1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar
Source link: http://archive.mises.org/8374/an-open-letter-to-leftist-opponents-of-intellectual-property-on-ip-and-the-support-of-the-state/

An Open Letter to Leftist Opponents of Intellectual Property: On IP and the Support of the State

August 4, 2008 by

We libertarian opponents of IP sometimes perplex IP advocates and leftists. There’s an analogy here to the way libertarians, and especially anarcho-libertarians, are treated by mainstreamers. The press does not know what to do with libertarians, for example. They typically use “libertarian” to denote civil-libertarian ACLU types; while libertarian thinkers and institutions are often described as “conservative.” And “anarchy” is usually associated with chaos, bomb-throwing, or leftist anarchists–rather than with anarcho-libertarianism, which is the only genuine form of anarchism. (See my What It Means To Be an Anarcho-Capitalist.)

There is a common assumption in society that “intellectual property” is a legitimate type of private property right. Thus socialists and leftists oppose IP because of their hostility to private property rights, capitalism, corporatism, and industrialism. Thus, many IP opponents are leftist, anti-capitalist types (for example, Richard Stallman and Eben Moglen are, IIRC, at least somewhat leftist [if I am mistaken in this, I stand corrected; in any event I would welcome email providing backup/correction, or examples of other leftist anti-IP arguments]). Likewise, many libertarians accept the fallacious notion that IP is a type of property, and thus support IP because they support property (and because many well-known libertarians, such as Ayn Rand, were strong advocates of IP).

Conversely, those who innately or independently oppose IP, are often classified as leftists, or even believe themselves to be leftists (I believe a similar phenomenon explains why the press tend to be left; they naturally tend to be pro-freedom of speech and freedom of press, but accept the mainstream dichotomy that if you are for personal liberties, you are against economic liberties, and vice-versa; they do not understand that economic and personal liberties are essential and complement each other).

The truth is that the only principled case against IP is the libertarian one, as I’ve argued in my Against Intellectual Property. The problem with IP is that it undermines and infringes on private property rights: it lets some person gain rights of control over the property already owned and acquired by others (for example, a patent or copyright gives the holder a veto right over certain uses others might put their own property (their bodies, paper, raw materials) to). To oppose IP is to uphold private property rights–libertarian rights. To oppose IP while also supporting socialism is a confusion.

And more than this. IP is not possible without legislation; legislation is not possible without the state. And conversely: with a state, you always get legislation; and legislation always leads to a proliferation of bad laws (see my Legislation and the Discovery of Law in a Free Society).

What this means is that not only is your case against IP weakened if you do not adopt libertarian principles and reasoning to undergird it. But if you support the state at all–if you are not an anarcho-libertarian–then you do not really oppose IP. If the state exists, it will legislate, and it will probably enact IP laws, along with plenty of other bad laws. So, if you support the state, you really can’t complain about IP laws. As Ludwig von Mises pointed out, “No socialist author ever gave a thought to the possibility that the abstract entity which he wants to vest with unlimited power—whether it is called humanity, society, nation, state, or government—could act in a way of which he himself disapproves.

IP opponents must not oppose only the “worst excesses” of IP. They must oppose all IP, root and branch, on principled, pro-private property, grounds; and more than this: they must oppose the state itself, and legislation as a means of making law.

So shape up, non-libertarian IP opponents. If you want to make a real case against IP, you must ground it in sound political principles. For some suggested reading, see:


Dave August 16, 2010 at 2:00 am

Hi Stranger,

> It makes absolutely no sense to make an argument against IP
> based on anarcho-capitalism.


> Under anarcho-capitalism, the
> protection or not of a right is based on its economic value.

I’m not sure we agree on the definition of “anarcho-capitalist,” but
I’ll assume we do until you prove me wrong.

> Consider the enormous capital industries built around producing
> media and software. Consider that they would all be ruined if
> their property rights were eliminated. Consider that they have a
> full incentive to completely cooperate with each other in the
> protection of these rights.

Yes, they may very well want to create contracts duplicating these
“rights.” However, nobody’s forcing consumers to take their media and
software contracts, so if the enormous industries you describe don’t
adjust to the new legal climate, they obviously won’t stay enormous
for long.

> Now consider what kind of people would benefit from the
> abolition of IP: open-source communists like Richard Stallman.

I think he prefers to be called a “free software” communist.

> Weigh the value earned by property protection agencies in return
> for protecting the IP of the enormous media industry,

Well, again, consumers wouldn’t buy into your vision in sufficient
quantities to feed those industries with the same influx of capital
(what makes them enormous) that feeds them in our current (unfair)
legal framework. I don’t see your argument.

> against
> the value earned from protecting Richard Stallman’s copyright
> violations.

Okay, I’ll bite: Please find me an example of Richard Stallman’s
copyright violations. If you’re talking about copyleft, it’s no copyright
violation, but simply a license that a copyright holder can use for his
copyrighted works. If you’re talking about the body of work licensed
under his copyleft, I’d like to reexamine a slightly paraphrased version
of your quote:

> Weigh the value earned by media conglomerates against the value
> earned from protecting the integrity of the free software movement,
> which powers a huge percentage of the world’s economy, makes sure that
> Internet Explorer can’t afford to stagnate for too long, is responsible
> for the only truly open standard for office-type documents, and provides
> companies and governments protection against the NSA keys discovered a
> decade ago in Windows.

Given _this_ choice, it’s easy to quantify the latter as the greater
contribution to mankind, and without state protection of copyright,
as the greater monetary value.

> Equation simple: anarcho-capitalist protection agencies will
> crush all attempts to violate copyright.

It’s hard to “crush” attempts to ignore your copyright contract by those
who haven’t signed it in an anarcho-capitalist society, so your assertion
seems to have no basis.

> There is simply no money in violating it.

On the contrary, Richard Stallman and his free software commies seem
to have kicked off a huge industry in this country. Just look at
the number of people employed in some capacity or another with free
software: everywhere from Pixar to IBM, Sun Microsystems to Six Apart.
(Even Microsoft now produces software under what Mr. Stallman himself
considers two separate free software licenses.) To be perfectly honest,
I find it quite laughable that even in the unnatural legal framework that
we currently have (which, as you noted, created the enormous goliaths
like Microsoft, who themselves got their start ripping free software,
mind you), Richard Stallman and his free software commies seem to be
stealing market share from Microsoft everywhere. Try to imagine how much
better they’d do if they didn’t have to waste resources funding the police
force that prevents Microsoft from having to compete in a free market.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: