and you need my permission to come there. I worked hard for my house. If you want to come there, you need my permission - regardless of the fact whether I benefit or suffer from your presence in my house.

The idea of intellectual property rights isn't inherently bad. If I come up with an idea, I am entitled to control that idea, and you need my permission to use my idea. The problem arises, not from the idea of intellectual property, but from the notion that because my copy of my idea is "the same as" (indistinguishably similar to) yours, control over both copies ought to be assigned to a single person. This is the nonsense that leads to intellectual monopoly. In a system of true intellectual property rights I control my copy, and you control your copy.

I need your permission to copy your copy of the idea. Once I have a copy of my own, I don't need your permission to make another copy, as I can make another copy by copying my own copy instead of your copy.

Kid,

For one thing, if there is no property right in beer, then I should pay the same amount of damages when I use your full bottle (and give it back empty) as when I use your empty bottle and give it back empty. The violation is the same in each case - I take your bottle and put it to my mouth.

Thanks for using this example. There is a property right in beer, and you've just illustrated why: if I take your full bottle and return it empty, you now have less than you did before. I took that beer away from you, depriving you of its use. My use has interfered with yours. We need some system to determine whether my use or yours will prevail in such cases; that's what ownership does.

But the same is not true of words, pixels, or any other information to which someone might claim "intellectual property rights". There's no intellectual equivalent of drinking the beer while leaving the bottle unharmed and unmoved: I could deprive you of the use of a book by taking it away from you, but as long as that book stays in your possession, I can't stop you from using the words inside it. Thus, there's no need to assign ownership of them: we can all use them however we want, and none of us can interfere with anyone else's use. Assigning ownership would simply limit freedom for no benefit.

Of course you can write them down. You might owe me damages, though, if you copied those words from my copy without my permission.

Well, since you haven't suffered any loss or been affected in any way, the damages must be $0.00, right? I hope you take PayPal, because it seems like a waste to use a 42-cent stamp for that.

It's bad because it's my house, and you need my permission to come there.

I think this is a fundamentally sociopathic idea. You claim the right to restrict other people's freedom, not because it can possibly harm or interfere with you in any way, but just because, all else being equal, you'd prefer for them to be deprived and disappointed. And you're presenting this as a persuasive argument?

There are perfectly good reasons to exert exclusive control over your house that don't boil down to "I feel like being a jerk". But they don't apply to information.

If I come up with an idea, I am entitled to control that idea, and you need my permission to use my idea.

Er, you might think so, but that's exactly what's being disputed. Some of us see no reason at all why you should be entitled to tell us which ideas we can or can't use, considering that the ideas exist in our minds (once we learn them) and we make use of them on our own time and property without affecting you one whit. Why should we need your permission to do something that doesn't involve you?

The problem arises, not from the idea of intellectual property, but from the notion that because my copy of my idea is "the same as" (indistinguishably similar to) yours, control over both copies ought to be assigned to a single person.

And now you're undermining your own argument. When I learn your idea, I create another copy of it in my mind. If you then tell me I can't use it -- or, equivalently, sue me for using it -- you're asserting control over both copies.

You're entitled to control your copies of the idea - the ones stored in your own brain or written in your own books. The way to exercise that control is to restrict access: don't tell the idea to anyone, and don't show the books to anyone, if you don't want them to have the idea.

The moment it's revealed to someone else, though, they have their own copy. And, as you wrote, "once I have a copy of my own, I don't need your permission to make another copy".

When I learn your idea, I create another copy of it in my mind. If you then tell me I can't use it -- or, equivalently, sue me for using it -- you're asserting control over both copies.

I can still sue you for unauthorized reproduction of my copy of that idea - before you owned any copy. If I sell you a copy, then of course I can assert no control whatsoever over any of your copies - so any reproduction thereafter is your business not mine.

Kid,

I can still sue you for unauthorized reproduction of my copy of that idea - before you owned any copy.

Which "unauthorized reproduction" is that -- copying the idea from a piece of paper into my mind? Even copyright law isn't that invasive!

How is a court supposed to decide whether I actually possess such a copy (since the Vulcan mind meld won't be introduced to humans until the 22nd century), or assign damages (since the rearrangement of neurons in my brain causes you no harm or loss)?

Thus, there's no need to assign ownership of them: we can all use them however we want, and none of us can interfere with anyone else's use. Assigning ownership would simply limit freedom for no benefit.

