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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/17499/no-such-thing-as-originality/

No such thing as originality

June 30, 2011 by

This is a wonderful video that tells truths you may or not have heard. It speaks to the core of the learning inherent to the market process. I don’t need to add the implications: IP is based on a complete myth.


Windows Hater June 30, 2011 at 8:20 pm

I understand that property can only relate to situations where a product or service cannot be divided into two or more similar products and services of the same quantity and same quality.

You could not divide a land into halves of identical surface area. You could not divide a gallon of gas into two gallons of gas. You could not divide your car into two cars, let alone two identical cars.

Property arises in situation where the usage of a product or service by one person forcibly excludes all other people from using said product or service. If the owner gives or transfers his property to another person, then he can no longer use it.

Ideas are freely reproducible, copied and distributed without altering their quantity nor quality. You can copy a song a million times and give it to a million people and each of them can enjoy it, even the original owner of the file. In that case it’s not property because the usage of said file by one person cannot preclude others from using it.

However, what’s your take on trade marks, brand names ?

Would you allow a entrepreneur to set up a restaurant and call it McDonald’s and use the same interior decoration, logos, uniforms, recipes and business model even though he is not affiliated to McDonald’s and even though he did not pay for the franchise ?

Even worse, let’s say he is building his “fake” McDonald’s restaurant right in front of the first one ?

What if he builds a second one right next to it ? And a third etc.

After all, his restaurant is his property, it is not the property of McDonald’s, so he may alter his restaurant and shape it to look and feel exactly like a genuine McDonald’s.

What are you going to say about that ?

Matthew Swaringen June 30, 2011 at 9:41 pm

How is the entrepreneur using aggression? If anyone is a victim it would be a consumer who didn’t get what he paid for, and he could sue for fraud. But there is no right to any market.

Shay July 1, 2011 at 3:45 am

If this duplicate of McDonald’s provides exactly the same food and quality, then what’s the problem? If not, then such a business wouldn’t last long in the market, as it would be actively trying to deceive buyers. They would start checking McDonald’s official website to see whether a location is listed, and shaming the frauds publicly.

Windows Hater July 1, 2011 at 5:02 pm

“If this duplicate of McDonald’s provides exactly the same food and quality, then what’s the problem?”

The problem is that, in this case, a company cannot build a franchise, a brand name and expand using the same name and same image if everybody can spoof it.

Microsoft once sued a guy named Mike Rowe because he had setup a website entitled MikeRoweSoft to promote his web authoring business.

Companies are very sensitive about brands and trademarks because that’s what they rely upon to build their reputation and business. How could they do that if everybody is using the same name ?

I understand that spoofers are not using aggression against the original company, but how can the original company protect it’s brand name and image if it cannot use aggression to stop spoofers.

Anarcho-libertarian July 1, 2011 at 11:54 am

If you took the time to write all of that, why didn’t you first take the time to type in “trademark” in the Mises.org search bar? The first result answers your question.

Windows Hater July 1, 2011 at 5:06 pm

“The first result answers your question.”

The first one ? Really ?

Trademark and Goats-on-the-Roof Bans – Mises Economics Blog
Sep 17, 2010 … Here’s a good case of the pernicious, insidious effects of IP on business. As noted in What’s Up On the Roof? Goats!

Or, could it be the second one instead ?

Trademark and Fraud – Mises Economics Blog
Nov 7, 2007 … An edited excerpt from my comment in an email discussion: It seems to me that the primary justification for trademark rights is based on the ..

It seems to me that you should take the time to shut up instead of trying to make yourself important by insulting others. But thanks for the info nonetheless, I will read the second result.

Nuke Gray June 30, 2011 at 9:31 pm

If there is no such thing as originality, then why do you want credit as the ‘originator’ of this article? Why isn’t it credited to ‘All those anonymous people who said this before me’?

Matthew Swaringen June 30, 2011 at 9:37 pm

I don’t think Jeffrey claims that his views are original.

