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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/13399/the-death-throes-of-pro-ip-libertarianism/

The Death Throes of Pro-IP Libertarianism

July 28, 2010 by

The libertarian IP awakening seems to have caught the old-guard libertarian defenders of intellectual property slumbering, clinging to the fossilized remnants of their arguments. FULL ARTICLE by Stephan Kinsella


TokyoTom August 17, 2010 at 8:23 am


While I agree with the conclusion that state-created and -enforced IP is no longer justifiable and should be jettisoned, I disagree that IP differs IN PRINCIPLE from other forms of “property” that societies have evolved and/or deliberately developed institutions to protect. The case against IP is not an absolute one, and you both stretch too far and show too little sensitivity to those who have simply accepted IP as a given part of our legal and moral framework.

I have noted before in greater detail a number of these points, in comments I have copied here: http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=IP

Let me make a few new specific points here:

1. “By treating these dissimilar things — nonscarce, infinitely reproducible patterns of information and physical, scarce objects — similarly, the IP advocates try to treat them with the same rules. They take property rules designed precisely to allocate ownership of scarce physical objects in the face of possible conflict and try to apply them to information patterns. In so doing, they end up imposing artificial scarcity on that which was previously nonscarce and infinitely reproducible.”

Advances in technology greatly aid your argument about nonscarcity and reproducibility over just a few years ago, but not only does this seem historically incorrect, but given scarcity of humans and material objects, information still retains many elements of scarcity. It takes scarce resources to develop, refine, transmit, and acquire useful information, and individuals, groups, firm and societies all invested also in methods and rules to protect such information (for various reasons, such as to ensure recovery or investment, maintain advantages over rivals etc). Formal IP has at least some of its roots in a group decision that the society as a whole would be advantaged if solely private protection of valuable information was relaxed in exchange for public disclosure and limited state protection. Such a decision would in part be motivated by a calculus that treating information as “property” deserving of protection by the state would enhance overall welfare by lowering overall costs of purely private effort to defend such information (the same motivation for formal protection of other “property”; even as “pr@perty” may veryt well be a theft from the commons or public purse).

2. “Technological and other progress is possible because we can learn and build on previous knowledge. The market itself crucially relies on emulation — entrepreneurs emulate the successful action of others, thereby competing and serving consumers, and always bidding down prices and even profits.”

That emulation improves products and welfare is surely correct, and technological progress certainly makes emulation even cheaper. But individuals and groups are less likely to invest in developing information if competitors can freely and easily copy it. If we eliminate IP, we will certainly NOT eliminate the value of information or the incentives that drive people to invest in and protect it – or to engage in spying/other efforts to “steal” information that is privately protected.

3. “The market also enables the production of products that are scarce goods — with ever-increasing efficiency — and, crucially, makes scarce goods more abundant. The market is always trying to overcome and reduce the scarcity that is inherent in physical resources. The human actors on the market use infinitely reproducible, nonscarce knowledge and information to guide their use of scarce resources in ever-more efficient ways, so as to reduce the real scarcity that does exist in the physical world of useful goods.”

The first part of the second sentence is surely wrong in many important cases: in a competitive world, human actors/firms/societies try to gain advantage over competitors in satisfying customers by using difficult to reproduce and/or secret, scarce knowledge and information to guide their use of scarce resources in ever-more efficient ways, Information is valuable; this will not change if IP is eliminated.

4. “It is obscene to undermine the glorious operation of the market in producing wealth and abundance by imposing artificial scarcity on human knowledge and learning”

Over the top and ignores the real incentives and motivations of economic actors. While much human progress comes from emulation, much has also come from the investment by various actors in developing and applying SCARCE knowledge under conditions in which such information was not known and/or could not be reproduced or as efficiently utilized by competitors. This is simply a fact, and hardly an obscene one. It is also a phenomenon that will not change if formal IP is eliminated.



TokyoTom August 17, 2010 at 9:33 pm

I note for Mises Blog readers that Stephan has chosen to comment directly on my back-up blog post, here:


TokyoTom August 18, 2010 at 8:52 am

Here are the comments I received from Stephan and my responses:

1. From Stephan: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 12:05 AM by nskinsella

“That emulation improves products and welfare is surely correct, and technological progress certainly makes emulation even cheaper. But individuals and groups are less likely to invest in developing information if competitors can freely and easily copy it. ”

IP advocates seem to have no imagination. They don’t see any role for entreprenuerial creativity when dealing with a mixed world of non-scarce AND scarce things. You are basically the same as the mainstreamers who believe in “market failure” and that we need state intervention to fix these market failures.

“How do you know there will be “less” incentive to innovate, or less innovation? And so what, anyway? Are we all consequentialist-utilitarians now? Is libertarianism about individual liberty and freedom and the sanctity of property rights–or is it about setting a monopoly force government to impose coercive rules designed to “make it more likely for people to invest in developing information”?? The “libertarian” IP advocates seem to have no principles, no mooring. It’s all just ad hoc policy wonkism.

2. My response: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 1:03 AM by TokyoTom .

Stephan, thanks for your quick comments.

Hoever, are you suggesting I’m an “IP advocate”? On what basis? I’ve taken no such advocacy position in my comments. Stop creating bogey-men and focus on my comments.

I see plenty of role for entreprenuerial creativity in dealing with a non-IP world; there’s already plenty of it (as stealing/spying is unrelenting).

WHo’s to say how much less innovation we’ll see if it is easily swiped and duplicated? Dunno, but it seems axiomatic that there’d be less than if such info and related returns could be inexpensively protected.

Who’s arguing for state intervention? I’m just suggesting that your blanket dismissal glosses over some important issues you might want to fill in to be more persuasive.

3. From Stephan: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 10:44 AM by nskinsella

Tom, eithery ou are or are not an IP advocate. If not, we have no beef. If you are, then my comments apply. As for focusing on your comments–I’ve focused on what I think worth replying to

4. My response: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 12:32 PM by TokyoTom
Stephan, I am NOT an IP advocate (technological advance and abuse fatally undermine any case), but it seems we still have a beef: your arguments misunderstand property and are shallow (show me principles, and I’ll show you a dog growing over a bone), misunderstand scarcity and the role of scarce information in competitive advantage and progress and (along with IP advocates) misunderstand the factors (especially avoidance of private cost of protection) that drove the development of IP.

Further, your case is not at all geared towards non-libertarians: the business/investor community globally is pushing ahead to strengthen IP, and domestic industry is unlikely to agree to abandon any defenses they may have against industrial spying, particularly by China.

TokyoTom August 18, 2010 at 6:31 pm
Russ Nelson December 15, 2010 at 8:48 am
blackberry servisi January 14, 2011 at 9:32 am

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