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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/9486/whats-wrong-with-theft/

What’s Wrong with Theft?

February 22, 2009 by

As I noted in Copypats, many non-specialists and proponents of IP erroneously believe that copying is an element of patent infringement–they conceive of the typical patent infringer as some bad guy who knocked off, or “stole,” the patentee-inventor’s idea. They are usually unaware that proving copying is neither necessary nor sufficient to prove patent infringement. It’s not necessary because even an independent inventor can be guilty of patent infringement. It’s not sufficient because the patent may be invalid, or the copier may make changes to “design around” the patented invention (which is encouraged by patent policy–that’s one reason the patent is published).

But it is common to charge the patent infringer, especially the idea copier, with theft–he stole the idea, it is said. But if we think about standard cases of theft that we all agree are criticizeable, what is it about them that we object to? Is it that the thief now has a bicycle? Or is it that the owner now doesn’t have his bicycle?

Of course it is the latter. If you have a bike, or car, or log cabin, or corn crop, and I could gaze at it from afar, blink my eyes, and conjur up a similar bike, car, cabin, or crop for myself, I do not steal your things. But if I take your bike or car from you, or oust you from home and farm, you no longer have the things you formerly possessed and owned. That is the damage done to you by theft. This corresponds nicely to the very nature and function of property rights: the need for them arises when people need to use scarce resources as means to act in the world, and appropriate unowned ones. The scarce nature of these things is such that use by one person excludes that by another; the goods are rivalrous. (More on this in How We Come to Own Ourselves; Defending Argumentation Ethics; Owning Thoughts and Labor.)

But copying or emulating someone else’s idea is not “taking” it from them; it is not theft. The originator of a given pattern still has his idea, and is free to use it in guiding his action and using or transforming his own property. This is why all arguments in favor of IP (and reputation rights) ultimately end up falling prey to the notion that there are property rights in the value of property, rather than in its physical integrity. But this view is fallacious, as shown by Hoppe and others.

{ 83 comments }

anon February 23, 2009 at 12:12 am

“But copying or emulating someone else’s idea is not “taking” it from them; it is not theft. The originator of a given pattern still has his idea, and is free to use it in guiding his action and using or transforming his own property.”

You are correct in saying that the originator of the idea is still in possession of it – only that someone else has access to it as well (without permission).

This raises all sorts of interesting questions – e.g. is this ethical to begin with? Essay plagiarism in high school is frowned upon – even both students now have the same ‘essay’. It is true that students learn through ‘emulation’ and thus ‘copying’ to a certain extent – but to pass off a verbatim copy of an essay as one’s own work is wrong, regardless of from which end of the telescope you’re staring at.

It is also not true that the originator of the idea – although still in possession of the ‘idea’ himself – is not harmed through copycat activities. If Mr Copycat is a rich capitalist (maybe a state-connected one), with a huge chest of capital – he would be able to exploit the ideas he copycatted better and quicker. Mr Original’s chances of making it ‘big’ with his idea diminishes over time.

anon February 23, 2009 at 12:24 am

Another point which I’d like to make is that consumers would not necessarily reward Mr Original and punish My Copycat. Consumers are greedy humans – most of them would only care about getting value for their buck; they don’t care as to who came up with the idea first, nor the ethical dispute between Mr Original and Mr Copycat.

Plagiarism/copycatting/stealing-of-ideas occurs at all levels, in all manner of corporations and institutions (human being human after all). From an ethics point of view it is wrong – although I agree that just because there’s a problem, doesn’t mean that it can be – or should be – solved via ‘legislation’ / ‘regulation’.

This also makes you wonder as to where’s the fine line between ‘copycatting’ and ‘innovation’.

anon February 23, 2009 at 12:29 am

btw what do people make of the pirated goods which China churns out? They are awesome at what they do (ranging from Kipling bags, sculptures to oil paintings – even Disneyland!) – you can practically get any pirated product in China! Virtually indistinguishable from the original product – in fact, so good that they sometimes leave a few deliberate ‘errors’.

Gil February 23, 2009 at 1:23 am

I believe, anon, the ‘heriocs’ of Capitalism is the ability to mass produce and mass deliver products to the masses not inventing a product per se. Hence Mr O is a bonehead if he could create the cure for cancer and not know how to sell it to the masses and rid the world of cancer and he leaves the vial on a shelf and forgets about it. If Mr C finds Mr O’s formula and takes it back to his medicine factory and churns out the cancer cure day and night and supplies the whole world then Mr C gets the billions and kudos whilst Mr O get jack.

ktibuk February 23, 2009 at 2:14 am

“But if we think about standard cases of theft that we all agree are criticizeable, what is it about them that we object to? Is it that the thief now has a bicycle? Or is it that the owner now doesn’t have his bicycle?”

Neither.

This is your problem Stephan.

Since you don’t have coherent property/homesteading theory and you just repeat some memorized lines from Rothbard, you can not see that “theft”, “burglary”, “assault”, “fraud”, “trespass”, “homicide”, “rape” are different and specialized sub concepts for “aggression”. And when it comes to ethics “aggression” is what matters, not some specialized legal term.

So it doesn’t matter if the aggressor has now a bike, or the victim is devoid of the bike. That is not the question.

What matters is if there was an aggression against a property owner or not. And aggression is not about the bike, or some tangible or intangible object but the the owner and his consent.

