The Case for Intellectual Property

by oracleofreason

In Edward Younkins essay: Carl Menger’s Austrian Aristotelianism, he points to German Aristotelian philosopher and psychologist Franz Brentano who taught at the University of Vienna. According to Younkins, Brentano asserts that thinking is a mental act or conduct of an individual in which his term for thinking is intentionality. He explains that intention is a mental going out toward, or grasping of, an object. The object of such intentionality could be either a physical object or a mental object such as an idea.

Intentionality is a form of an individual’s relational contact with reality. A prime example is outlined in Charles Darwin’s book The Origin of Species. Darwin’s book shows the process living beings go through in nature in order to adapt to their surroundings so they can live which is the result of a desire to live and survive and, ultimately, to value life itself. Brentano explans that valuation is implicit in all actions and that the act of valuation cannot be seperated from an individual. In terms of intellectual property (IP), there is an ongoing debate among some liberals, conservatives, and libertarians on whether intellectual property is property at all and if it is a proper government function to protect it.

The lawsuits initiated by music recording companies against Napster also demonstrated to the public and entertainment industry how easy it was at the time (and probably still is) for movies and music to be copied and distributed. Writing a piece of music or literature is the creation of a person’s intellectual effort and he or she use their minds in order to create certain things not only with the intent to entertain but also by pursuing the value of benefiting from their work in some way.

It is logical to assume that once someone has created something of tangible, physical value that they have a semblance of control as to not only who uses their idea, but who also can profit from it. A person’s material work in the form of books, music, movies or even poetry is no different than when an employer creates a position in their company, sets the terms of employment, what skills will be required and what wages and benefits will be offered in exchange for being hired.

Like in the case of an author writing novels, a musician writing a song, or of the employer listed above, people who produce things of material value that can be of some benefit to others should be able to have some semblance of control as well as set the terms and conditions on which whom they wish to associate with in order to benefit from their work.

It is individuals and not collectives that make decisions, it is with individuals that decisions are made and every action by individuals is an action of their identity. The process involved not only in terms of survival but also using our reason and abilities to live, prosper and survive is a necessary facet of life. Since ideas are the result of a person using their intellect and, as Brentano points out, the products they create are a valuation is implicit in all actions that cannot be seperated from an individual an extension of an individual’s intention and identity.

Valuation is the product which is the result of a person’s ability to reason.

It logically makes sense in this context that government should have mechanisms in place (such as copyright laws) to protect a person’s ideas from theft. Ideas are not only legitimate property but also ideas come into existence as the result of not only a person’s physical labor but their intellectual labor as well.

Any points to the contrary are red herring or strawmen arguments. To deny a person the ability to benefit from product or fruits of their labor is to deny the overall process human beings use in order to live which is tied to their ability to think and reason for themselves. The impression I get from IP critics is that they seem to ignore the fact that intellectual property laws are not enacted to violate the liberty of others, rather it is to assert that the liberty of property (which is essential to preserve a free society) and the individuality of creators is preserved.

Libertarian critics of IP, such as Stephan Kinsella, tend to see liberty as an intrinsic, rather than a moral, value. While they, rightly, point to potential abuses of government power anti-IP libertarians mix government power with abuses of the state. However, even libertarian philosopher Albert J. Nock pointed out that the state is not necessarily synonymous or the same as government. There is a difference between the two. Nock described a state as an entity that claims and exercises the monopoly of crime in which he took from what Nock witnessed when F.D.R. regulated, taxed and nearly centralized almost every aspect of American life with The New Deal.

As it turns out, even the father of Anarcho Capitalism, Lysander Spooner, supported laws regarding intellectual property. In his essay The Law of Intellectual Property, Spooner recognized the necessity of ideas and how they are, in effect, an extension of wealth itself:

An idea, then, is wealth. It is equally wealth, whether it be regarded, as some ideas may be, simply as, in itself, an object of enjoyment, reflection, meditation, and thus a direct source of happiness; or whether it be regarded, as other ideas may be, simply as a means to be used for acquiring other wealth, intellectual, moral, affectional, or material.

