≡ Menu

KOL190 | On Life without Patents and Copyright: Or, But Who Would Pick the Cotton? (PFS 2015)


Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 190.

This is my talk “On Life without Patents and Copyright: Or, Who Would Pick The Cotton?”, delivered at the Property and Freedom Society, 10th Annual Meeting, Bodrum, Turkey (Sep. 13, 2015).

Video below. This version is taken from my iPhone recording. My notes used for the speech are pasted below. Also below is a video of the Q&A panel session following the talk.

Related: Do Business Without Intellectual Property (Liberty.me, 2014) (PDF).

On Life without Patents and Copyright: Or, But Who Would Pick the Cotton?


Stephan Kinsella

Kinsella Law Group, Libertarian Papers, C4SIF.org


Property and Freedom Society10th Annual Meeting

Bodrum, Turkey (Sep. 13, 2015)


  • A pleasure to be at PFS or, as I’m starting to think of it, the Land of Successive Hangovers
  • Hoppe: does not do interviews because he does not like to repeat himself
    • So I thank him for asking me to speak on intellectual property for the first time ever
  • My topic: What would life without IP be like?
    • Or: But how will people make money in an IP-free world?
    • Subtitle: But who would pick the cotton?
  • Questions about IP are often confused. There are at least three separate, though possibly related, issues:
    1. Should we have patent and copyright law? (A political-normative question.)
    2. Given that we do, how should people respond in today’s world? I.e., Life with patent and copyright. (practical and ethical question).
    3. What would an IP-free world look like? Life without (A prediction.)


  • Summarize case against IP
    • Propertarian; utilitarian
  • As for the second and especially third issues, the questions:
  • Questions are not arguments and are not always sincere
    • Sometimes loaded or rhetorical
    • But who will pick the cotton if we eliminate chattel slavery?
      • Illegitimate (and hidden/disguised) argument
    • Why do you support intellectual communism? (loaded)
    • How many brands of cars, or toothpaste, will we have in a post-communist world? (prediction and disguised argument)
    • But you’re an IP lawyer
      • Didn’t realize I was so powerful—my personal choice of career has somehow changed the structure of moral reality. I guess I’m like the libertarian Beyonder or Molecule Man
    • We cannot deny that changing state law will have no effect.
      • If state legislation had no effect, we would not mind them
      • Eliminating a bad law will have effects, just as imposing a bad law will have effects
      • So it can be reasonable to ask what effects removing a bad law will be, so long as one is not implying “and unless your answer satisfies me, we will keep the bad law in place”


  • With that said, let’s consider the second two questions
  • 2: how should people respond? Life with patent and copyright.
    • Mainly a practical and ethical question
    • Infringing IP is exclusively a prudential, not a moral, issue
      • If you can get away with copyright piracy or patent infringement, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with it
        • Torrents, etc.
      • In many fields it is difficult to avoid employing IP, given its existence
        • Publishers will insist on the assignment or license of copyright
        • Patents are often necessary for defensive purposes
        • We must be careful to avoid conspicuous copyright piracy to avoid severe penalties and imprisonment
        • Innovators and companies face the risk of being sued for patent infringement by patent trolls and large competitors
      • That said, it is arguably immoral (unlibertarian) to use patent or copyright law aggressively (offensively), for example to sue an innocent person for patent or copyright infringement,
        • or to engage in patent and copyright “trolling”
        • But it is moral to countersue someone for patent infringement (defensive)
      • Firms in some industries engage in patent pooling for mainly defensive purposes
      • And many companies today try to avoid or minimize dealing with IP:
        • My booklet “Do Business WITHOUT Intellectual Property”
        • Trade secrets instead of patents
        • They pledge not to use patents offensively (Twitter, Tesla)
        • They employ Creative Commons licensing to mostly “opt out” of the copyright system
        • Much of the software industry employs open-source software (e.g. GNU general public license)
      • Authors should be careful assigning copyright to their books to publishers,
        • and at least try to use a will or Creative Commons license to ensure that their works will not disappear after their death (“orphan works” problem)


  • Life without patent and copyright.
  • What are the likely effects of abolishing patent and copyright?
    • First: We can look at cases in today’s world where there is no IP or where it is often evaded
      • Fashion industry
      • culinary recipes, jokes, perfume
      • software
      • books, music, movies in the face of widespread piracy from technology and in countries where IP is not as strictly respected or enforced (e.g. China)
    • Second: the bad consequences that come now from IP would disappear
      • censorship
      • jail for pirates
      • Threats to Internet freedom
      • No prohibitions on jailbreaking your own phone
      • No patent lawsuits from patent trolls or competitors
      • No monopolies on pharmaceuticals (much lower prices for drugs)
      • Fewer cartels/oligopolies (e.g. smartphone industry)
      • Prices for consumer goods would fall (costs to producers would fall—no patent royalties or licensing fees, no expensive patent attorney or litigation fees)
      • We woud not have had to wait 50 years for the movie version of Atlas Shrugged
        • Some sequels may have even been written (Catcher in the Rye example)
      • Netflix would have a much larger selection of movies
      • There would be no website or youtube DMCA takedowns
      • There would be no judges ordering the destruction of movies (Nosferatu), no judges ordering people not to read books they had purchased (Harry Potter), no judges banning the publication of novels (Catcher in the Rye)
    • How would people adapt?
      • Harder to make money selling information
        • But then easier to use widely available information to improve your own content
        • And it’s better for the consumer
      • Concrete examples:
        • Music
        • Movies
        • Fashion
        • crowdsourcing
        • Novels
        • Maps
        • Poetry
        • Academic/scholarly papers and books
        • Technical innovation/R&D
{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Julien Couvreur October 5, 2015, 12:34 am

    I thought this was one of your best presentations on the topic. It’s pretty accessible and I will share it.
    Do you know when the better quality recording might become available?

Leave a Reply

Bad Behavior has blocked 1471 access attempts in the last 7 days.

© 2012-2021 StephanKinsella.com CC0 To the extent possible under law, Stephan Kinsella has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to material on this Site, unless indicated otherwise. In the event the CC0 license is unenforceable a  Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License is hereby granted.

-- Copyright notice by Blog Copyright