But why? Why cant we just look at property rights as a set of rules that aim to solve conflict and better society? Why can’t we focus on the object instead of (the whims of the) property owner?

In the case of IP the owner clearly doesn’t lose anything.

Because if one does, the logical conclusion is socialism.

Bill Gates has 60 billion dollars and lets say he has it in cash.

Stephan takes 1000 dollars from Gates without his consent.

According to Kinsella’s theory this wouldn’t be aggression.

What did Gates lose? Nothing that matters. (Why focus on the nominal number assigned to his wealth in money terms? Because of the change in purchasing power, his wealth would fluctuate constantly by itself.)

Since there is no way that Gates can consume all his wealth, there is no natural conflict between him and Kinsella. If there is actually a conflict, it arises from just Gates’ whims, and not actual natural scarcity. This means Gates would have no property rights over “his?” wealth that exceeds his need.

If you follow Stephans theory to the logical conclusion, people can only have a right to protect property in what they can consume and if they are trying to protect those excess wealth they are actually creating a conflict not based on natural scarcity but mere whims.

If there is enough for everyone why not share it?

Wasn’t this your point regarding IP?

ktibuk February 23, 2009 at 2:26 am

Oh, and I should add one more point.

Proudhon’s famous line, “Property is theft” is the logical conclusion of Stephan’s property theory. And he would actually utter those words regarding IP, as in “IP is theft”

If there is no right for an owner to protect his property in “some cases” (in this case if the property in question has a potential to be non scarce), then him actually trying to do so is theft since he wouldn’t lose anything if he shared and by not sharing he is stopping others from enjoying the good in question.

Of course Proudhon being a more intelligent, although obviously confused, intellectual than Kinsella he took his theory all the way to its logical conclusion and didn’t leave it only in the IP subsection of property. But we shouldn’t be that hard on Kinsella. I am sure he will get there and become a full fledged socialist.

ktibuk February 23, 2009 at 2:30 am

“I believe, anon, the ‘heriocs’ of Capitalism is the ability to mass produce and mass deliver products to the masses not inventing a product per se.”

No.

The heroics of Capitalism is protecting the property rights of those who create the ability to mass produce and mass deliver products to the masses.

Miklos Hollender February 23, 2009 at 3:33 am

Fine, fine, but all this theoretizing about ethics is useful only so far as it can offer something that works in practice.

Question No. 1: in the absence of IP what protects the small-entrepreneur who has nothing but an idea from competition from a big-corp? I.e. you invest your family savings into researching something and you’ve done it and now produce it and the big corp says thank you and starts producing the same thing at half the cost (economy of numbers), and then you pretty must lost everything.

How can you sell an idea, capitalize on an idea, turn an idea into an advantage if you cannot own it?

Practical solutions please, not ethical theories. Give me some suggestions how can the small-entrepreneur in this case recover his costs of research and perhaps make some profits.

Drake February 23, 2009 at 5:09 am

@Miklos Hollender

“in the absence of IP what protects the small-entrepreneur who has nothing but an idea from competition from a big-corp? Practical solutions please, not ethical theories.”

The original post was on ethics, not practical solutions. That being said, if big corporations are as powerful as you imply, one obvious solution would be to work for them rather than compete against them.

Sovy Kurosei February 23, 2009 at 5:38 am

Bill Gates has 60 billion dollars and lets say he has it in cash.

Stephan takes 1000 dollars from Gates without his consent.

According to Kinsella’s theory this wouldn’t be aggression.

What did Gates lose?

A thousand dollars.

Practical solutions please, not ethical theories.

Small entrepreneurs often don’t have the resources to litigate against big corporations with IP laws today if we are going to bring in the real world.

graphics frontier February 23, 2009 at 5:59 am

What if Gates issues circulating paper backed by his commodity holdings, that goes over well, and I copy the design exactly and make myself rich? Gates has no right to the market value of his money or to any unique identifier, correct? It might be unethical but no material substance was taken from Gates. Not my fault that he entered into the easily exploited business of paper money.

Sovy Kurosei February 23, 2009 at 6:24 am

graphics frontier
What if Gates issues circulating paper backed by his commodity holdings, that goes over well, and I copy the design exactly and make myself rich?

You would be committing fraud by selling people bills that aren’t backed by Bill Gate’s estate yet would claim to do so. Bill Gates wouldn’t be able to sue but the people that you committed fraud against would be able to.

I believe Stephen Kinsella made that argument in his book Against Intellectual Property.

Timothy foster February 23, 2009 at 6:27 am

I agree with the moral side of the argument, here are some thoughts on the practical side.

Wouldn’t it be easier for the big business to offer contracts, or pay for the idea’s instead of losing out on a valuable source of revenue (the inventor)?
Even if one company is willing to steal (which is a given) they still have to compete with other’s and the inventor is able to explain much more than some one who revers-engineers a product.
Finally corporations would be built to help any inventor with a profitable idea (imagine R&D coming to you from all sides of the globe, what a great business opportunity) it would almost be suicide not to pay the inventor.

David Bratton February 23, 2009 at 6:31 am

“Essay plagiarism in high school is frowned upon – even both students now have the same ‘essay’.”

Yes but the purpose of that policy is not to protect intellectual property. It’s to require the student to practice and develop a skill.

Stephan Kinsella February 23, 2009 at 7:43 am

ktibuk:

“Bill Gates has 60 billion dollars and lets say he has it in cash.

