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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/4528/elaborations-on-randian-ip/

Elaborations on Randian IP

January 5, 2006 by

As I noted dudderday on Lew’s blog, an Objectivist blog claimed that “Greg Perkins has written a very powerful critique of the libertarian opposition to Intellectual Property rights for the February issue of Axiomatic. I don’t think it will shut the libertarians up, but it will put their arguments to rest.” Now Perkins writes me to inform me the article is out. But you must have a subscription to read it, so all I can see so far is the introduction–which seems to be a fair summary of my IP approach, before starting to predictably veer into the standard Randian line that one can’t really talk about IP rights without first laying out a whole theory of individual rights, similar to the Randian claim that libertarianism is unsupportable without the entire remainder of the corpus of Rand’s ideas, including the view that capes are cool and Beethoven is “evil,” apparently. Dunno if Perkins knows but I have actually tried to set forth a justification of rights, albeit, not in my article on IP. Anyway, for now, the rest of Perkins’s arguments, in almost Galambosian fashion (I kid, I kid!) remain hidden.

***

Update: Perkins’s Don’t Steal This Article! is now online.

{ 23 comments }

Peter January 5, 2006 at 9:50 pm

Isn’t it Mozart that’s evil, not Beethoven? Or is Beethoven evil too?

Roy W. Wright January 5, 2006 at 11:46 pm

…the Randian claim that libertarianism is unsupportable without the entire remainder of the corpus of Rand’s ideas, including the view that capes are cool and Beethoven is “evil,” apparently.

Hah! Randians are pretty kooky indeed; you’ll get no argument from me on that. The good thing is that you usually know right away when you’re dealing with one, because they’ll express Rand’s ideas in her own words — verbatim.

Roy W. Wright January 5, 2006 at 11:48 pm

(By the way, I’m just following along with the fun-poking. I quite respect and agree with the majority of Objectivist conclusions.)

R.P. McCosker January 6, 2006 at 3:50 am

Peter:

You are *so* confused.

Repeat after me: Mozart and Beethoven evil, Chopin and Rachmaninoff good.

Pete Canning January 6, 2006 at 6:59 am

Capes are cool.

Bruce January 6, 2006 at 7:47 am

While attending a Mises Institute conference a few years ago, I noticed that it was composed of many more ex Randians than Randians. It is not for nothing that this was the case. They draw you in with powerful arguments in favor of individual freedom and free markets, but then… well, let’s just say that at the end of the day, they’re just plain nutty. It’s quite a puzzling contradiction.

Larry N. Martin January 6, 2006 at 9:32 am

Bah! PDQ Bach is the best!
;-)

tz January 6, 2006 at 10:54 am

The problem is one of public goods. If you could only clear forests or drain swamps to create public parks, it woudn’t happen very often.

The scarcity is that of ideas – good authors, inventors, etc. and if they aren’t compensated for ideas, many won’t have incentive to write or invent.

There is no scarcity of an idea once it is out in public. Anyone can read the book or the invention specification.

Patents were originally designed to counter the Guild’s practice of keeping everything secret, since that would prevent network effects where we have everyone building on everyone else’s work. The exchange was a small, fixed number of years of monopoly, but after that it became public domain. Similarly with copyright. So inventors and authors could make a living off their ideas.

But with the current laws, all that is farce. It is corporatists seeking to create barriers to entry and restrict information and they now destroy the network effect, so even this has turned around to do exactly the opposite of what it was intended.

But note you have to state the problem correctly in that the scarcity exists in the number of creative or inventive minds and their ideas, and that there isn’t an easy way to pay them.

Perhaps an approach might be to think of house-boats – why don’t people live where they don’t need land, but are on what amounts to a commons?.

ns January 6, 2006 at 12:09 pm

Voodoo: If you make a doll, you can control anyone who looks like it.

IP: If you make a doll, you can control anyone whose doll looks like yours.

Roderick T. Long January 6, 2006 at 6:45 pm

> Repeat after me: Mozart and
> Beethoven evil, Chopin and
> Rachmaninoff good

How do high-church Randians deal with the Moonlight Sonata, which is by Beethoven but sounds like Chopin?

averros January 6, 2006 at 8:31 pm

tz wrote:

The scarcity is that of ideas – good authors, inventors, etc. and if they aren’t compensated for ideas, many won’t have incentive to write or invent.