If ideas aren't owned, that is, they are owned by everyone, then I shouldn't even be allowed to restrict access to them. That would be limiting the freedom of the rest of the world to enjoy their property for no benefit.

I see it differently. If I come up with an idea, I own it, and nobody else - and I am entitled to profit from it by selling it to other people. This requires a property right in intellectual work. I think this monopoly over a new idea is useful in encouraging innovation.

Which "unauthorized reproduction" is that -- copying the idea from a piece of paper into my mind? Even copyright law isn't that invasive!

I suppose it doesn't become unauthorized reproduction until you actually produce another copy in a fixed medium. It isn't the act of reading, nor the act of writing, but the whole chain of actions resulting in another copy that is unauthorized reproduction.

since [my copying] causes you no harm or loss?

I believe strongly that the innovator should be allowed to profit from his work, and indeed is entitled to a monopoly over his copies. To me, though, it seems natural that this monopoly would be transferred to the buyer instead of retained by the seller. A monopoly over every copy is quite different from a monopoly over a single copy. The former retards innovation and the latter encourages it.

Who provides for the poor in your world?

*sigh*

That's not an answer.

I believe strongly that the innovator should be allowed to profit from his work, and indeed is entitled to a monopoly over his copies. To me, though, it seems natural that this monopoly would be transferred to the buyer instead of retained by the seller. A monopoly over every copy is quite different from a monopoly over a single copy. The former retards innovation and the latter encourages it.

This is incoherent. There's no such thing as "a monopoly over a single copy" or anything similar. A monopoly is, more or less by definition, when the entire market supply of something (or the bulk of it, at any rate) is controlled by one actor. When a single copy of a thing is controlled by one actor, that's just plain ordinary ownership and not monopoly.

"Preview" has a bug. It appears to do nothing. It actually seems to add the preview to the bottom of the page, but since nothing changes on the part of the page already visible (even if it was already scrolled all the way to the bottom before you hit preview) and the browser doesn't do anything else (e.g. noticeable amounts of network activity or "spinning") to acknowledge the button press, to the user it will appear that the button just wasn't wired up to anything.

Furthermore, "Submit" just returning to the front page is dubious, and its not reporting an error even if there is one is outright broken.

Preview should go to a new page with the preview above a filled-in copy of the form that can then be used to submit, or to edit and submit. Submit should reload the page and display your post, if it succeeded, or else display an error message.

If it didn't succeed, the form should remain filled-in so you can fix things and resubmit, though it should certainly also work if the back button is used to retry. If it did succeed, the form should be blanked. If it didn't, also, the reload and the error should be apparent; it shouldn't look like it just refreshed the page without doing anything else. Going to a separate error page, like the preview page but with the error message at the top instead of a preview, would be better than staying put. The blue-grey background behind Name, Email, and so forth should perhaps be red on the error-page version of the form, to make a fairly obtrusive change so that it will be immediately apparent to the user that something happened, even if the form ends up identically-placed on the screen by the browser.

I am troubled by a lot of the discussion of intellectual property. It seems to me that all property, real or intellectual, defined as a bundle of rights, has no independent existence. Instead it is a creation of government which defines property, the meaning of ownership, and any limits thereon.

My quarrel with intellectual property is that it fails the smell test, i.e. that it serves the public interest or the general welfare or adds to the total utility of the American people. On the one hand, we have JKRowling becoming a billionaire from Harry Potter, protected by copyright. On the other, we have convicted small-time copyright violators, numbering 30,000 by one estimate, penalized 1000 to 2000 times the actual damages evoking memories of the public outrage provoked by prohibition.

What we are stuck with is a provision of the constitution on IP which has turned the definition of the public interest over to lawyers and its current owners. They have been able to turn the law to their particular ends while engaging in massive propaganda efforts to argue that the copyright system is legitimate and all for the best. Clearly, it is not, but the political process seems to be broken and unable to deal with the problem.

The comment about preview is noted and I'll think about/work on it.
Kid,

If ideas aren't owned, that is, they are owned by everyone, then I shouldn't even be allowed to restrict access to them. That would be limiting the freedom of the rest of the world to enjoy their property for no benefit.

No, "not owned" is not the same as "owned by everyone". The latter implies that everyone is entitled to access them, and anyone who stands the way of that access is violating their rights. As you point out, that would be silly: it would imply that I'm entitled to look through your books or your hard drive to get at my "property".