Stephan takes 1000 dollars from Gates without his consent.

According to Kinsella’s theory this wouldn’t be aggression.

What did Gates lose? Nothing that matters. (Why focus on the nominal number assigned to his wealth in money terms? Because of the change in purchasing power, his wealth would fluctuate constantly by itself.)

Since there is no way that Gates can consume all his wealth, there is no natural conflict between him and Kinsella. If there is actually a conflict, it arises from just Gates’ whims, and not actual natural scarcity. This means Gates would have no property rights over “his?” wealth that exceeds his need.”

***

as usual, ktibuk, you miss the point. If I take $1000 of Gates’s money, he does not have it. The *reason* he objects to my taking it, is *because* he no longer has it. My argument does not depend on the evaluation of whether Gates’s complaint is “good enough”. I’m focusing on the nature of the harm done, and the reason owners object to theft. In the Gates hypo, it is undeniable *that there is* a conflict if I take his $1000 without his consent: we both want that $1000; the question is, who gets to keep it? The owner, or the latecomer?

Now, if Gates has a nice Bentley in his driveway, and I see it from afar with a telescope and invent a “matte-printing machine” that lets me conjure up a duplicate Bentley in my driveway, using my raw materials, then I have not taken Gates’s car. I have not stolen it. At most, you can say I’ve copied his car, or his car pattern. But since he still has his car–and his car-patter–obviously, I’ve “taken” or “stolen” nothing from him.

The point is that when IP socialists like yourself talk about normal market actors’ copying, learning, and emulating, being “theft,” you are disingenuous and mistaken.

newson February 23, 2009 at 8:23 am

miklos hollender says:
“Question No. 1: in the absence of IP what protects the small-entrepreneur who has nothing but an idea from competition from a big-corp?”

what makes you presume that the advantage would remain with large corporations in a non-ip environment? first-to-market may favour small, nimble operations. the high administrative costs of ip currently favour large enterprises over small.

newson February 23, 2009 at 9:08 am

why haven’t i seen an excoriation of the public library by the pro-ip camp?

photocopying is allowed only up to a certain limit? why is this not pure arbitrariness?

can i loan a book to a friend without committing some heinous crime? what if i loan a cd to one hundred friends? crime or good deed?

Egosumabbas February 23, 2009 at 9:24 am

“Wouldn’t it be easier for the big business to offer contracts, or pay for the idea’s instead of losing out on a valuable source of revenue (the inventor)?”

Every single software company I have worked for operates under this model. I don’t own the IP of my own labor–and that doesn’t really bother me.

Even independent software contracting work involves selling ideas/labor to a larger company.

It’s called “software as a service”. Lots more money in that than selling shrinkwrapped boxes.

The market has already adapted to ease of copying.

Egosumabbas February 23, 2009 at 9:42 am

Also I’d like to add that IP “protection” is entirely redundant for any project I’ve worked on.

Somebody could pirate the software I have worked on, but doing so would be pointless, as the bugs would never get fixed and they would get no customer service. Also the business’ reputation would suffer if it were to be known that it was using pirated software, as opposed to a legitimate competitor (that is, a competitor reverse engineered the software and made it better).

Drake February 23, 2009 at 10:00 am

@ktibuk

“Since there is no way that Gates can consume all his wealth, there is no natural conflict between him and Kinsella.”

First of all, the claim that there is “no way” to spend $60 billion is utterly erroneous. Second of all, I already answered your point about extreme wealth in my last reply to you (over a week ago). Since you haven’t gotten around to responding to it yet, I’ll re-post it here (edited):

I am taking the position that first use establishes the right to use. I am not taking the position that first use establishes a “bundle” of rights in addition to use (e.g. subjective value, market value, exclusion, etc.), however, you are welcome to point out how these extra rights can be derived from a natural law foundation.

“You are contradicting yourself. First you said the only requirement for ownership (including the right to exclude others from using it) is natural limits which is the basis of possible conflict. You said there is no place for ‘choice’ of the owner, and that you found this unethical.”

No. What I said was that FIRST use establishes the RIGHT to use. Exclusion comes into play in order to SECURE the right to use. In other words, the right to exclude is a DERIVATIVE of the right to use. Whether or not exclusion is REQUIRED to secure the right to use depends on the NATURE of the resource being used. The right to USE a non-scarce resource may be homesteaded, but others may not be EXCLUDED from using it if their use does not interfere with the use – ACTUAL or POTENTIAL – of the homesteader.

“Then when it came to other examples (the boat example above) I gave, where there wasnt a natural limit, or a possibility of conflict other than the conflict resulting from the choice of the owner, you claimed the opposite position.”

Not true. I asked if you needed me to provide you with examples of how the latecomer’s presence on the boat would limit the first-comer’s use of the boat. With a little imagination you could have come up with a few examples on your own, but I suppose I’ll have to do your thinking for you…

Possible Uses of a Boat – And How the Arrival of a Latecomer Would Interfere with Them:

1. Laying down in the boat to sleep: the latecomer might be in the way.

2. Using part of the boat to store fish: the latecomer might take up the area needed to store the fish.

3. Rowing the boat to the nearest island: the latecomer would add weight to the boat, making rowing more difficult and slowing the boat down (let’s assume there is only one oar).

