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IP Needs A World of Scarcity

From my comment to my post New Book: Innovation, Intellectual Property, and Economic Growth:

  • Stephan Kinsella Stephan Kinsella Author Profile Page

    Peter, good point. Here’s another way to think about the incoherence of IP (and of pro-IP “arguments”): I’ve pointed out many times the hypocrisy of IP advocates, who denigrate the need for scarcity as a criteria for property; they say that intangible, non-scarce “creations” are “just as much” property as are real things. In fact, some say they are MORE fundamental than rights in lowly material things–Rand and Galambos say this; Tibor Machan even implies it. Yet, when they want to enforce rights in IP they want to use physical force, against physical things–the body or property of the IP “infringer.” Why the need to stoop down into the lowly physical world to enforce these IP rights, if IP “things” are “ontologically” “types of things” that “can be owned”?

    Consider a world without scarcity. Scarcity means rivalrousness–the possibility of conflict. So a world with no scarcity is hard to imagine exactly but it could be one in which people are sort of ghostly; or, one in which people are super-invulnerable and have the ability to create at will whatever objects they want, in the blink of an eye. A world so that no one can force others to do anthing, or harm them, or “take” anyting from them. If I see your “car” I can conjure up one for myself–yours is not taken. Etc.

    Now, in such a world–and don’t call it absurd, since the IP advocates assure us that things other than scarce things are ontologically “real” too–the IP advocates would still say that there are property rights in intellectual creations. Right? If I create a painting, then if others duplicate it without my permission they are “trespassing.” But how would such a right even in principle be enforced, in a non-scarce world? You could not use force to stop the infringer. You could not penalize him. You could not “take” any of his property as “damages.” So IP would be completely unenforceable in a world without scarcity.

    In other words, IP needs a world of scarcity in order to exist. Yet IP proponents claim that IP “objects” have independent existence, that scarcity is not necessary, etc. They even claim IP is more primary than property in lowly material things. Ridiculous.

    Published: February 5, 2010 11:03 AM

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