This is a total hogwash. No one ever demonstrated that such scarcity exists or is deleterious. In fact, the most successful endeavor of the human race, the science, is impossible without free exchance of ideas.

What happens when government introduces artificial restrictions on propagation of ideas and their expressions in the form of “intellectual property” is that it merely shifts costs of protecting proprietary knowledge from owners to the rest of the society. The artificially lowered costs for producers mean that they can produce more – but the catch is that the supply of quality ideas, books, films, etc, is limited. So increased production is achieved by lowering the quality.

Thus, what happens is that average quality of information is lowered while quantity is up. You end up paying for the concept of “intellectual property” with your time spend on watching crap on TV, reading books which shouldn’t be written in the first place, listening to music made by people who can’t keep a tune or rhythm, etc, etc.

Ultimately, the amount of produced garbage overwhelms the useful and interesting content, making it next to impossible to find.

More raw information does not mean more usefulness. It merely means more noise. Remember that when you see the “progress” measured in number of books printed or patents granted.

Roy W. Wright January 6, 2006 at 11:43 pm

Good points, averros. I would add, as a real-world counterexample for tz, that researchers at academic institutions tend to do a great deal of authoring and inventing, much to their financial benefit, without generally resorting to intellectual “property” laws. They profit for the most part from the prestige that comes with having brought forth useful ideas.

Paul D January 7, 2006 at 4:00 am

“Voodoo: If you make a doll, you can control anyone who looks like it.
IP: If you make a doll, you can control anyone whose doll looks like yours.”

NS, that’s brilliant! :)

Michael A. Clem January 7, 2006 at 12:21 pm

I agree, good points, averros. Certainly, there’s a market for filtering out bad content, but it’s interesting to think that a market unhampered by IP restrictions would serve as a “pre-filter”.

David Christy January 8, 2006 at 2:33 pm

I originally wrote this as a submission, but I geuss it wasn’t good enough, so I decided to post it here instead.

Straight Talk About Copyrights

The theory that we’ve all been taught is that copyrights are “intellectual property” [1] rights that protect creators, and give them an incentive to make creative works that provide personal and public benefit. The truth is that property rights exist to allocate finite resources, not to artificially choke supply for the sake of incentive (or to reward labor). Rather than protection, or a free market property, copyrights are more like a regulation that micromanages how people can use information. In practice, they are dangerous to rely on and lock out more opportunity then they promote.

History has shown that just protection of property rights leads to strong incentives, but coercion of incentive does not necessarily lead to just property rights. Simply because an institution calls something a property right, doesn’t mean that it is. If, for example, an industry used the government to artificially restrict the natural supply of food and called shares of that monopoly a “property right”, it would be very easy to see how the artificial distortion of markets would not only cause opportunity loss, but harm to society. Copyrights are a way for some industries to use government to artificially restrict the natural supply of information and force the market to center around information control rather than service value. That causes opportunity loss, harm to society, and a burden of enforcement that is too heavy to bear in the information age.

Normally copyright concerns would not be so eminent as they have been effectively used for hundreds of years without failure. However, things are different this time and faith in the copyright system is rather dangerous. Just as the industrial revolution forced the commoditisation of the labor market and the ugly death of the plantation system. The information age is forcing the commoditisation of information and the ugly death of the copyright system. It is not a coincidence that the speculative stock market panic of 1857, regarding industrial technology is very similar to the speculative stock market crash in 2001 regarding information technology. It is not a coincidence that the slavery issue created a raging debate about artificial “property rights” as copyrights have today. It is not a coincidence the disproportional prosperity of the plantation system then and the disproportional prosperity of the copyright industries today (That is, unless one thinks hollywood is undervalued). Things like the harsh punishments for merely teaching a person of color to read, vs copyright crimes having punishments worse than rape today ( RIAA ). These are all symptoms of drastically changing markets and entrenched dying industries trying to prevent change. As for those industries that thought that the entire purpose and meaning of the industrial revolution was to leverage inventions like the cotton-gin to expand their plantations for unlimited growth and profit – they were deadly wrong in spite of all the money and intellect behind them. Those industries today whom believe that the entire purpose and meaning of the information age is to leverage inventions like the Internet to expand the influence of copyright controls for vast growth and profit are similarly disillusioned.