Wildberry June 30, 2011 at 10:31 pm


Shay July 1, 2011 at 3:47 am

As a reader of articles, I like to see the author so I can get an idea of the general style and approach the article will take. It’s useful information when I’m scanning a list of potential articles to read, choosing which few I will actually read.

Mitch Kordonowy July 1, 2011 at 4:52 am

A point was brought up here, but an unintended point:
Ideas(even authorship) are not original…as stated in the video.
Has not anyone ever said to themselves “Well nothing is original in a sense”. Well, the sense one would be speaking of, is the sense a Libertarian is aiming at: the objective sense.
Am I wrong Jefferey?

Windows Hater July 1, 2011 at 5:16 pm

I think this debate is ridiculous. You inspire your ideas by copying previous ideas and modifying them and making variations. If you are not the author of the original idea, you are the author of the variations of the original idea. There is no shame at recognizing that originality exists in the form of modification and variation.

But really, I wonder who Thomas Edison copied when he invented the phonograph. Had there been a mechanical sound recording machine before that ?

Who did Charles Babbage copy when he invented his mechanical calculating machine ? Were there calculating machines before that ? Did he inspired himself from the clocks ?

Anyways, he was the original inventor of his calculating machine, the variation and modification at least.

Mitch Kordonowy July 2, 2011 at 3:35 am

I wonder if you are confusing semantics here. Define for me, Windows Hater, an idea that is absolute in originality.
I will address the situation for Thomas Edison.
There had been a mechanical sound recording machine before that.
It was called the phonautograph:
It was invented when Thomas Alva Edison was 10 years old.
Thomas Edison invented the first device to record AND playback sound.
This made Edison “original” in this aspect, but not the aspect of recording sound.
The point that needs to be said, I guess, is that no IDEA is original in conception. How does one just randomly MAKE an idea based upon NOTHING. Why is it nothing? It is nothing because if it were made upon something else, anything else, it would not be “original” because it is derivative of the materials that made it up. Can you not see it from that view? You don’t have to except it as your own view, but can you not see this view? Or do you say, what is the point?

mushindo July 5, 2011 at 3:14 am

for the record, Charles Babbage did not invent the calculating machine . He adapted the concept slightly from Jacquard’s loom, a punch-card driven, automatic textile pattern weaving machine invented in the 18th century, and in wide industrial use in Babbage’s day.

Windows Hater July 1, 2011 at 5:18 pm

I really don’t get the point of this anti originality stance.

If you can prove that there is no such thing as absolute originality, that everything are variations and modified copies, then this doesn’t prove that one cannot be the original inventor and designer of the said modification and variations and it doesn’t prove that the inventor did not use originality to make that variation.

Dyson did not invent the vacuum cleaner, but he is the originator of the vortex vacuum cleaner variation, that is originality.

nate-m July 1, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Dyson did not invent the vacuum cleaner, but he is the originator of the vortex vacuum cleaner variation, that is originality.


The vortex-style air cleaner is very common device on agricultural, industrial, and vehicles that have to work in high dust environments (such as a desert). if you had to depend purely on just a paper or cloth air filter then it would either be very massive or very restrictive if you wanted to be able to operate your engine for any length of time before it got clogged completely up. So what they do is design the intake so that the air swirls around very quickly in a tornado-like fashion so that pure centrifugal force removes the majority of dust out of the air.

Basically this is some technology that was developed at the dawn of the industrial revolution.


Oh and Google really does kick ass:


May 2, 1947 – Sir James Dyson, born May 2 1947, at North Norfolk, is an inventor and a British industrial designer, president and founder of Dyson. He became famous for his vacuum cleaners cyclonic separation, no bag and no loss of suction. He also invented a system for washing machines more efficient, a wheelbarrow, which does not sink into the mud, a pitcher of boats floating … His latest innovations are the hand dryer in 10 seconds with cold air, and fan without propellers.