Clearly, the presence of the latecomer limits the first-comer’s ability to use the boat. This is due, in part, to the fact that the space on any boat is finite, regardless of its size.

“You need to think through your position and what it implies. The natural necessity argument coupled with ‘conflict resolution’ argument is the basis for socialism not libertarian property theory.”

I don’t know what you mean by the “natural necessity argument” or the “conflict resolution argument”. As I have said a number of times already, FIRST USE establishes the RIGHT TO USE. Necessity and conflict do not establish anything.

“In libertarian homesteading/property theory the individual who homesteads a nature given resource owns it and owning means having total control over the property including exclusion of others based on choice even pure whim.”

Control and exclusion are NOT the same thing. For example, you can have total control over your front lawn, but excluding others from looking at it, thinking about it, talking about it, taking pictures of it, etc. requires more than control over soil and grass: it requires control over other people.

“One may even destroy the property if he wishes to do so which means exclusion of every possible human, if he owns it.”

The form of things may be changed, but there is no way to increase or decrease the total amount of matter and energy in the universe. In other words, what you are referring to as “destruction” I would categorize as USE (which obviously includes physical manipulation). For example, if you bulldoze your house, you have clearly changed its form but have not caused the original materials to cease to exist.

“You made a distinction between individual goods and a class of goods when it came to scarcity but you didn’t give a reason for it when I asked. Why make the distinction.”

First of all, it is impossible to homestead a CLASS of goods. You can’t homestead every instance of something in the past, present, and future. But let’s look at your original post:

“You seem to think that ‘the possibility of non scarcity in the future’ is enough to make something non property.”

No. First use establishes the right to use. Scarcity is irrelevant in that regard. Scarcity only determines whether exclusion is necessary to secure the right to use.

“Isn’t possibility of conflict (other than conflict based on choice) at the core of this scarcity issue.”

USE is the core of the issue. If more use is demanded than is available, who should get the rights to what is available? One answer is to say that use goes to the strongest (might equals right). Another answer is to say that an “anointed” leader should decide (despotism). Yet another answer is to say that usage rights should be determined by vote (tyranny of the majority). Libertarians have come to the conclusion that none of the above positions are satisfactory and instead favor the homesteading rule (first come, first serve). Two noteworthy results of a consistent application of the homesteading rule are a reduction of conflict and an increase in cooperation.

“You claim an apple can only be eaten by one and this is the only reason apples can be property.”

Not true. My being the original appropriator of an apple establishes my right to eat it. In that respect it is my property. But if you and the rest of the world can somehow ALSO eat it – WITHOUT diminishing my ability to do so – your eating it does not violate my rights in the apple.

“But what if one person owns billions of apples more than anyone can eat. What kind of conflict is possible, other than his choice.”

I am defining ownership as the RIGHT to use. ACTUAL use is not required, except when homesteading (i.e. mixing one’s labor with a nature-given factor). Even if the owner of a billion apples has no intention of eating any of them, his RIGHT to eat them is secured by the exclusion of others.

“And if choice is not an ethical requirement for exclusion, what is the logical conclusion of this position?”

The owner DOES have choice – the choice to use (or not use) his property as he sees fit. As I said before, I do not see exclusion as a right unto itself. For the FOURTH time: I challenge you to demonstrate a natural law basis for the right to exclude.

hacksoncode February 23, 2009 at 10:27 am

Ideas, qua ideas, are not “scarce” in the economic sense. However, *new* ideas are. That’s, fundamentally, why copyrights (should be, and technically are) and patents are of limited duration. Because once the newness of the idea wears off, it’s no longer scarce.

What the original inventor no longer has after someone copies him is the uniqueness of his idea, something he undoubtedly created out of his own resources. He also may (depending on the circumstances) no longer have an effective way to recoup his investment in the creation of the idea (i.e. he no longer has that money/time/effort).

The fact that those things are *abstract* rather than concrete is a difference that makes no difference. It’s no different than the notion that a night in a hotel room is an abstract concept.

In general, *trespassing* doesn’t deprive the owner of property of anything concrete either. Shall we make that legal? How about borrowing the use of someone’s steel mill at night when they aren’t using it (assuming you maintain/repair it afterward so that there’s not only no loss but perhaps a gain to the owner), without his permission?

For that matter, in general people’s time and effort are only abstract things that you can’t “take” from them. Ask a plumber to fix your pipes and send him on with only your thanks (without *explicitly* saying you’ll pay him, to avoid the “fraud” argument). Shall we go there?

Invention of an idea is just exactly that. Time and effort. Society has tried the trick of just having inventors keep their inventions secret. It doesn’t work too well. Much effort goes into maintaining that secrecy that could be better spent on other pursuits, making actual new ideas *even more scarce*.

Take DRM, for example (please).

Now, should someone be prohibited from *truly* reinventing the wheel? I.e. does patent protection against independent invention actually make sense? Hmmm… tricky. I’d say not entirely, in the abstract, but it’s almost impossible to enforce/determine. That’s where the practicality arguments come in.

It’s true that the second inventors’ idea isn’t new through no fault of his own. It’s still not new/unique, though. Depriving him of the ability to use the idea doesn’t deprive him of anything concrete, does it? Just a freedom… oh yeah, those are abstract too.

Property is no less property for being abstract. To deny the ownership of *new* ideas is to deny the underlying foundation for *any* property.

hacksoncode February 23, 2009 at 10:37 am

Having just seen the proceeding posting (damn chat tangles), allow me to add:

If someone invents a new idea, by this argument he has the Right to Use that new idea by virtue of being the first to use it. Someone else using it *does* indeed diminish his right to use (or potentially use, or profit from) that idea. Exclusion of others using the idea is merely a means of securing his ability to use the idea.

It’s no less true than the “potential use” argument about physical property.

Drake February 23, 2009 at 11:30 am

“If someone invents a new idea, by this argument he has the Right to Use that new idea by virtue of being the first to use it. Someone else using it *does* indeed diminish his right to use (or potentially use, or profit from) that idea. Exclusion of others using the idea is merely a means of securing his ability to use the idea.”

Use and profit are not synonymous.

Nonip February 23, 2009 at 12:57 pm

@anon “This raises all sorts of interesting questions – e.g. is this ethical to begin with? Essay plagiarism in high school is frowned upon – even both students now have the same ‘essay’. It is true that students learn through ‘emulation’ and thus ‘copying’ to a certain extent – but to pass off a verbatim copy of an essay as one’s own work is wrong, regardless of from which end of the telescope you’re staring at.”

To pass off a verbatim copy would in this case be FRAUD.

Do you get it?

Oztrian February 23, 2009 at 12:59 pm

States ought not repeal IP laws willy-nilly, because that undermines the rule of law – a stable legal framework – and entrepreneurs who have geared up to exploit a patented idea really would have had something taken from them.
Should there ever have been IP laws and should existing IP laws be removed in an orderly way? Stephan Kinsella claims that the historical evidence is that IP laws impede progress, and I believe that’s where the debate should be. The evidence seems overwhelming that without property rights, there is violence and idleness.

Peter Surda February 23, 2009 at 12:59 pm

> Use and profit are not synonymous.
Indeed. Right to profit is the labour theory of value. In capitalism, noone has a right to profit.

Silas Barta February 23, 2009 at 1:00 pm

And by the end of his very first paragraph we see how unfair Stephan_Kinsella is when addressing the issue: he believes that anyone in any way defending intellectual property rights, is necessarily defending the present system exactly as it stands and must therefore justify any and all absurdities that result. Yet he never seems to take the corresponding position, than defenders of property rights must defend the present system of property rights and rulings, and all their absurdities, like government ownership of property, or (briefly) farmers that want to gun down aircraft over their property.

How many anti-IP commenters here go along with that? How many of you seriously think that if you defend IP, you’re responsible for defending its current implementation?

Occasionally — but only occasionally — Stephan_Kinsella acknowledges that defenders of IP might not actually defending the present system exactly as it is, and then badgers them with “Oh yeah? But what exactly do you object to in this ruling? You must not know what you’re talking about if you can’t specify exactly how every single case would get resolved in an IP system you do support!” Again, he doesn’t turn this around at look at his own failure to specify what he means by property to arbitrary precision (e.g. how much use is enough use for a claim under homesteading? When does passing by become trespass? etc) . There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but Stephan_Kinsella selectively cites that as a problem in IP, rather than recognizing it as an inherent part of any legal system.

Is it too much to ask that an IP critic get through one paragraph without a blatant strawman or hypocritical remark?

And, as obvious, I’ll make my universal reply: what do you lose when I broadcast at the same frequency? Oh? Your “ability” to do something you wanted? Your use of a “resource’? Guess what, the same can be said of IP.

And I couldn’t resist responding to this:

@Egosumabbas: Also I’d like to add that IP “protection” is entirely redundant for any project I’ve worked on. Somebody could pirate the software I have worked on, but doing so would be pointless, as the bugs would never get fixed and they would get no customer service

It’s great to know how flawed the software is in an IP-free environment, and how much businesses rely on it being flawed!

. Also the business’ reputation would suffer if it were to be known that it was using pirated software, as opposed to a legitimate competitor (that is, a competitor reverse engineered the software and made it better).

So, IP is completely unjustified, but let’s boycott its violators as if it were justified.

Libertarian February 23, 2009 at 1:04 pm

“Bill Gates has 60 billion dollars and lets say he has it in cash.

Stephan takes 1000 dollars from Gates without his consent.

According to Kinsella’s theory this wouldn’t be aggression.”

Are you stupid or just naive?

According to libertarianism (and in my opinion to Kinsella) that would be aggression in form of theft.

Bill Gates would have 1000 Dollar less. Against his will. Be being the prey of a thief.

That’s not to hard to understand.

If you don’t know that or if you don’t understand that than you are truly a socialist.

And now get off to Venezuela!

Btw: “Post an intelligent and civil comment”
If a posting does not show intelligence of the poster but only an agenda of socialism as in ktibuks postings than there is no need to be friendly.

Asker February 23, 2009 at 1:12 pm

“Now, if Gates has a nice Bentley in his driveway, and I see it from afar with a telescope and invent a “matte-printing machine” that lets me conjure up a duplicate Bentley in my driveway, using my raw materials, then I have not taken Gates’s car. I have not stolen it. At most, you can say I’ve copied his car, or his car pattern. But since he still has his car–and his car-patter–obviously, I’ve “taken” or “stolen” nothing from him.

The point is that when IP socialists like yourself talk about normal market actors’ copying, learning, and emulating, being “theft,” you are disingenuous and mistaken.”

Now you IP-socialists, do you have ANY argument against that?