In terms of property, Spooner points out:

A man’s ideas are his property. They are his for enjoyment, and his for use. Other men do not own his ideas. He has a right , as against all other men, to absolute dominion over his ideas. He has a right to act his own judgment, and his own pleasure, :is to giving them, or selling them to other men. Other men cannot claim them of him, as if they were their property, and not his; any more than they can claim any other things whatever, that are his. If they desire them, and he does not duo se to give them to him gratuitously, they must buy them of himself as they would buy my other articles of property whatever. They must pay him his price for them, or hot have them. They have no more right to force him to give his ideas to them, than they in, trying to force him to give them his purse.

Spooner also makes a clear distinction between inventions and ideas for regular use:

But the analogy, which the objector would draw, between the works of nature and the works of man, in order to prove that the latter-should be as free to all mankind as the former, is defective, not only in disregarding the essential difference between the works of man and the works of nature, to wit, that the former are produced by a being who labors for himself, and not for others; and who needs the fruits of his labor as a means of sub­sistence and happiness; while the latter are produced by a Being, who neither needs nor asks any compensation for his labor; but it is defective in still another particular, to wit, that it disregards the fact, that the works of nature themselves are no longer free to all mankind, after they have once been taken possession of by an individual.

He then thrashes the notion that a person does not lose compensation when someone goes public when someone shares or invents something:

Is a passage on a steamboat of no value to a man, if there be other men on board? Is it not just as legitimate a subject for compensation, when he enjoys it simultaneously with others, as when he enjoys it alone? Are not the performances in a theatre, a church, or a conceit room, just as legitimate subjects for compensation, by each person who enjoys them, though they be enjoyed simultaneously by a thousand others beside himself as they would be if enjoyed by himself alone? Certainly they are. And on the same principle, the use of an idea, which may be used by the whole world at once, without collision with each other, is just as legitimate a subject for compensation to the pro­ducer, as though the idea were capable of being used by but one person.

While Lysander Spooner’s arguments are from a Benthamite/utilitarian pespective, he does a relatively good job at answering objections to intellectual property laws while making the case for them. However, his supprort of indefinite copyrights is flawed since indefinite copyrights can lead to monopolies.

Ayn Rand best sums up the need for intellectual property protections and how the process of copyrights and patents work:

An idea as such cannot be protected until it has been given a material form. An invention has to be embodied in a physical model before it can be patented; a story has to be written or printed. But what the patent or copyright protects is not the physical object as such, but the idea which it embodies. By forbidding an unauthorized reproduction of the object, the law declares, in effect, that the physical labor of copying is not the source of the object’s value, that that value is created by the originator of the idea and may not be used without his consent; thus the law establishes the property right of a mind to that which it has brought into existence.

She further points out:

It is important to note, in this connection, that a discovery cannot be patented, only an invention. A scientific or philosophical discovery, which identifies a law of nature, a principle or a fact of reality not previously known, cannot be the exclusive property of the discoverer because: (a) he did not create it, and (b) if he cares to make his discovery public, claiming it to be true, he cannot demand that men continue to pursue or practice falsehoods except by his permission. He can copyright the book in which he presents his discovery and he can demand that his authorship of the discovery be acknowledged, that no other man appropriate or plagiarize the credit for it—but he cannot copyright theoretical knowledge. Patents and copyrights pertain only to the practical application of knowledge, to the creation of a specific object which did not exist in nature—an object which, in the case of patents, may never have existed without its particular originator; and in the case of copyrights, would never have existed.

IP critics on the left have a moocher mentality and believe that the right to property is an illusion. Their perspective is consistent with the tenets of Marxism which holds that the mind is a collective one and no one has the right to benefit from the fruits of their labor since labor is an altruistic value. Unfortunately anarchist libertarians arguments against intellectual property are along the similar lines. By denying a person the ability to copyright an invention or work of some kind that is the result of denying his or her creative effort. Subsequently, by denying intellectual property protections it makes it impossible for anyone to become an entrepreneur or inventor.

The best example of this is what is going on on the internet. Internet piracy in the form of theft of intellectual property is a huge problem and while I understand that people take risks when ideas or products are posted online, ultimately, companies or people who produce products or services should not have to fear whether or not their products or ideas will be copied or stolen in real or cyberspace. Fortunately the courts recognize and support industries (like the music industry) who produce products and services and enable them to seek redress if the works they provide are stolen or copied without their consent.

To not respect intellectual property or to call such a term a myth (as some do) is tantamount to sanctioning theft. Stealing is wrong whether it takes place on water channels, in your local grocery store or via venues like the internet.