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Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 327.
I was asked some questions about intellectual property, and how you can sell something (like information, or ideas, or even your labor) if you don’t own it, by Shea Fisker, a budding libertarian and fellow libertarian. He had just the right attitude. He listened and thought, and asked reasonable questions when he had an issue that puzzled him. Would that so many cocksure pro-IP libertarians, who really know almost nothing about IP law itself and the fundamentals of libertarian property theory, or even how to argue or discuss issues without being tendentious, equivocating, or question-begging.
Here is the interchange which led to this discussion (lightly edited), along with related links:
Hi Stephan, I’m interested in your work on IP. If someone is creating digital products, do you think it’s OK to sell them, even though they are neither non-rivalrous nor non-excludable, simply with IP removed from the picture? For example, I noticed most of your books are in physical form, embodying legit private property, but one of your books is available in Kindle and isn’t for free. Is the thought simply that selling such an informational, non-physical product is purely a voluntary, contractual exchange, and that it is only the stopping of people from freely sharing that good with others after that purchase (IP) that is wrong? There’s seemingly something tricky about even the selling of the thing, say a piece of software, when the creator could hardly be considered the owner of it in the first place. But, perhaps I am confusing something here, because to say someone couldn’t even sell a digital/informational product that they created, IP aside, seems akin to some sort of enforced communism. I hope that makes sense. I’d love to hear your thoughts. BTW, I’m from New Iberia and went to LSU in BR.
In one way, it is analogous to say, charging someone for consulting, which is simply the exchange of words, which one can’t be said to own. And to say one couldn’t legitimately (according to libertarian principles) sell a digital product at scale, would be equivalent to saying one must be forced to do all consulting publicly for the whole world to consume anytime that one tries to privately exchange a one-to-one service that isn’t physical.
So I think I aiming to clarify two things here and am somehow wrongly mixing them up: 1) the physical vs. non-physical; and 2) IP vs. selling. I am still not sure where the concept of ownership fits in here, but if we grant that selling of anything that doesn’t violate other peoples’ property is fine, then it shouldn’t matter whether the thing is scarce or not as to whether one can sell it for money. In other words, I could charge you $1000 for me to tell you “Hello” one time, if you consent to that exchange.
Not to overload you here straight out the gate, but in one of your PorcFest talks I just heard you say “Creation is not a source of property, it’s a source of wealth.” I think this point may be key in the issues I’m bringing up above.
It would take me a bit to write up an answer. Tell you what, I’ll be happy to explain it to you, but on a zoom call so I can record it and put it on my podcast, so others can hear the explanation….
In the meantime read this:
- The “If you own something, that implies that you can sell it; if you sell something, that implies you must own it first” Fallacies
- Hoppe on Property Rights in Physical Integrity vs Value
- Locke on IP; Mises, Rothbard, and Rand on Creation, Production, and ‘Rearranging’
- see p. 29 et pass of Law and Intellectual Property in a Stateless Society
- “Intellectual Freedom and Learning Versus Patent and Copyright,” esp. the section “Creation of Wealth versus Creation of Property” and KOL062 | “Intellectual Freedom and Learning versus Patent and Copyright” (2010)