Person A has object X. He is the owner of object X.

Person B sees object X. Person B has got a replicator. Person B and Person A don’t know each other. There does NOT exist any contract between both.

What if Person B replicates object X at his home?

Is he in your opinion

1) allowed to do that?

or

2) committing a crime (which one)?

Why?

Please answer as concrete as possible!

Stephan Kinsella February 23, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Oztrian:

“States ought not repeal IP laws willy-nilly, because that undermines the rule of law – a stable legal framework – and entrepreneurs who have geared up to exploit a patented idea really would have had something taken from them.”

Well this is not right. The problem is the state having the ability to change the laws, plus the ability to make bad ones–that is what leads to uncertainty (see my Legislation and the Discovery of Law in a Free Society). But this does not mean that the state, having a legislative monopoly, and having enacted unjust laws, ought not abolish bad laws.

Silas Barta:

“And by the end of his very first paragraph we see how unfair Stephan_Kinsella is”

Silas/Person/John Sharp/Richard Harding: my name is not Stephan_Kinsella. You may address me as Dr. Kinsella.

“when addressing the issue: he believes that anyone in any way defending intellectual property rights, is necessarily defending the present system exactly as it stands and must therefore justify any and all absurdities that result.”

This is not true. You are free to define the IP system you imagine you support, and to condemn the current system, or its excesses, with me. The problem is you IP socialists never define your own IP system. You oppose abolishing the current one or broad criticism of it, leading to the reasonable assumption that you agree with its basic thrust. Since much of our criticism applies to the basic idea of the modern IP systems, and does not rely only on pointing out certain manifest cases of injustice, our basic argumetns do apply presumptively to your pro-IP stance.

“Yet he never seems to take the corresponding position, than defenders of property rights must defend the present system of property rights and rulings, and all their absurdities, like government ownership of property,”

Because we have a good reason to believe that there would be a private proeprty system absent the state and we can explain what it’s like; and because legislation is not needed to create these rights. By contrast, patent and copyright are legislative creations.

Egosumabbas February 23, 2009 at 2:39 pm

“It’s great to know how flawed the software is in an IP-free environment, and how much businesses rely on it being flawed!”

This may come as a shock to you, but every single product ever made by man has some flaw in it, or a missing feature. Otherwise there would be no such thing progress.

Thanks for using an “attack the messenger” fallacy though, it’s appreciated.

“So, IP is completely unjustified, but let’s boycott its violators as if it were justified.”

The only thing that’s unjustified is an oppressive government-ordained IP tyranny that violates pre-existing rights to person and property. However, absent the current system, novel ideas (and the means to implement them) would still have value, and blatant copycats would be shunned.

Silas Barta February 23, 2009 at 3:25 pm

@Stephan_Kinsella: Since much of our criticism applies to the basic idea of the modern IP systems, and does not rely only on pointing out certain manifest cases of injustice, our basic argumetns do apply presumptively to your pro-IP stance.

No, at least half your posts involve you pointing out some specific absurdity that you think IP defenders have to defend. And as I pointed out just now, this very post of yours began with a lecture on what the current patent system does protect, in direct contrast to what your opponents were trying to justify protection of!

So, you don’t even feel an obligation to attack the real positions of IP defenders when they specified exactly what they were defending! “Won’t specify their positions”, my foot.

Because we have a good reason to believe that there would be a private proeprty system absent the state

Your personal opinion and refusal to consider the arguments of others do not count as a good reason.

and because legislation is not needed to create these rights.

If enough people are willing to support a legal right, you don’t need legislation.

By contrast, patent and copyright are legislative creations.

And property law is a creation of government-funded, -licensed, and -endorsed courts and legislatures. “But it could exist without them!” So could IP. “No, because it’s created by the state!” Round and round we go…

@Egosumabbas:

This may come as a shock to you, but every single product ever made by man has some flaw in it, or a missing feature.

And this may come as a shock to you, but it’s a *bad thing* when a system crucially relies on releasing flawed products. Not products that could simply be better, but — as you said your code is — so flawed that one cannot even capture its functionality without your fixes. You’ve conceded that without IP, programmers would have to flaw their products in some way in order to milk their dupes for the fixes. And that it would be very stupid to write software (for profit) that is self-contained and well-documented.

Thanks for using an “attack the messenger” fallacy though, it’s appreciated.

It wasn’t attacking the messenger, and it certainly wasn’t a fallacy; it was, “do you actually know what’s in your messages?” Or even better, “don’t you realize that only certain things can fit inside messages of that length?”

The only thing that’s unjustified is an oppressive government-ordained IP tyranny that violates pre-existing rights to person and property. However, absent the current system, novel ideas (and the means to implement them) would still have value, and blatant copycats would be shunned.

Just like violators of physical property rights, you mean? So why do you see a moral difference between the two?

Stephan Kinsella February 23, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Silas:

I’ve asked you not to refer to me as “Stephan_Kinsella” as this is not my name. Dr. Kinsella would be more appropriate.

“at least half your posts involve you pointing out some specific absurdity that you think IP defenders have to defend.”

Yes, I have tried to illustrate the injustice of the patent and copyright systems in many ways–in theoretical, principled, rights-based arguments; by noting the utilitarian arguments are flawed; and by pointing to one example after another for illustrative purposes.

“And as I pointed out just now, this very post of yours began with a lecture on what the current patent system does protect, in direct contrast to what your opponents were trying to justify protection of!”

