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Was the most fervent believer in intellectual property rights an IP thief? (Christian Science Monitor, 2011)

Just came across this article I wrote 10 years ago for the Christian Science Monitor, that I had totally forgotten about. (Note: I did not choose the title. I would not use the term “thief” to refer to anyone who uses ideas of others. See Stop calling patent and copyright “property”; stop calling copying “theft” and “piracy” (Jan. 9, 2012).)

Libertarian guru Andrew Galambos’ intellectual property beliefs were so extreme that he paid royalties to the descendants of Thomas Paine every time he used the world “liberty.” But did he steal his radical ideas from someone else?

A bust of Thomas Paine atop his monument in New Rochelle, N.Y. libertarian guru Andrew J. Galambos’ intellectual property views were so extreme that he paid royalties to the descendants of Paine every time he used the word “liberty,” which he claimed was coined by Paine.

Joe Sohm Visions of America/Newscom/File

Christian Science Monitor

October 28, 2011

By Stephan Kinsella

Guest blogger

I’ve written before about the quirky scientistic California libertarian guru Andrew J. Galambos, and his extreme, crazy IP ideas.1 Galambos believed that man has property rights in his own life (primordial property) and in all “non-procreative derivatives of his life”—the “first derivatives” of a man’s life are his thoughts and ideas—these are “primary property.” Since action is based on primary property (ideas), actions are owned as well; this is referred to as “liberty.” Secondary derivatives, such as land, televisions, and other tangible goods, are produced by ideas and action.2

In other words, man has “primary” property rights in his thoughts and ideas, and secondary property rights in tangible goods. Thus, as ideas are the primary form of property, Galambos claimed a property right in his own ideas, and required his students to agree not to repeat them. In Against Intellectual Property I note that Galambos

took his own ideas to ridiculous lengths dropping a nickel in a fund box every time he used the word “liberty” as a royalty to the descendants of Thomas Paine, the alleged “inventor” of the word “liberty”; and changing his original name from Joseph Andrew Galambos (Jr., presumably) to Andrew Joseph Galambos, to avoid infringing his identically-named father’s rights to the name.

A version of this “primary property” idea–elevating property rights in ideas to an even higher and more fundamental status that in scarce resources–is espoused by Ayn Rand, who incredibly said, “Patents are the heart and core of property rights.” Likewise, Objectivist IP attorney Murray Franck approvingly repeated the following quote: “intellectual property is after all the only absolute possession in the world,” and Objectivist law professor Adam Mossoff argues that “All Property is Intellectual Property.”3 And my friend and neo-Objectivist libertarian philosopher Tibor Machan has said: “it would seem that so called intellectual stuff is an even better candidate for qualifying as private property than is, say, a tree or mountain.”4

So it is interesting that I came across a much earlier use of the phrase “primary property” in a very similar context, in a 1950 article about the patent controversy by Machlup & Penrose.5 As they note (p. 11, n.34), in the debate about patent and copyright in the late 1700s:

others went as far as to say that a man’s property in his ideas was more sacred than his property in things material …

This was one of the main arguments Stanislas de Bouffler used in presenting the patent bill to the Constitutional Assembly in December 1790: “If there is for man any genuine property it is thought, … and the tree which grows on a field does not so incontrovertibly belong to the owner of the field as the idea which springs from a man’s mind belongs to author. Invention, the source of the arts, is also the source of property: it is primary property, while all other property is merely conventional ….” —Augustin-Charles Renouard, Traité des brevets d’invention (3d ed.; Paris, 1865), pp. 89-90 (first published, 1825).

It seems to me that not only are Galambosians prevented from spreading their own views because of their bizarre self-imposed IP restrictions—now they cannot even claim credit for these bizarre ideas, leading to an infinite recursive Galambosian loop.

  1. See Galambos and Other Nuts; also Galambosian IP Recursion; “Ideas Are Free: The Case Against Intellectual Property.” []
  2. See also On Andrew Galambos and His Primary Property Ideas, by Alvin Lowi, Jr. []
  3. See Kinsella, Objectivists: “All Property is Intellectual Property”; also my “Ideas Are Free: The Case Against Intellectual Property” and IP Needs A World of Scarcity. []
  4. See my post Owning Thoughts and Labor; also New Working Paper: Machan on IP (archived comments). []
  5. See Fritz Machlup & Edith Penrose, “The Patent Controversy in the Nineteenth Century,” J. Econ. History 10, no. 1 (May 1950): 1–29, at p. 11, and n. 35. This article is not available online. A compressed discussion of this matter can be found in Fritz Machlup, U.S. Senate Subcommittee On Patents, Trademarks & Copyrights, An Economic Review of the Patent System (85th Cong., 2nd Session, 1958, Study No. 15), Part II.C, “The Rise of an antipatent movement” (1850–1873). []
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