Over the next several years, the copyright system will not only be attacked, it will not likely survive. All industries that center on them will change or die a protracted death, and all institutions that rely on a proprietary information infrastructure will be stuck in the mud as they suffer numerous opportunity costs. The information age is doing for information services what the industrial revolution did for production. However, the copyright system doesn’t center around the supply and demand of service, but an artificial supply restrictions on information that services bring about. Over the coming years as information becomes commoditized and service value becomes more important than the content value, there will be trillions of dollars worth of pressure to kill the copyright system. In fact, it’s already starting. Publishers, newspapers, and advertisers are under siege from Google, Hollywood is under siege from p2p networks, and Microsoft is under siege from free and open source software like Linux. In fact, MS, AOL, and Yahoo were so blinded by content strategies that Google formed a multi billion dollar empire right under their nose. Linux and Apache seized a majority of the web server space with 1/1000th the backing that Microsoft had. This was not luck, but a fundamental market shift forcing change.

So in truth, copyrights are a false “incentive”; they are not “property”, but anti free market; they are not “protection”, but instead will bear heavy on organizations that use proprietary technology as lost opportunity costs. Organizations that rely on copyright revenue will find out how dangerous they are as copyrights die an ugly and protracted death. Copyrights are incompatible with information age paradigms, and there will be trillions of dollars worth of pressure to kill them. Even though many IT companies are isolated from harm because their revenue streams do not center around control over content distribution. Any company that wishes to be excel in the information age needs to treat the free to copy nature of information as a end game benefit and not a persistent threat.

[1] Copyrights should not be confused with trademarks, patents (also bad, but not discussed here), trade-secrets, and anti-plagiarism which have a different nature – other than perhaps software patnets which will die for similar reasons.

R.P. McCosker January 9, 2006 at 1:16 am

Roderick T. Long wrote:

“How do high-church Randians deal with the Moonlight Sonata, which is by Beethoven but sounds like Chopin?”

That’s easy. The Moonlight Sonata sounds like Chopin because Beethoven was — you guessed it — a *second-hander*!

R.P. McCosker January 9, 2006 at 2:06 am

David Christy:

I agree with you that the rise of increasingly effective and sophisticated ITs will eventually make most IP unenforceable by the State. However, it will almost certainly take many years — not what you call “several years” — for this to occur. 15 to 30 years is, I’d think, much more like it.

For all the grassroots kvetching about how IP mucks up the ever-burgeoning ITs, what matters most to the State is what interests are best organized to lobby and contribute financially (in essence bribe), and the biggest corporations are the ones who do that on a large scale.

What I think’ll eventually happen — we can only see hints now — is that the growth of IT will swamp the practical enforceability of IP. As the IP beneficiaries lose income, their ability to bribe will decline, and the political classes will have less motivation to work on behalf of the IP interests.

But all this will take a good deal of time. There’s simply far too much money being made by IP interests for them to sink into oblivion anytime soon.

tz January 9, 2006 at 2:13 pm

Maybe I should have said “good ideas” or maybe “good content”, but I guess I can’t assume anyone would confuse a shortage of interesting content with a shortage of content, no more than we should consider food not a scarce resource because of how much ends up in the garbage and landfills.

This makes it hard to respond to Averros’ comment. Yes, there is a lot of junk, but I doubt there would be less junk if it was all in the public domain. We don’t see a large section of PD books, recordings, etc. and they should drive out the IP protected content since it was cheaper and Averros is saying it would be superior (or at least you could select a portion which would be). I don’t see that.

He is write that 100 mediocre authors can’t combine to be one great one. The problem is that the 100 mediocre authors can probably write disposable content and make a living on it (consider soap-operas or sitcoms) but that won’t happen for the really good authors since the markets and channels and sometimes the media are different.

I would take Science as an example against his point of view. It was sponsored initially by the church, or now is done by corporations looking for patentable products and the R&D labs would specifically cease to exist if patents ended tomorrow. The remaining science would mostly be paid for by the government.

This does not mean I think such are good things, but to a large extent we’ve destroyed the 3rd dimension of society. We don’t have benevolant societies helping either people or the culture. Music and the arts, and even the sciences were and could be supported by volunteer organizations, but everyone seems to want it to be a corporatist v.s. statist argument.

