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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/13914/the-road-to-intellectual-serfdom/

The Road To (Intellectual) Serfdom

September 16, 2010 by

Superb anti-intellectual property article by Antiwar.com Research Editor Jason Ditz, The Road To (Intellectual) Serfdom, in Forbes. Ditz notes Russia’s use of copyright violation as a pretense to silence political opposition, and also criticizes Republican Orrin Hatch’s efforts to expand and strengthen IP law over the years. As Ditz writes:

… there seems little doubt that, as our lives become more and more dependent on digital media, empowering governments to arbitrarily crack down on “copyright violators” or other suspects in the name of international obligations to protect intellectual property must inevitably have a chilling effect on freedom of speech, freedom of movement and just general freedom.

One can hope that their government won’t abuse the authority given to it, but this is a fool’s palliative. Governments everywhere and always abuse their powers, and unless this intellectual property regime undergoes a massive rethink (or preferably outright abrogation) it seems destined to become the basis of untold abuses to come.

I list other examples of how IP law leads to censorship, book banning, or actual limitations on bodily freedom (such as the right to sing a song or take a job) in The Patent, Copyright, Trademark, and Trade Secret Horror Files.


Kerem Tibuk September 16, 2010 at 12:56 pm

You forgot to mention the fact that Microsoft provided the NGO’s the licenses and condemned the action of the State of Russia.

This means this is not a property issue at all since the property owner has no problem with the targeted NGO’s

But you were after building a straw man weren’t you


Jason Ditz September 16, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Actually I did mention that Microsoft gave a blanket license to the opposition groups in the full article at Forbes. But like I say, if a government wants to use software piracy as an excuse they can just change Microsoft to Adobe in the complaint and say they’re looking for pirated Photoshop. Or it could be Oracle or Corel or a million other companies.

Silas Barta September 17, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Jason_DItz: Physical property rights can be used to silence opposition to — the government can deny protesters’ right to assembly on grounds that it owns the streets.

Yeah, I didn’t think the obvious application of your argument in another context would change your mind, but I figured I’d give it a go anyway.

Stephan Kinsella September 17, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Silas, you are obviously not a libertarian–what kind of statist do you self-describe yourself as?

Jason Ditz September 18, 2010 at 11:48 pm

We could point out here that governments don’t really own the streets, but for the sake of argument:

There are some key differences between the government closing the streets to public protest and the government seizing an organization’s computers by claiming suspicion of IP violations. Two stand out:

1. Banning public protests is clearly about silencing dissent, IP laws are not.

2. Organizations can circumvent the public protest law by staying off the street. Possession of a computer is being used in this case to argue suspicion of a crime, and even though some of the organizations in question submitted to the asinine process of letting Microsoft”audit” all their computers the raids still happened.

Now we can credit Microsoft for trying to remedy the problem by offering blanket licenses to the opposition groups, but as I say this only means the government has to move on to the next big software company.

Plus Microsoft still can’t claim real innocence in this because what is being done here is pretty much exactly what the big IP monopolists like Microsoft and Disney have been lobbying for forever, more government power to raid on the basis of little to no evidence. That governments are abusing that power (for a reason other than enriching the monopolists) somewhat ameliorates it, but how much? Giving a government more power is like giving a chimp a pistol. Sure, its not 100% your fault when something bad comes of it, but it was still pretty predictable.

We can interpret this whole article as not a 100% foolproof argument against IP, only against its current government enforcement style, but that too misses some of the point. Physical property can’t have been “stolen” unless it is missing, whereas companies like Microsoft and Disney feel forever aggrieved and violated even though their monopolies remain intact.

Darcy September 16, 2010 at 5:27 pm

They could also use that power on any pretext of property violation. For example, if you give people the right to smoke on your property, they can still come after smokers.

Intellectual property, a natural expression of human action, has nothing to do with it in particular.

Dave Narby September 16, 2010 at 10:48 pm

If IP is eliminated, how is innovation rewarded?

Daniel September 17, 2010 at 2:26 am


how was it rewarded “before IP”?

I think a “crux” in this issue is the fact that, even if I did believe in intellectual “property”, I wouldn’t agree with its “enforcement” since it would necessarily entail violating someone else’s property rights.

Matthew Swaringen September 17, 2010 at 5:03 pm

By people who know you’ll come out with good new ideas in the future and that they will be the first to market with those products if they hire you instead of someone else.

Or if you are the owner of a business, you’ll be the first to market products based on your ideas.

No one under that system would be forcing you to release the designs/code/etc. to your products (that would be just as unlibertarian as forcing other people not to copy).

Sure, people would have an incentive to reverse engineer, but you’d succeed or fail compared to them by your ability to continually bring new products to market, and your ability to market them effectively.

This is no different from anyone else in the labor market. If I want to be a carpenter how do I get “incentive” (more money) for doing that over others? I have to be a better carpenter.

If cheap imitations always make more I’d like an explanation for iPods or Bayer Aspirin or a myriad of other things that you can get cheaper but many people choose not to. In a free market, I have every reason to believe we’d see more of this as people would have more of their own money to spend and not redistributed towards those the government desires it to go to.

newson September 17, 2010 at 10:09 pm

“If IP is eliminated, how is innovation rewarded?”

ask the entrepreneur.

David Koepsell September 18, 2010 at 4:55 am

@Mr. Narby:

Why would anyone think that innovation deserves to be rewarded? The market rewards products and services according to the desires and values of the consumer, not according to some sense of desert for being clever. Lots of great, “innovative” things fail (witness, e.g., Dean Kamen [a staunchly pro-IP inventor] and his Segway. People are not buying it, and his monopolistic pricing probably isn’t helping to drive market demand). IP is supposed to encourage innovation, but it will never create market demand where there is none just by creating artificial scarcity. This is why most (between 95 and 98 percent) patented inventions never make any money at all, but meanwhile the patent system is a huge drain of resources whose usefulness or necessity in encouraging innovation has yet to be proven.

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