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Natural IP in Nihilism to Maximalism · Thursday September 10, 2009 by Crosbie Fitch

When I say that I find intellectual property perfectly natural, I’m referring to the contention that intellectual work can be recognised as property. I’m not referring to the current regime of repressive IP legislation where unnatural monopolies of copyright and patent have been granted to creators of supposedly original works.

Natural IP is much closer to the sense of property as possession than property as title. So, in my umpteen articles on this blog I’m trying to point out how IP should be recognised as natural and consequently how it should be legislated, i.e. to propose the abolition of the unnatural monopoly, but not the language.

To put Natural IP in context, here it is among four key positions – using the example of a poem:

  • IP Nihilism: No-one can own a poem, only the material comprising the copies of it.
  • IP Naturalism: Those who have legitimate1 copies of a poet’s poem own that poem in the copies within their private property (house, car, briefcase).
  • IP Monopolism: A poet should also be granted a transferable reproduction monopoly (on the pretext of incentivising publication).
  • IP Maximalism: A poet, or his assigns, owns his poem in all representations throughout the universe, forever.

Given people are so used to copyright’s suspension of their liberty, one must emphasise that without such monopoly all those who are privy to IP are naturally at liberty to copy it. In other words, simply because a book of poetry is in your private property, that doesn’t mean your guests aren’t at liberty to make copies of the books you let them have access to. Everyone is at liberty to make copies of works they are privy to – it’s the works they aren’t privy to that they aren’t naturally at liberty to copy.

So, I hope you can see how my position (whilst still against the reproduction monopolies of copyright and patent) remains pro-IP despite being anti-monopoly. And therefore, how it is distinct from IP nihilism. However, the only people who are going to notice any practical difference between IP naturalism and IP nihilism are burglars, those who aid or abet them, their victims, and those handling their stolen IP.

Even so, despite this minor difference, it is quite an important and contentious one – as can be seen from Jesse’s excellent comment on my previous article: IP Nihilism Ad Coelum et Ad Inferos


1 Not stolen – not obtained through violation of an individual’s privacy, burglary, theft, etc.

Adam said 4032 days ago :

I have to say I agree with most of your views on this subject but I don’t think that “those handling their stolen IP” should be subject to censorship.

I agree that the theft of private information is certainly unacceptable and that it should be punishable but once the information is in the public people who were not involved in that invasion of privacy should not be censored.

For example say that a thief steals a recipe from a company for another company, but also posts said recipe on several websites without divulging its origins. I believe the thief should be punished and the company he stole for should be punished.

But how will you track who may have visited those websites and copied the recipe?

Even if you could, how many people may they have given that recipe to?

Where else might they have distributed the information?

I believe you would need something just as intrusive as copyright to police it if not more so.

And why should they have that information taken from them? they have commited no crime and are not harming anyone else.

I really think that once the information is public it doesn’t matter where it came from, you shouldn’t try to censor it.

that is not to say that i believe that the thief should be allowed to keep the information that he stole or be allowed to distribute it, if you can prevent him or catch him before he does.

But if private information is made public i don’t believe you should try and persue third parties who had nothing to do with the theft of the information.

Crosbie Fitch said 4032 days ago :

Adam, I don’t think anyone should be ever subject to censorship, i.e. their communications to be intercepted and/or prevented by the state.

However, I do think people who set out to violate another’s privacy by obtaining copies of their work and communicating it without their consent should be subject to prosecution for that violation. That also applies to those who knowingly abet that violation.

People who are unwittingly circulating such stolen IP aren’t doing so knowingly. However, they should at least cease and desist from doing so when it is brought to their attention.

There may well need to be some measure of when such C&D notices are pointless, or no longer in the public interest, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t potentially helpful and valid remedies in the case of IP theft.

Remember that for IP I’m only talking about the communication of identifiable intellectual works, not gossip.

And also remember, I’m only talking about the natural rights of the individual. Corporations have no rights except the benefit of the aggregate right of their human constituents. So, if an employee from one company reveals a recipe they’re privy to to an employee in another company, that violates no-one’s privacy.

Adam said 4032 days ago :

I think i see where you are going with that, you want to use it as a way to protect the first sale of an intellectual work so that it is still of value to it’s creator. and i think i can agree with that. thanks for taking your time to make this site, i have found it very inspirational.


Crosbie Fitch said 4031 days ago :

Adam, I think it simply falls out of Natural IP, that because intellectual work is self-evidently recognisable as able to constitute property it can thus be exchanged.

It is when people who have found the current regime of IP monopoly so abhorrent that they reject IP entirely, that one ends up with the prospect of intellectual workers being unable to exchange their intellectual work.

Let’s restore the public’s liberty by abolishing the monopoly, but let’s not go so far as to liberate the burglar by denying the property.

Adam said 4031 days ago :

Sorry but i can’t see property as anything but physical, as you yourself have said you have no natural ability to exclude anyone else from “intellectual property” hence how can it be property at all save that you take others natural rights from them to exclude them from making their own copies with their own property.

I am against the theft because i see it as a breach of privacy and that is wrong in my view, something the government should protect against.