So let me clarify – in my ideal world, there would be enough prosperity and legal framework to create institutions and organizations which were neither state nor corporation (they could be churches, which was one of the big sponsors in the past) to pay people to create for the public domain.

Corporations either want to become the new guild system, or provide the intellectual equivalent of “fast food” (I find some things on the discovery channel interesting, but they are more entertaining than informative).

Governments generally do the wrong thing – now they will pay to prove that abortion does or does not cause breast cancer, or global warming is or is not occuring depending on the political spin of those in power. I also wouldn’t bother calling the subsidized content produced “art”.

But that doesn’t mean that authors will write if they aren’t paid for writing, or that inventors will create things if they aren’t paid for the inventions – one way or another. Dismissing the problem doesn’t make it go away, nor is saying that the excess of bad or insipid content proves anything about quality content. Does the excess of wasted food prove the food is too high or too low quality – neither!

A second nightmare scenarios is close to the guild system – everyone has to sign a legally binding contract (DRM enforced) and put up bond before being allowed to view content, or inventions will simply be kept as trade secrets (with similar legal bondage) so won’t benefit more than one small set. Forget things like the IEEE or SAE or even the W3C. You’ll need a patented encrypted driver to even view this site whether you or mises.org wants to use it or not.

Don Galt January 9, 2006 at 6:29 pm

I’ve never seen anything in objectivism, that could allow an objectivist to say that behthovan is good or bad… other than if you personally enjoy beethovan (or any other composer) then such a composer is good because they provide value to your life.

I think there are many people who confuse Rands personal opinions, and her conclusions (sometimes wrong, non-objectivist conclusions) with objectivism.

One of the central tenants of objectivism is that you have to rely on your OWN judgement…. that you have to have your own values, and you should puruse them rationaly.

Thus, any “objectivist” who says that Rand’s opinions are part of objectivism, is denying objectivism.

I prefer the term “Randians” to delineate between people who follow rand’s opinions (such as the Ayn Rand Institutte) and objectivists– who follow the philosophy of Objectivism.

Objectivists can hold that producers of intellectual products have a right to profit from them, but are on very shaky ground, philosophically, when they argue for state (eg: coercive) enforcement or creation of these rights.

A moral right is undone when coercion is used, unless it is used narrowly (and the state is never narrow.)

David J. Heinrich May 4, 2006 at 9:30 am

Just thought I’d pop in here in defense of objectivists. Not all objectivists are nutty. If I’m not mistaken, Prof. Long said he had some strong objectivist influences. There’s also Stefan Molyneux, who is a great objectivist ancap. And of course, the LvMI’s tech-genius David Veksler.

David J. Heinrich May 4, 2006 at 9:36 am

Btw, as someone who thinks that Beethoven’s works are simply the most genius, brilliant, eternally-fresh, and beautiful pieces of music ever written, I think anyone who argues Beethoven’s music is evil is really just nuts. Clearly, if you don’t like Beethoven, you must be insane.

Stephan Kinsella May 4, 2006 at 2:04 pm

tz:

“But that doesn’t mean that authors will write if they aren’t paid for writing, or that inventors will create things if they aren’t paid for the inventions – one way or another.”

Really? how much were you paid to write your post? How much are authors paid for writing journal articles? Answer: ZIPPO.

How many useful things have been invented without there being a payment? TONS.

David May 4, 2006 at 7:21 pm

“Btw, as someone who thinks that Beethoven’s works are simply the most genius, brilliant, eternally-fresh, and beautiful pieces of music ever written, I think anyone who argues Beethoven’s music is evil is really just nuts. Clearly, if you don’t like Beethoven, you must be insane.”

For Ayn Rand on music see: Rand’s tolerance towards different artistic tastes

This is what Peikoff said about the “Beethoven Myth” on his radio show:

“If it were true that Ayn Rand kicked out of her circle or denounced or
would not tolerate anyone who disagreed with her on things like music and
painting, I’d like you to account for my continued existence as a close
friend of hers for over thirty years plus being designated as heir.

“I loved Beethoven. I have a vast Mozart collection of which she knew
perfectly well. I love Somerset Maugham whom she hated. [ ...]

“She knew in great detail of the conflicts — such conflicts or
disagreements as there were — and as long as you could specify what you
liked in terms that were understandable in reason (and that were not an
assault on reason, as I indicated to you before) there’s no such thing.
It’s a complete, total lie.”

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