Property Comes From Nature Not Praxeology · Sunday April 14, 2013 by Crosbie Fitch
Marc Clair has had Thoughts on the Great IP Debate and re-iterates Stephan Kinsella’s claim that “there is a general consensus among libertarians that intellectual property is an illegitimate concept”
It doesn’t matter whether it’s an illegitimate concept. What matters is whether property in intellectual works naturally exists – as property in material works naturally exists.
Cavemen didn’t argue with each other as to whether flint stones were scarce or not. Property in their physical possessions was a natural epiphenomenon, not something that, through praxeological debate, cavemen concluded to be a legitimate concept.
If an author has written a manuscript and keeps it in their desk drawer, it’s as much their physical property as a caveman’s flint axe. In 1787 every author instinctively knew that they had an exclusive right to their writings – a natural right to exclude any other, not only from making off with the ink & paper, but also from manufacturing a copy.
What authors may not have realised was that James Madison wasn’t interested in the author’s exclusive right to their writings, but in the lucrative monopolies enjoyed by the British Press at Queen Anne’s pleasure. That is why he suggested copyright was a common law right, and why the first US copyright act was almost identical to the Statute of Anne. But, as we know, the author’s natural right to exclude others from their writings is not at all the same as the grant of a monopoly that annuls the people’s liberty and right to copy (to leave it, by exclusion, in the hands of a few – copyright holders).
The information age doesn’t demonstrate that intellectual property doesn’t exist. It demonstrates that reproduction monopolies in the ‘hands’ of a few corporations cannot co-exist with reproduction technologies in the hands of the people (having a natural liberty and imperative to share and build upon each other’s works).
Authors can, and will always be able to, lock up their manuscripts as their intellectual property, but they cannot, and never could, give their manuscripts to another and alienate from the recipient their liberty to copy them.
Also see my comments on Kinsella’s Debate with Robert Wenzel on Intellectual Property.