1955 – Cyclonic Filtration Technology – CFT The first manufacturer to offer true cyclonic central vacuums for residential cleaning, Vacuflo began production in 1955. While many manufacturers claim “cyclonic action” in the filtration system of their vacuum, The Royal CS from Vacuflo adheres to the true principals of Cyclonic Separation. As defined in the Dictionary of Physics, Cyclonic Separation requires three criteria to be met: High-speed rotating airflow, a conical … Show less

So Vacuflo was producing ‘cyclonic action’ vacuums in 1955 when “Sir James Dyson” was 8 years old! If we can believe it the article (which is from CFT’s website)

Although the ‘Vacuflo’ system is a centrally installed residential vacuum cleaner were you carry just the tube and suction end around from room to room and plug it into the wall while the Dyson device you have to lug the entire vacuum around with you.

Dyson’s ‘innovations’ have more to do with good marketing then actual inventiveness. Of course he is still a smart guy and deserves a lot of credit.

nate-m July 1, 2011 at 6:15 am

Why isn’t it credited to ‘All those anonymous people who said this before me’?

Because to any intelligent person this fact is so blindingly obvious that it goes without saying.

It’s the point behind the entire video in the first place!

Windows Hater July 1, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Not to mention that if it wasn’t for government tyranny, Jeffrey Tucker might not be an activist libertarian writer and therefore, the government also inspired this article.

capital gold July 1, 2011 at 5:30 am

nice informative post, thanks for sharing.
very very interesting.

nate-m July 1, 2011 at 5:52 am

Copying is Creation

Knowledge is Sharing

Freedom is Progress

Shay July 3, 2011 at 12:38 am

Please please give us readers a simple way to report spam postings. I’ve seen several in the past day but have no way of stamping it out. (sorry, this was supposed to be in reply to the previous posting, no idea why it attached to this one)

nate-m July 1, 2011 at 6:14 am

Creativity is what we call the result of:
Wanting to do something, but finding out you can’t.. and then you decide to do it anyways.

A creative person will use whatever means there is at their disposal to get to their goals in what they deem the most effective manner possible. More often or not this can involve copying much more then it does creating. It’s all about finding a way to overcome unique problems. Fine art, performance art, engineering, programming, writing, etc. They are all fundamentally the same disciplines at their core. What we commonly assume as differences are more artificial then people realize.

Mitch Kordonowy July 1, 2011 at 7:48 am

Is there a case for Mozart?


Would we posit his attitude towards authority was in a libertarian sense(as possibly noted) or that he was “victim of time”(too possibly noted). I am curious of this.
In brevity I would have the arrogance of Mozart to creating music, my talent shall show me through, however I am also finding myself libertarian and anti-IP is very compelling.

Mitch Kordonowy July 1, 2011 at 7:55 am


Mitch Kordonowy July 1, 2011 at 8:24 am

Should I just say, isn’t the RIAA a racket?

Windows Hater July 1, 2011 at 5:21 pm

It was easier to justify the RIAA when music needed a physical media and when it was out of reach of most citizens to record on said physical media.

nate-m July 1, 2011 at 9:13 am

Would we posit his attitude towards authority was in a libertarian sense(as possibly noted) or that he was “victim of time”(too possibly noted). I am curious of this.

Well that article was, at best, misleading.

It’s still true to this day.. being a ‘true artist’ is extremely difficult and very very rarely financially rewarding.

If you want to make money then you do it the same way you do it today if your any fine artist: you find a rich guy to support you. Fine art for non-artists is a luxury item and if they have enough money then they can afford to pay artists to create art on demand. This can be exceedingly profitable for artists if they want to pursue this route, but it has a lot of compromises. You have to create art tailored to other people’s tastes instead of your own.

If you examine the amount of money that music artists receive from royalties you’d find that the vast majority of them make extremely little money.

Unless you are able to hire lawyers and negotiate contracts then the RIAA-type companies will give you boiler plate contracts that are designed to look good, but end up swindling artists. The vast majority of music artists, even if they have top 10 hits and go multi-platinum, would make more money working as a manager for a 7-11 then they ever will get from royalties.

All this is well documented and you can find details on how royalties really work. Music artists make money from performances as a general rule, not album sales.

RIAA-style lobying efforts are designed to protect the profits of publishers and distributors, not artists.

Mitch Kordonowy July 1, 2011 at 3:32 pm

I think essentially for all points you are correct, I guess I am more interested on this idea I have:
What if the artist is both the publisher [writes and plays own music] and the distributor[puts music on iTunes]? Who is suffering? Would these IP laws then being not protecting said situation(situation I am in currently)? Certainly I am not suffering from iTunes taking their small percentage for providing a worldwide distribution service. I might add getting your music on Itunes didn’t used to be so easy, but it is now.

nate-m July 1, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Publishers and distributors will have a legit function in promoting artists. Specialization is important in a economy and these sorts of jobs won’t go away. As I understand it, and I am far from a expert, the original purpose of record sales was simply promotional. Singles were popular and giving away recordings was seen as a way to drive sales of shows and other things.

Keep in mind that for music on the radio no royalties are paid to the artists or publishers. In fact radio stations actually being paid to play music was seen as such a problem that paying radio stations to promote certain artists is technically illegal. (not that they have not found ways around it)

Internet radio started off in a similar vein, grew to quick popularity on the internet, but was quickly crippled by changes in laws so that the traditional radio stations could compete.


If it wasn’t for these oppression on competition the whole thing would be mute. We would all have unlimited streaming music. It would be free just as it has been for hundreds of years, up until companies had the government twist everything to suit CD music sales. Eventually that will go back to that model of music radios over the internet. The (the buggy whip manufacturers (aka RIAA) and their cronies in government) have retarded progress and innovation, but they cannot prevent it. Maybe set it back by a couple generations at most.

What people are going to realize is that there is a FUCKING HUGE amount of music out there. There is so much music being produced out there that it would take a life time to listen to one single month of production. And the vast majority of it, to put it bluntly, is shit.

There is so much a glut of music out there that people will pay to have it filtered for it them rather then paying to have unlimited access. They will pay to have clean databases of music that is tailored to their interests and their tastes and have professionals introduce and manage it for them. They will have subscription services not because of copyrights, but because they want to spend their time listening to music and not managing music databases and purging collections of trash.

Don’t believe me? Amazon customers are running into just this very issue now…

According to one industry expert, for example, nearly 2.8 million non-traditional books, including ebooks, were published in the United States in 2010, while just more than 316,000 traditional books came out. That compares with 1.33 million ebooks and 302,000 printed books in 2009.

So what I am saying is that in the near future it’s going to be far less of a problem trying to prevent people from ‘stealing’ your music and violating your copyrights. It’s going to be a far far higher priority just to get your music known in the first place.

You would WISH people violate your copyrights. That would save you a lot of effort and prove that your at least worth the minimal effort it takes to Google your name!

And that is something you will have to pay the publishers to do for you if your unwilling to do it yourself. As far as making money… you will just have to be forced to do what every other person does: You work for a living. Anybody else that puts 40-80 hours a week into working doesn’t expect that after 2 years of doing that then they can sit back and soak up the royalties of their labor for the rest of their life.

That is you go out and perform and hope and pray that people actually want to listen to it. As any music lover knows: There is NO comparison to a recording versus a live show. I don’t give a crap how expensive your speakers are, nothing is nearly as ‘hi-fi’ as being there to watch your favorite artists work their instruments and interact with the crowd. Especially one that is professional and is produced by people that actually care about their audiences.

Mitch Kordonowy July 2, 2011 at 3:14 am

You sir have satisfied my questions more than I could have asked for!
Supply has surely over burdened demand in regard to you saying a lot music is rubbish(I agree).
Thank you very much Nate!

mushindo July 5, 2011 at 3:23 am

Mozart had no-one else but himself to blame. He was well paid for his works by the standards of the day, and that could easily have been suffiicent to have had a comfortable life had he husbanded his resources prudently. But he was fantastically spendthrift and consistently spent faster than he earned.

btw, he was more of a libertine than a libertarian in my view – although some would have it that the former is a subset of the latter.

Shay July 2, 2011 at 12:05 am

It’s great that most ideas aren’t original. It means I can come up with a nifty idea about how to solve a problem of mine, then realize that someone’s probably already come up with it and made a product, and figure out what I need to search for on the web to find it and not have to spend time making it myself. Quite convenient.