My opponents do not have any idea what they are talking about. Just about the only IP advocate I know of who sets forth a concrete proposal is Galambos, and Schulman, both of whom advocate a radical form of IP that is far worse in scope and extent than even what our states have come up with.

All I know if my opponents seem to favor IP, and oppose our criticism of IP and the modern IP system. Whenever we identify a concrete, obivous injustice with IP the proponents just say, “well, sure, we’re not for that.” Well, what the heck are you for?

“So, you don’t even feel an obligation to attack the real positions of IP defenders when they specified exactly what they were defending! “Won’t specify their positions”, my foot.”

You have no idea what you are talking about, none of you. Just a bunch of jabbering apologists for the state. I have no idea why you feel compelled to call yourselves libertarians, or to pontificate on things you don’t understand.

Asker February 23, 2009 at 4:03 pm

@Silas Barta\Person

You say that you are no defender of the current IP-socialism. Then illuminate us what your idea of an IP-friendly system would look like.

Maybe you could try the following:

Please read the following example made up by me and answer the the questions at the end of the cited block:

“Person A has object X. He is the owner of object X.

Person B sees object X. Person B has got a replicator. Person B and Person A don’t know each other. There does NOT exist any contract between both.

What if Person B replicates object X at his home?

Is he in your opinion

1) allowed to do that?

or

2) committing a crime (which one)?

Why?

Please answer as concrete as possible!”

Egosumabbas February 23, 2009 at 4:19 pm

“And this may come as a shock to you, but it’s a *bad thing* when a system crucially relies on releasing flawed products.”

Duh. I can think of a couple of companies that do that consistently: Microsoft… Apple… funny how those companies are so reliant in using IP as a club to punish innovation.

Cosmin February 23, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Pro-IPers here are disingenious and ignore counter-arguments. Dr. Kinsella has it right: every time an article points out an injustice caused by the current IP system, they pop in to oppose that article, but when backed into a corner, they claim that they don’t support the current IP system anyway.
Their confusion comes from not understanding what an IDEA is. That is why they use terms like “originator of an idea”, “came up with an idea”, or “copied the idea”.
There is no such entity, physical or otherwise, as an idea. When you understand something about the workings of some object (have an idea), there is nothing that pops up into existence. There is no idea to share or copy. There is still you and your newly-found understanding. Noone can copy or steal your understanding, anymore than they can copy or steal your love for your mother.
They can come up with their own understanding, just like they can love their own mother (or yours), and maybe they would only acquire that understanding after seeing an object you created, but that doesn’t entitle you to deprive them of the freedom to use their newly-found knowledge and their resources in the marketplace.

Matt Wing February 23, 2009 at 5:03 pm

@Cosmin,

Good post. You hit the nail on the head. When you understand what an idea is, you will understand that it is impossible to steal an idea. Thus, making intellectual property laws inherently unnecessary.

Greego February 23, 2009 at 5:26 pm

@Silas: “And that it would be very stupid to write software (for profit) that is self-contained and well-documented.”

I do this for a living, as do a lot of software contractors and consultants. We obtain future work based on our reputation for creating ‘self-contained and well-documented’ software for clients in the past.

nano head February 23, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Ideas indeed are physical things that are produced inside one’s head. True, they are difficult to quantify/qualify at this time- but they do exist. Ever see a brain being scanned?

This fact does not alter the pro/anti IP arguments though.

Greego February 23, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Amusingly relevant: http://xkcd.com/294/

newson February 23, 2009 at 7:03 pm

to nano head:
cerebral activity, evidenced by increased blood-flow, can be visible on scans. so what? nim chimpsky’s brain scan looks the same as noam chompsky’s.

the discussion is about unique, original ideas (intangible). blood-flow is real.

newson February 23, 2009 at 7:09 pm

public libraries…student photocopying…any response from the pro-ip camp?

Colin Green February 23, 2009 at 8:49 pm

Stephen, I object to the thief having a bicycle that he hasn’t earned, as well as the owner losing a bicycle that he earned!
As for matter replicators, why not just replicate gold, and trade that for money (I found it in my ground, honest!), and use the money to buy the Bentley?
That student is a communist, and the Librarian is probably a socialist! At the very least, she’d vote Democrazy! Lock them all up!

Drake February 23, 2009 at 9:07 pm

@Cosmin

“There is no such entity, physical or otherwise, as an idea.”

I’m assuming that you mean ideal objects do not exist (as apposed to thoughts). Thanks for pointing this out, as it has been the elephant in the room that everyone has been ignoring.

Kitty Antonik Wakfer February 23, 2009 at 9:12 pm

A major problem in the discussion here is that information is not an existent of reality – it is not simply “out there” to be sensed/discovered in some manner. It is a creation by human minds (and in more rudimentary form by various animal minds). This is made clear by Paul Wakfer’s definition of existent, the first of the definitions after the Introduction of the Natural Social Contract, and with all references to “information” in that same document. http://selfsip.org/solutions/NSC.html

Paul’s work is not an attempt to refute (or even make reference to) the current societal methods of governments/States, but was created starting from first principles as a scientist (first trained in physics and mathematics) with a strong background also in philosophy plus human biology and psychology.