But again, that's not my position. I contend that no one owns an idea, just like no one owns a number. I don't have to get anyone's permission to use a particular number in a calculation, but if I suspect you have an interesting number written on a piece of paper in your pocket, I can't demand that you show it to me. The fact that the number has no owner simply means that if I happen to learn what it is, no one can stop me from using it as I please.

If I come up with an idea, I own it, and nobody else - and I am entitled to profit from it by selling it to other people.

I agree that you're entitled to the opportunity to sell it to other people -- obviously you can't force anyone to buy it from you, which means you might not be able to make any actual sales or profit.

But you also seem to be arguing that you're entitled to prevent other people from selling or otherwise using it, once they've learned it, unless they learned it in a specific way that you deem acceptable. That is, you're arguing for a monopoly on the idea itself, even though you seem hesitant to admit it.

A monopoly over every copy is quite different from a monopoly over a single copy. The former retards innovation and the latter encourages it.

You still haven't shown how this "monopoly over a single copy" is any different from everyday physical property rights. Therefore, I don't see how it can have any effect whatsoever on innovation.

What, exactly, would a "monopoly over a single copy" of a book allow you to do -- or prevent others from doing -- that you don't already get just by owning the paper it's printed on?

Jesse:

"You still haven't shown how this "monopoly over a single copy" is any different from everyday physical property rights."

Intellectual property behaves very much like tangible property.

that you don't already get just by owning the paper it's printed on?

Could you explain why we need a property right in beer, again? After all, we already have a property right in bottles. I contend that a property right in intellectual property is useful even if it's difficult to imagine without container.

But you also seem to be arguing that you're entitled to prevent other people from selling or otherwise using it

I'm saying I'm entitled to damages if you make reproductions of my copies of my intellectual work without my permission. If you own a copy yourself, I have no say in it whatsoever, since you'd be reproducing the copy you own instead of my copy.

John Bennett:

Instead it [property] is a creation of government which defines property, the meaning of ownership, and any limits thereon.

Property is just a set of rules by which scarce resources are distributed amongst people. Whoever makes the rules decides what property is.

My quarrel with intellectual property is that it fails the smell test, i.e. that it serves the public interest or the general welfare or adds to the total utility of the American people.

What have American people got to do with it? Intellectual monopoly does not add to any society.

Who provides for the poor in your world?

Who are "the poor"? Surely the people with jobs can provide for themselves. The rest of them are but a small minority in society, with no political power, and will do no better under a government than under charity.

Kid,

Could you explain why we need a property right in beer, again? After all, we already have a property right in bottles.

I explained this before (08/10/2008 03:40 PM), and you ignored it. See below if you're serious this time.

I contend that a property right in intellectual property is useful even if it's difficult to imagine without container.

Not just difficult: impossible. Any copy of an idea must exist in some medium, and it is inseparable from that medium: you can't remove the copy of the idea and leave the medium untouched.

Beer can be removed from a bottle, because it has an independent existence. If I hand you a full bottle of beer, and you return it empty, then I'll still have the bottle but not the beer. Thus, if I want to keep the beer and the bottle, I need separate property rights for both of them.

But there is no equivalent for ideas. If I hand you a book and you give it back with the words missing, you haven't taken the "intellectual property" out and left me with the container; you've simply destroyed my book (e.g. by ripping the pages out).

You can't deprive me of that particular copy of those words without also depriving me of the book, or vice versa, so it's pointless to assign separate property rights: any given action will always either violate both sets of rights or neither of them -- never just one.

I'm saying I'm entitled to damages if you make reproductions of my copies of my intellectual work without my permission.

But I can't possibly do that without stealing your property or trespassing, right? Obviously, I can't copy anything if I don't have access to it.

So, then: are you really just saying that when someone steals your property or trespasses, you want extra damages if they also make a copy while they're at it?

But I can't possibly do that without stealing your property or trespassing, right? Obviously, I can't copy anything if I don't have access to it.

Can you imagine a way to violate my property right in my beer without also violating my property right in the bottle? Is this an argument against a property right in beer?

So, then: are you really just saying that when someone steals your property or trespasses, you want extra damages if they also make a copy while they're at it?

Just like I want extra damages if someone takes my bottle and also takes the beer that was in it. There's not just the violation of my property in the bottle but also the violation of my property right in the beer.

You can't deprive

I'm worried about my monopoly, not about being deprived of anything.

Any copy of an idea must exist in some medium, and it is inseparable from that medium: you can't remove the copy of the idea and leave the medium untouched.

