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Natural IP is not Abstract · Friday January 15, 2010 by Crosbie Fitch

Much of the IP nihilist’s argument against recognising intellectual property refers to the straw man that IP is about claims of ownership over universal patterns such as numbers, i.e. abstract concepts. IP is actually about the writer’s or inventor’s natural exclusive right to their intellectual work that they physically realise, but also the unnatural privileges granted for the benefit of mass producers of those copyright protected copies and patented devices.

Into the tedious argument between IP maximalists and nihilists that regularly occurs in the comments to most posts at the Ludwig von Mises Institute blog, I thought I’d post a comment briefly describing the position of the IP naturalist:

Even as a copyright and patent abolitionist, I’d still argue that patterns can be property. You just have to recognise that patterns are only universals in the abstract. When a pattern is actually realised, physically manifest, then each instance has no relationship to any other except that of similarity (and possibly provenance if constructed through copying). Identity can only occur in the abstract. Two instances may be indistinguishable, but they are not a single instance.

I’ve thought of a number. It’s my idea that I own. It has been realised in my mind. If I set it down on paper it becomes my physical property (material and intellectual property). I control access to both the paper and the number written on it (while I keep it exclusive or private to me). NB I do not control the abstract number, thus have no ability to prevent anyone else using or realising this abstract number, which must be by unwitting coincidence since they have no access to the number I’ve realised. I can sell the number on the piece of paper to someone else (and my memory of it may evaporate) or I can make and sell umpteen copies of it. But no-one else can access this number unless they obtain authorisation from any one of those who have become privy to the number. However, neither myself who thought of the number, nor anyone who is privy can naturally prevent anyone else who is privy from making and selling as many copies as they wish. It would take something unnatural like copyright to pretend such power. However, no-one apart from those who are privy are naturally able to make copies, because they have no access. Other people might independently think of a number that by pure coincidence represents the same abstract number (though neither party can know this until someone privy to both recognises the similarity).

So, numbers and thus information can be property when realised, fixed in a physical medium that is separable from the body. What are unnatural abominations are privileges suspending people’s natural liberty to make copies of what they are rightfully privy to, or use/reproduce (patent) registered designs.

This is the position of natural IP, which accords with the US constitution, but is antithetical to the privileges of copyright and patent, as well as the position of IP nihilism (“No such thing as IP”).



 

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