Cosmin February 23, 2009 at 11:25 pm

My ideal object fits in the palm of my hand and lets me control energy and matter. Alas, it doesn’t exist, Drake.
Just kidding. :P
I’m encouraged that you guys understand and share my point of view, since many run away from it in fear.
Watch how pro-IPers will run away and avoid the matter completely, since it pretty much seals the debate. One can no more steal your idea than he can steal your beauty, or your compassion.

Brad February 23, 2009 at 11:45 pm

The major flaw in this arguement is you ignore the concept of value. When you
counterfeit a product you may not steal a persons thing, but you do steal its
value. Counterfeit money reduces the value of all other money in existence
as a simplified example, but the person who was victimized still has
his $100 dollar bill. It is the value which has fallen in relation to other
things.

Baseball cards are a wonderful example. Counterfeiting became common and the
value of all other baseball cards plunged. But the person who owns his Roger Clemens rookie card has not been deprived of his ‘property’, only its value.

The same of course holds true for intellectual property. If you steal software
the software developer is deprived of his revenue. The people who do pay
are also victimized, less capital is available to the firm to invest in future
products and upgrades. The software developer is forced to accept less value (money) for his labor which is traded for other things.

I have seen first hand what happens when crooks steal from entrepreneurs. The
entrepreneur who invested time and money in creating his product, and usually
took the time and care to create a quality product, is diluted in the marketplace.
The value of his product falls and soon the price. Though initially beneficial
to customers they no longer have a source of supply interested in investing money
to improving the product, not to mention copycats rarely have the talent. In
time the entrepreneur begins to devote his time and talent to other areas. In
the short run consumers may benefit (though in my experience copycats are usually
less than honest) but in the long run they are deprived of a quality product that was once
in demand.

When consumers and other businesses steal ip they destroy the market by destroying
the source of FUTURE supply. Countries which refuse to honor intellectual property rights ‘stand still’ in time.

Co-Autonomy! February 23, 2009 at 11:45 pm

I occupy middle ground between the two camps. i think that land ownership is the answer. On my own land, I can do what I like by myself, and to myself. On your land, you can do the same. On the public properties, the co-owners democratically set the conditions, such as issuing licences, etc. Copyright and Intellectual property rights would mean that the holders had the right to advertise on public properties, whilst others would not, and the public authorities would only buy from the licenced holder if they wanted the product or service. There you have it- the land-owners set the rules!

Timothy Foster February 24, 2009 at 12:10 am

In Pharmaceuticals there is very small chance of success (implying scarcity), high cost (implying needs for high level of return), and low customer base (very few people need most medicine) while I do realize they have no right to profit however how does non-IP make these drugs possible?

ktibuk February 24, 2009 at 12:15 am

@Stephan,

“If I take $1000 of Gates’s money, he does not have it.”

But Stephan that is it. Gates could never own that extra 1000 according to your theory. Remember in this instance there is Gates and there is you and regarding that 60 billion there is no scarcity. So how dare Gates claim ownership and deny you that 1000 dollars? If he does, that means he is the aggressor. Right?

Also since he cant consume all the money, we can say he is not in control of all his wealth. If “use” or “absolute ability to control” is prerequisites of property for Bill, to own things he can’t consume and use should be a no no, for you and Proudhon’s theory.

“The *reason* he objects to my taking it, is *because* he no longer has it.”

Who says? Maybe he would have given it to you if you asked? But he would have definitely given it to you if you provided a service or a good, he values, in exchange?

“My argument does not depend on the evaluation of whether Gates’s complaint is “good enough”.”

In every conceivable scenario where there is aggression against one legitimate property, there is an evaluation whether the complaint is “good enough”. But you wouldn’t know that would you? And you call yourself a lawyer?

“I’m focusing on the nature of the harm done, and the reason owners object to theft. In the Gates hypo, it is undeniable *that there is* a conflict if I take his $1000 without his consent: we both want that $1000; the question is, who gets to keep it? The owner, or the latecomer?”

You are not focusing enough. The part you have to focus is the individual not the physical integrity. Every aggression is necessarily against another individual. If an act against a physical good is considered aggression (therefore an issue of ethics) it is done so because another individual is connected to that good, by ownership.

If the good in question (1000 dollars) is nature given first comer homesteads it but if it is someones already, any interaction with it,without the consent of the owner is an act against the owner, thus aggression.

“Now, if Gates has a nice Bentley in his driveway, and I see it from afar with a telescope and invent a “matte-printing machine” that lets me conjure up a duplicate Bentley in my driveway, using my raw materials, then I have not taken Gates’s car. I have not stolen it. At most, you can say I’ve copied his car, or his car pattern. But since he still has his car–and his car-patter–obviously, I’ve “taken” or “stolen” nothing from him.”

Again, the Bentley is “his” car and for you to interact with it against his wishes is aggression. If you concede to the fact that Bentley is in fact his car, but he can not own some parts of the car or his ownership is conditional, (that he can do whatever he wants with the physical car but he cant own the design part) you have a very short way to socialism Proudhon style.

Libertarian property theory does not put any conditions to ownership. According to libertarian property theory the key is homesteading. After one homesteads a property he is the absolute owner of that property and he can do whatever he wants with it unconditionally.

The reason for this is the nature of man and nature of the universe he lives in. As a categorical imperative there can not be interspecies parasitism (the way you suggest regarding IP) and the only other way (the only sustainable way) for humans to interact with each other is voluntary trade of their property, including their labor and all the fruits of their labor.

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