If being able to remove the idea from the medium is proof that the idea leads an independent existence, think, for example, of files on a hard drive.

Kid,

Can you imagine a way to violate my property right in my beer without also violating my property right in the bottle?

Yes, easily. If you leave the bottle uncapped, I could drink the beer through a straw without your permission.

Is this an argument against a property right in beer?

Well, it's almost an argument against a property right in the beer inside sealed bottles, I suppose. But obviously not against all beer, since some beer can be taken without damaging its container; once we realize that, there's no justification for treating bottled beer differently, since it's the same stuff: it's property before you put a cap on the bottle, and screwing the cap on doesn't change the inherent nature of the beer inside.

If being able to remove the idea from the medium is proof that the idea leads an independent existence, think, for example, of files on a hard drive.

That's a good example, but it proves my point. The platter in a hard drive stores information in the magnetic alignment of its surface. In order to delete the files on a hard drive, you must alter or destroy the surface of the platters -- just like in order to delete the words from a book, you must alter or destroy the pages, or to change the color of a car, you must add or remove a layer of paint.

We live in a physical world. Any copy of an idea must exist in a physical medium; the arrangement of that physical medium (whether it's ink on a page or magnetic particles on a disc) is the copy. You can't change or remove the copy without altering the physical medium, and thus invoking the property rights of whoever owns it.

You want to restrict the words that people can write or print, using their own equipment and media, based on where they saw those words: it's OK to write down words that someone willingly showed you, you say, but not words that you saw without permission from whoever owned the thing they were originally written on. But how can you possibly enforce that restriction without "supernatural means"? How, therefore, is it any less preposterous?

Jesse, it's not a matter of 'want', but of 'naturally can'.

I can naturally control whether matter or information is removed from my private domain.

However, because individuals naturally differ in power, we elect a government to bring the superhuman power of the state to bear in enforcing egalitarianism. Equal respect for the natural rights of individuals and society: life, privacy, truth, liberty.

What we should not do is allow the government to privilege individuals in any circumstances with supernatural power, e.g. unnatural monopolies.

When it comes to enforcing an individual's natural control over their private domain, their natural right to privacy, there are limitations as to what can be prosecuted. We need evidence that matter or information has been removed. In the case of the latter, if we can recognise information, it is intellectually apprehensible (not noise) and fixed in a physical medium (whether tangible or not), then we can detect whether it has been removed from within someone's private domain to without. In other words, there is a natural intellectual property right.

I think Kid had a good analogy with 'beer/bottle' as to information/matter or IP/MP, but only insofar as a means of suggesting that (in an alternate reality with no property right in liquids) just because solids might seem to be sufficient in defining a property right, this wouldn't preclude the possibility that it might be deficient in handling cases of liquid transfer alone. In other words, just as one cannot argue against recognising a natural property right in liquids simply because solids appears sufficient, nor can one argue against recognising a natural right in intellectual property simply because material property appears sufficient.

But, that's as far as the analogy goes, because information differs from matter in more fundamental ways than liquid from solid, although physicists would probably like to agree that they are fundamentally equivalent, e.g. that matter and energy are simply different forms of information.

So, property rights derive from what one can naturally control, and the consequently self-evident natural right that the state can superhumanly enforce.

"Who are "the poor"? Surely the people with jobs can provide for themselves. The rest of them are but a small minority in society, with no political power, and will do no better under a government than under charity."

Ludicrous. As things stand, "the people with jobs" include a lot of people in lower income brackets. These people make the minimum wage, or not much more, and barely make ends meet NOW.

You'd simultaneously get rid of the mechanisms that enforce labor practises (and thus, no more minimum wage; now ruthless employers can give these people the skin off a grape and call it their salary) AND get rid of a lot of state subsidies without which the cost of living will go up drastically with user fees left, right, and center.

The net effect of removing what current state mechanisms transfer wealth from rich to poor is to transfer wealth from poor to rich. It's regressive.

Your world makes the poor poorer.

As for unemployment, it will be interesting to see how your world will skew access to employment opportunities even more than it already is.

Get rid of any chance of cheap/free education and the population soon is largely uneducated. Maybe not outright illiterate, but lacking the education needed to have a fair shot at any of the higher-paying jobs out there. Meanwhile, automation kills off the lower-paying jobs from the bottom, as it has always historically tended to do. So a smaller fraction of the population is qualified for a larger fraction of the jobs. What you end up with is a world with 1% of the people highly educated and wealthy, and able to pay for their offspring to have similar educational opportunities, and the remaining 99% have a basic grade-school education, no money, and no job.