I can accept that if someone were to make a copy of your creation by invading your privacy and sell or distribute it before you then they rob you of your chance to profit from your work the first time it is sold and so i can accept something like copyright to protect the creator in that circumstance.

But you will still be taking away my natural right to do what i wish with my property to do it.

Also property is only necessary because physical goods are rivalrous, if i take it you don’t have it. we can’t both have it at the same time.

If they weren’t then what use would there be in the idea of property?

If physical objects became non-rivalrous and everyone had a device that could freely recreate any physical object should someone have a right to deny the ability to create certain things simply because it would benefit them?

Every industry that produced a physical good would want to stop it, they would be rendered unnecessary.

yet look at the good such a device would do, no one need ever go hungry again. medicine could be easily provided to all in need to name a few things.

Idea’s are non-rivalrous there is no need to try and apply the idea of property to idea’s. it is in fact counter productive, you are trying to limit something that is essentially limitless for your own benefit.

If you want to keep something private don’t share it, if someone invades your privacy and takes it anyway punish them fair enough.

Even take the information in all it’s forms from them.

This remedies the breach of your privacy.

But the only justifications i can see for tracking down any uninvolved third party who may have that information and taking it from them are commercial in nature and violate the natural rights of those people.

That copy is theirs, no matter where it may have come from.

you are forcing them to make changes to their property to remove information, in other words you are appropriating their property to give yourself a pseudo property right

As i said i can accept that in order that creators can have the opportunity to profit from their work

but i guess i feel you can’t own idea’s, only your copies of them.

Sorry if i am not very good expressing my thoughs lol.


Ibutton77 said 4030 days ago :

I would say Adam is agreeing with my view here quite eloquently.

I feel it is important to erase the distinction between data you possess externally, in books, hard drives, DVD’s etc and data which you have learned internally.

You should have the same right to “know” something by archival reference as you have to “know” a thing in your mind. Thus also, you should have the same right to express information you know archivally (share it) as you do to express opinions (speak them.. or perform them, etc).

Once you “know” a thing, or by extension from above have an archived copy of it, it really becomes a part of you.

Thus when Crosbie demands that illicitly appropriated intellectual works should be treated as “property” such that it must somehow be reclaimed, it strikes me as as unnatural as “reclaiming” a loaf of bread from a thief who has already eaten it. Or furthermore, tracking down unsuspecting third parties who have taken a piece and eaten those pieces too.

The thief should be punished. Should be punished with sufficient severity to deter this sort of pattern from ever becoming profitable (upholding the maxim “Crime Doesn’t Pay” ;D) Everyone who collaborated in the theft should be punished as well. Every permutation of how an author could be victimized via privacy violation should be brainstormed to preemptively address this problem.

None of that however requires that Intellectual Work be evaluated as a form of property any more than Service Work is.

Finally of course, I would prefer there not be a precedent of this wording to exist in law if possible, lest future generations begin to abuse this concept of “property” in ways that reinstate public censorship.

Crosbie Fitch said 4030 days ago :

Adam, you don’t have a natural right to something if that involved violating another’s natural right to obtain. If a burglar sells you a stolen iPod, the fact that it is now in your private possession doesn’t mean you have a natural right to either the device or the intellectual works it contains.

Anyway, obviously one cannot undo the communication of knowledge, even if obtained through violation of privacy, however, the further communication of identifiable intellectual works that have been illegitimately obtained can at least be deprecated. That doesn’t mean censorship, but it could mean a cease and desist notice may be warranted against those making them available.

This is the consequence of a natural rights approach to the possession and exchange/communication of intellectual work.

I appreciate there’s a school of thought that holds that intellectual work is fundamentally too slippery to apprehend to be treated as property. That’s what I term IP nihilism. There may well be far more support for that philosophy than IP naturalism. However, at least you now have some contrast with my proposition that intellectual work can be treated as property (without monopoly).

Adam said 4030 days ago :

True, and i appreciate the work you do here. we definately agree on more than we disagree :).


Steve R. said 4029 days ago :

Great post. I like the breakdown. So today I found out that I am a budding nihilist! (I don’t have a problem with copyright if it is short-term and limited in scope. But as it gets “stronger” I am becoming more radicalized in the other direction.)

Crosbie Fitch said 4029 days ago :

Steve, how could you not have a problem with copyright??

I find a monopoly’s suspension of one’s liberty abhorrent for even a day, let alone a decade.

I find it strange that those who have such a problem with the right against theft have no fundamental problem with the privilege of a monopoly.

I think it must be because people have grown up with copyright and patent. Better the devils you know, etc.

Steve R. said 4029 days ago :

The simple answer, compromise. But, as you are also aware, compromise is pointless since those who advocate for a “strong” copyright keep demanding ever greater “protection” and view the public concerns for reasonable use with ever greater contempt.

Also, as you correctly point out – we have grown up with copyright. After all, we can’t question the integrity of our founding fathers. :) :) Why that would be heresy! Consequently, there is an automatic acceptance.

But, since the “strong” copyright crowd increasingly views my rights as being non-existent, my reaction is to move towards the Nihilist position. After all – why should I be constrained by an entity that has no respect for my rights?




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