Admittedly, I’m no expert on the subject of intellectual property and patent law like Houston Texas patent attorney and Libertarian Stephan Kinsella, who maintains that: Intellectual Property Is “Evil”-And Businesspeople Should Oppose It, (referenced in last week’s RRND), but as a lawyer and Libertarian myself, I know well enough that stealing property is evil and all people should oppose it.
Kinsella believes that the concept of intellectual property is one of the most dangerous threats to freedom and progress in the world today. I get what he’s saying. But, as I have argued before on these pages in response to such spurious claims: Property includes intellectual property, and stealing it is just as wrong as stealing any other kind of property.
Kinsella acknowledges that intellectual property laws protect products of the intellect such as copyright (which gives authors a right in original works such as novels or paintings), patent (which gives inventors rights in practical inventions, like a mousetrap), trademark (which gives companies rights in names used to identify products, such as “Coca-Cola”), and trade secret.
Intellectual property laws give the owners of a copyright, patent, or trademark a limited or temporary monopoly with regard to the rights to their works, just as personal and real property laws confer upon owners a limited or temporary monopoly on the use of it.
That old expression: “You can’t take it with you,” for example, refers to the fact that your rights to control the use and disposition of your property evaporates when you die.
But Kinsella insists that intellectual property laws “distort the creative and innovative fields, and lower the total amount of innovation in society.” “Not only does it impose costs and slow down progress and impede freedom: but that it is a blatant case of infringement of property rights,” he maintains.
“These rights are types of negative servitudes. A copyright holder can stop you from printing a given pattern of words on your own paper with your own ink and printer. A patent holder can stop you from using your own materials to shape them into certain arrangements,” he continues.
“The state simply grants it to them by fiat. So in effect, the state makes patentees and copyright holders co-owners of everyone else’s property, without the property owners’ consent. It is basically an erosion of property rights, a taking of property, a redistribution. It is a limitation on competition and learning and emulation,” he concludes.
But wait a minute; that’s essentially nonsense.
I can print out a given pattern of words, i.e., copyrighted materials on my own paper with my own ink and a printer. Nothing stops me from doing that. But what I can’t do is take what I’ve done to the marketplace and sell it as though I owned the valuable creative ideas actually owned by the copywriter.
No law prevents me from using my own materials to shape them into certain arrangements, but I can’t take what I’ve copied to the marketplace and sell it as though I owned the patent.
Governments don’t just pass out intellectual property laws by fiat. An applicant must prove entitlement under certain standards and rules or the monopoly on his creation will properly be denied.
Patent, trademark and copyright laws don’t impede my freedom any more than laws which prohibit my liberty from the commission of all other kinds of theft and fraud regarding any other kind of property. They simply prevent me from stealing other people’s creative ideas and profiting from them as though they were my own.
Am I missing something here?
I’ve studied his arguments closely and it appears that if Mr. Kinsella has his way then you or I or anyone else could simply print up millions of our own copies of all the Harry Potter books, complete with text, matching dust jackets, original author’s name, and all of it; then sell them in the marketplace for a fraction of the author’s price, thereby reaping millions in profits from intellectual creations we had nothing to do with.
If intellectual property laws were abolished, as Mr. Kinsella advocates, then I could sell, with absolute legal immunity, my own syrupy concoction of cola as “Coca Cola” in the same bottles with the exact same trademark, and reap the profits even though I had nothing to do with the original creation.
If Mr. Kinsella’s scenario prevails, then anyone including me could become a super rich marketplace troll in the thieving business of copying all the ideas, works, and products of others and selling them as our own thereby cutting the original creator out of the process completely. And why not – it’s our own paper, printer and ink; our own materials and ingredients, right?
Mr. Kinsella doesn’t satisfactorily answer these questions.
So, why should property laws include intellectual property?
Because stealing any property is evil and all people should oppose it.