And in your world, people with no money and no job either die of starvation, eke out a living begging in the streets, or turn to a life of crime, since there sure aren't any welfare cheques coming their way.

It's called the "poverty trap": if you have no money, you can't get an education; if you have no education, you can't get a job; and if you have no job, you can't get any money.

This trap exists anywhere where the above cycle isn't broken by an outside helping hand. The only such helping hand that isn't going to be fickle and undependable is the one whose existence is legislated as mandatory, i.e. a state welfare bureau or whatever that has a legislated mandate under the law.

Most states try to interrupt the poverty trap cycle at two or even all three points: * Welfare gets someone without a job some money. * State-provided schooling gets someone without money a basic education. * State-subsidized postsecondary schools gets someone with limited money an advanced enough education to actually get a decent job, so people in low income brackets can move up or have their children start off higher up. * State-provided basic services reduce the cost of living by whatever user fees would otherwise apply, so people in low income brackets can put food on their table and invest in educating themselves further or in feeding and educating their children, instead of having only enough to keep themselves alive without any hope of being able to either move up or provide for children. * The state also provides employment directly and typically has job-seeker assistance programs too.

In your world, there is no chance of upward mobility, because upward mobility (these days) requires further education, in your world an education requires paying a mint, and of course being able to pay a mint requires already being near or at the top.

If it was still possible to work your way up to the top from the mailroom, it might not be quite so bad, but you can only work your way up to the top now if you can get an MBA from Harvard. EVEN WITH state subsidies for education and the like, you can't get anything from Harvard without gobs of money and a lot of time spent NOT earning a wage.

Your proposed world leaves everyone to sink or swim on their own. Bad luck -- illness, accident, or whatever -- becomes a death sentence for anyone but the wealthiest 1%, and a serious financial burden for anyone but the superrich. There will be some income level below which a person is unable to invest in bettering him- or herself or in having and providing for children; these people are doomed to live in poverty and leave no descendants. More than 50% of the population will probably be below this income level. And there will be an even lower income level below which a person is unable to survive without resorting to either begging or crime, and plenty of people will be below that level.

And as unskilled jobs continue to be replaced by automation, the education level needed to get a decent income will rise, as will the level needed to find any work at all, and consequently the poverty lines marked out above will creep to encompass ever-larger fractions of the population. The higher line, where self-sufficiency gives way to self-surplus and the ability to have upward mobility or have children, will exclude a larger fraction of the population from those opportunities as the needed level of education rises, and with this the price of that education. The lower line, where self-sufficiency begins, will move too. Although automation will cause the costs of basic things like food to go down, other costs will rise (e.g. shelter -- land is something they aren't making any more of, and its price tends to climb over time) or remain unchanged, and the money that can be made from legitimate work by someone with no education at all will drop asymptotically to zero.

50% or more of the population has a dismal future of limited or nonexistent opportunities in your world. A sizable portion has no future at all.

Minimum wage mean less people get employed, while a few get more money. So there is a trade off.

I would also argue that the welfare state doesn't do anything about the poverty problem.

It would make much more sense to educate the poor trade and entrepreneurship skills rather than giving something to crutch on, assuming that there is anything to crutch on.

The welfare state is also incredibly expensive to support. You have to pay high taxes in turn for cheap medicine. It doesn't seem much of a benefit to me.

I would also think that the middle class should be able to pay for education and college, thus the middle class will be maintained.

I rather pay the expensive medical bills rather than paying the state taxes.

Crosbie,

I can naturally control whether matter or information is removed from my private domain.

Matter, yes, but I don't see how that can be true of information.

If you could naturally control it, why would you need a government-enforced monopoly on copying? Why wouldn't you just stop people from learning the information in the first place, or bringing it (in their minds) outside of your private domain?

Because you can't, right?

The natural ability to control whether matter is removed from your private domain exists because matter can only be in one place and it must be physically carried away. Since I can ensure that my property stays where I want it (e.g. by holding on to it, bolting it down, or putting it behind a locked door), I can ensure that no one can have it, because as long as it's in my house it can't be anywhere else.

But that isn't how information works: once someone sees it, they have their own copy and there's nothing I can do about it (short of killing them or dropping an anvil on their head to induce cartoon amnesia).

