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Libertarianism and intellectual property

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Title: Libertarianism and intellectual property  
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Subject: Intellectual property
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Libertarianism and intellectual property

Libertarians have differing opinions on the validity of intellectual property laws. Many libertarians don't have a strong opinion on the topic, while others consider it a minor matter in the light of what they believe are greater government violations of rights, such as physical property rights.

Anarcho-capitalist views

Since anarcho-capitalists oppose the existence of even a minimal state, this ideological framework requires that any functions served by intellectual property law promulgation and enforcement be provided through private sector institutions. Murray Rothbard argues for allowing contractually arising infinite copyright terms and against the need for any government role in protecting intellectual property.[1] He states that government's involvement in defining arbitrary limits on the duration, scope, etc. of intellectual property in order to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts" is inherently problematic, since "By what standard do you judge that research expenditures are 'too much,' 'too little,' or just about enough?" He argues that intellectual property laws can actually hinder innovation, since competitors can be indefinitely discouraged from further research expenditures in the general area covered by the patent because the courts may hold their improvements as infringements on the previous patent, and the patent holder is discouraged from engaging in further research in this field because the privilege discourages his improvement of his invention for the entire period of the patent, with the assurance that no competitor can trespass on his domain.[2] Morris and Linda Tannehill propose that ideas in the form of inventions could be registered in a privately owned "data bank"; the inventor could then buy insurance against the theft and unauthorized commercial use of the invention, and the insurance company would guarantee to not only compensate the inventor for any losses suffered due to such infringement but to stop such unauthorized use.[3] David D. Friedman appears to support IP, on "law and economics grounds." Opponents to intellectual property rights include Wendy McElroy, Tom G. Palmer, Henri Lepage, Boudewijn Bouckaert, and N. Stephan Kinsella.[4] The latter argues that patents may be inefficient in that they divert resources from research and development to patent filing and lawsuits and from theoretical research to practical research. Kinsella argues that property rights can only apply to scarce resources;[5] thus, if a new lawnmower could be magically conjured up out of nothing in the blink of an eye, it would not be theft to steal one. Since ideas are not naturally scarce – i.e., copying a book does not prevent anyone else from copying the same book – they are not a legitimate subject of property rights. Furthermore, the only way that intellectual property rights can be implemented is by limiting others' physical property rights. For instance, a patent on a method for drilling a well limits others' property rights over their land, as they cannot use that method without seeking permission from the patent owner. Thus, each patent places restrictions on land not owned by the patent holder.

Left-libertarian views

Roderick T. Long argues that the concept of intellectual property is not libertarian. He holds that prohibiting people from using, reproducing, and trading copyrighted material is an infringement of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and that since information exists in people's minds and other people's property, one cannot own information without owning other people. As proof that authors and publishers will continue to produce without copyrights, he cites the fact that hundreds of thousands of articles are uploaded onto the Internet by their authors every day, available to anyone in the world for free and that nearly all works written before 1900 are in the public domain, yet pre-1900 works are still published, and still sell.[6] Benjamin Tucker writes, "...the patent monopoly...consists in protecting inventors...against competition for a period long enough to extort from the people a reward enormously in excess of the labor measure of their services, – in other words, in giving certain people a right of property for a term of years in laws and facts of Nature, and the power to exact tribute from others for the use of this natural wealth, which should be open to all."[7]

Ayn Rand's views

Ayn Rand, founder of Objectivism, also supported copyrights and patents, noting in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal: She also argued that the term should be limited:

Intellectual property-related policies and practices of prominent libertarians

Many libertarian organizations, such as the Reason Foundation,[8] Independent Institute,[9] Cato Institute,[10] and Ludwig von Mises Institute[11] copyright their publications. However, the latter nonetheless issues their work under Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0 standard, making entire books freely available on the Internet for access, reprint, and redistribution, making their "non-free" status somewhat irrelevant from the point of view of someone who merely wants to read them. Moreover, the site hosts many articles about the allegedly absurd lengths that copyright enforcement is taken to, which they claim have hindered the ability of consumers to buy the products they want. For instance, a Mises blog entry notes that a bakery is refusing to put Disney characters on its customized birthday cakes, lest it be liable for infringement;[12] another blog criticizes the Marvel Comics lawsuit over the City of Heroes game that allows players to create characters that resemble those from its comic books.[13] Mises writers also lamented the demise of the International Music Score Library Project in the wake of a cease and desist letter.[14] The Independent Institute's collection of research does not seem to provide much coverage of intellectual property debates; its book Winners, Losers and Microsoft approaches the issue of copyright owner monopoly power only indirectly, opining that barriers to entry for a new product can be overcome by offering a discount during an introductory period; the ability to design software to be compatible with competitors' products; potential coordination of customers in switching to a new standard; etc.[15] Cato scholars suggest that government remove barriers to private sector efforts to enforce intellectual property rights, noting for instance that "overzealous antitrust enforcement might hamper collective private efforts to license songs."[16]

Susan Hogarth, leader of LPRadicals and candidate for North Carolina House of Representatives, does not include a copyright notice on the caucus website or on her campaign website,[17][18] and has stated in posts to the lpradicals Yahoo group[19] that she does not believe in intellectual property. Libertarian wikis tend to release their content under some sort of free or semi-free license; LPedia licenses its content under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license.[20] Libertarianwiki releases its content into the public domain.[21]

See also


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