Matthew Swaringen July 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm

This is a good point. Lots of people have ideas for things they would like to see, but aren’t interested in making the time/money into making them reality. And this is understandable, they have their own job/etc. and the opportunity cost of doing so is high. However, the people who actually invest the time/money are considered special beyond their development and production of something useful, they are practically deified in the words of some who defend IP as “creators” as though what they do is impossible for all but the rare geniuses.

It never occurs to such people that there are people freely modifying how they do work in ways that are innovative all the time. They are almost certainly not original, but many people find “tricks” to speed up their productivity which are encouraged in order to be competitive with others.

Inventors and entrepreneurs are extremely important people, but they ultimately need people to do the work of production and so we can’t all do that. Once you start giving rights that prevent the rise of competition it’s gone beyond a useful respect to making them into elites.

Wildberry July 3, 2011 at 11:05 pm

@Matthew Swaringen July 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Here is my question: if what you and Shay are saying is true, that there is this innovation going on all the time, and the world in which that this happening includes IP, how is this innovation an argument AGAINST IP?

IP, for all that it is criticized for, doesn’t seem to be preventing this from happening. How can this be?

Stephan Kinsella July 4, 2011 at 12:50 am

Hey, even though we have war and taxes, life is pretty good. How can this be?

Daniel July 4, 2011 at 3:47 am

I know! We should have more war and taxes! \o/

Wildberry July 4, 2011 at 9:33 am

Good point!

I guess you are right; it is important to pay attention to cause and effect, and to make distinctions between one thing and another. Otherwise, you end up with rediculous statements like this:

“We have IP because we have the State”.

RCnottheCola July 1, 2011 at 11:56 am

Excellent video! I need to find a way to get to the Cusp Conference as I live in Chicago. $1500 for entry is rough right now though.

Brian Macker July 1, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Excellent video. It’s good to know that the Native Americans had the technology to produce the automobile but just refrained from “remixing” their resources to produce one. Nothing the white man has done since is original, only a debasement of nature.

pravin July 2, 2011 at 7:19 am

well,not sure about the native americans,but the actual ‘indians’ did come up with the number system and zero and all that useless stuff.the whiteman had no problems assimilating it

Brian Macker July 4, 2011 at 12:33 pm

The point was that the premise of this article is that no one originates anything. Which has to mean that all those innovative technologies were already available to primitive cultures. It was a heavy dose of sarcasm for such a stupid idea. They do not understand the word originate.

The point of the comment wasn’t to elevate the white man. It was to show how stupid it is to claim there is no such thing as origination, only remixing.

Stephan Kinsella July 4, 2011 at 11:46 pm

The point is all innovation is derivative. It all borrows on earlier innovation. A new innovation could not exist if the innovator could not use earlier ideas. So the idea that he ought to have a monopoly on his own incremental improvement is obscene.

Wildberry July 5, 2011 at 1:06 am

But not all derivitives are innovations. Often they are merely a form of copying. So the question remains one of distinguishing what is a violation of someone’s rights and what is not.

Peter Surda July 5, 2011 at 3:16 am


But not all derivitives are innovations. Often they are merely a form of copying.

More smoke and mirrors.

So the question remains one of distinguishing what is a violation of someone’s rights and what is not.

And this is exactly what IP proponents fail to provide. I suspect that you will now revert back to your old trick of saying that the laws explain it. But that misses the point of the problem. The point is that according to IP proponents “innovation” is supposed to have unique economic properties. So how do the law makers determine which types of action do have unique economic properties and which not?

Stephan Kinsella July 2, 2011 at 11:39 am

See also Nina Paley’s minute meme All Creative Work is Derivative.

Walt D. July 3, 2011 at 11:25 am

You might also like James Burke’s BBC series “Connections”. He presents good examples as to the ideas that went into various inventions.

Brian Macker July 4, 2011 at 12:34 pm

A big so what. All productive work is derivative in the same sense.

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