How, then, can you "naturally" exercise this control over information?

When it comes to enforcing an individual's natural control over their private domain, their natural right to privacy, there are limitations as to what can be prosecuted. We need evidence that matter or information has been removed.

This is a bizarre definition of "removed" -- nothing is actually missing. It hasn't been removed at all, it's been copied.

In other words, just as one cannot argue against recognising a natural property right in liquids simply because solids appears sufficient, nor can one argue against recognising a natural right in intellectual property simply because material property appears sufficient.

It doesn't just appear sufficient; it is sufficient. That's the difference! There are obvious scenarios where liquids are separated from their containers, and that's why a property right in the container isn't sufficient, but there's no such equivalent for information.

It's not just that we're being unimaginative: Kid and I haven't been able to come up with such a scenario because it's logically impossible. A copy exists in a physical medium, and anything that affects the copy must affect the physical medium where it exists. To believe otherwise is to believe in magic.

kiba, countries with national health care actually spend less overall to achieve better outcomes. The private US system is less efficient: doctors need to hire additional staff to handle billing issues, preventive care is discouraged because insurers don't know if you'll still be their customer in the future when it pays off, and it's difficult to do long-term tracking of treatments. (Within the US, the VA system tends to perform better because it doesn't have these issues.)
Jeese: I have thought that the tradeoff(Correct me if I am wrong) in having a private health care system is that you get some of the best treatment in the world, though much more expensive than the national healthcare system.

However, we also have to notes other factors contributing to the cost of healthcare such as pharmaceutical patents and the medical boards that license practitioners.

Kiba, the "best treatment" is reserved for those to whom money is no object; if you happen to be one of those people, then the private US system might be your best option. A lot of other people think they're getting better treatment, when in fact they're just paying for more tests -- they don't end up any healthier.

Overall, except for a few specific illnesses that we've chosen to focus on in the US, health care outcomes are better under national health care systems. That's because it's more readily available, for one thing: if you go to the doctor earlier because you aren't worried about the cost, you can start treatment before your condition becomes more serious. (The epitome of this problem is poor Americans waiting for their problems to become emergencies, since the emergency room is required to treat them even if they can't pay.) When contagious illnesses are involved, this also benefits people who aren't sick.

But it also has to do with preventive care: a national system that's going to deal with a patient for his entire life has an added incentive to pay for things that keep him healthy (thus reducing costs in the long run), whereas a private insurer might only cover him for a few years before he becomes someone else's problem, so they have less incentive to invest in his long-term health.

Pharmaceutical patents and medical licensing contribute to the cost of health care, but other countries incur those costs too.

Jesse: I would have thought that the private insurance company still wants to reduce the overall cost of health care, in order to make future and current clients more profitable.

If in fact, the incentive is diminished from not having long term clients, than it is probably best to structure the markets in such a way that ensure such long term contracts.

Also, it seem that the Medicare and Medicaid seem to be correlated with the rise in US government public spending and the expense of medical care(From 4 percents to 16 percents). So the free market may not be to blame. I also heard criticisms that the European model of heatlhcare as unsustainable.(Correct me if I am wrong as I only started reading into this)

If this is true, then there will be even more increased tax population as heatlh providers clamors for more public dollars. Snake oil salemens that wants to lobby the government to force insurance companies to pay for harmful and unproven "alternative" medical products, the FDA regulatory cost, patents, licensing boards only add insults to injury.

(But I am not an economist)

Private insurers want to reduce their own costs, but that's not the same as reducing the overall cost of health care. Let's say Insurer A pays $100 for some treatment to prevent a condition that would eventually cost $500 to treat. If, by the time the benefit comes around, you've switched to Insurer B, then Insurer A has lost twice: they effectively gave that $100 to their competitor, and it's worth more in their competitor's hands (since B saved $500).

If every insurer pays for preventive treatment, then it balances out: some of A's customers will switch to B, some of B's customers will switch to A, and everyone wins. But if they aren't required to pay for it, then any insurer can refuse and still reap the rewards. In fact, they can market themselves to customers who have already received preventive care through another insurer, and they'll be able to offer lower rates because they aren't paying for it themselves.

This isn't a problem if insurers can be confident that their customers won't leave before the preventive treatment pays off, but I'm not sure how you'd structure the market to encourage long-term contracts without restricting competition. Anyone with a cell phone knows how customers are treated when the company no longer has to compete for their business.


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