Intellectual property is a big issue for the long haul

I plan to do quite a bit on intellectual property (IP) in the future because it is one area where you can attack capitalism and show how social ownership would be superior. At the moment I am spending a bit of time reading up on the views of “Austrian” economists on the subject. The libertarian/anarcho-capitalist camp to which they belong are split on the issue. The Austrians have generally disowned IP and don’t see it as legitimate bourgeois private property. The 73 page booklet Against Intellectual Property by N. Stephen Kinsella is a good place to start. He is the IP man in the von Mises universe.

Kinsella’s argument is that copyright and patents are not legitimate private property. Private property is about scarcity or rivalry in use where access to a thing needs to be limited on the basis of some generally accepted rule or rules. The Austrians base entitlement on something quaintly called “homesteading” which originates with John Locke.

According to Kinsella, IP infringes on people’s rights to use their own real property as they see fit. For example, if you own a book, a computer and a scanner, what you do with them should be your affair. He also points out that IP tends to be arbitrary in what it covers and what it does not.

Kinsella provides a very unsatisfactory response to the argument that incentives would suffer without copyright and patents. He also continues to accept restrictions on access to ideas etc. where it is through mutual agreement by means of contract – for example, workers signing an undertaking to not reveal their employer’s commercial secrets.

Here are a number questions worth exploring. What would be the effect on innovation of removing IP under capitalism? What are the ways that capitalists would create new inefficiencies in the absence of IP, for example, greater commercial secrecy? Would it be politically feasible to remove IP even with grandfathering of those with existing IP rights?

Here are lots of video presentations by Kinsella. And here is a short YouTube critique of Kinsella by an anarcho-capitalist. She disabled comments because of the responses when she did a video on how she loved illegal immigrants.

3 Responses to “Intellectual property is a big issue for the long haul”

  1. 1 Arthur

    I agree this is a key issue for shedding light on capitalist social relations acting as a fetter to the productive forces and also for developing practical proposals on how to concretely do better both within capitalism and in transition.

    Haven’t looked at the links both due to lack of time and because the description of the Austrian position makes it seem pretty irrelevant “moralising” that simply does not deal with the question of how to provide incentives that replace IP.

    Similar problem with “pirate party” and other views close to free software movement.

    Need to spell out mechanism for surveying usage, evaluating “worthiness” and allocating funds via publishers in ways that do provide the incentive to publish without imposing restrictions on free distribution.

    The arbitary features of existing mechanisms which Austrians and others presumably do highlight should ensure that it isn’t necessary to be especially sophisticated and precise in getting the inventives “right” in order to at least provide a better solution a better solution.

    Nevertheless we do need clear explanations on:

    1) how to determine (and very) the sizes of budgets used to provide incentives for particular genres, including adjustment for new genres

    2) how to evaluate the “worth” of particular works (eg mix audience voting. peer review, patronage councils) so as to reward “worthy” works more and less worthy works less.

    3) how to survey popularity (taking intent intensity as well as numbers of users) and how to weight popularity and worth in fund distribution while preserving privacy.

    4) how to reduce corruption, manipulation and fraud in both worth evaluation and popularity surveys (and budget allocations).

    5) How to handle “national culture” and “affordability” market segmentation. (Free holloywood product killing off others).

    6) How to shift gradually to production in spare time without monetary incentives.

    7)Integration with progressive taxes to encourage a long tail of creators obtaining some incentive to produce a wider range and avoid damaging the creativity of the most popular by excessive rewards like celebraties.

    8) Closely related issues for science R&D and some other forms of public goods decision makinig.

  2. 2 davidmc

    There is some literature by Austrians and other laissez-faire anti-IP types arguing that can capitalism can get by – in fact do better – without patents and copyright. I am keen to check that out.

    Before I start looking at how creative works could be better funded I had better find out more about how the business presently works.

    I’m just about to start reading this Wikipedia entry – Criticism of Intellectual Property

    And this will be on my Kindle shortly:

    Against Intellectual Monopoly by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine

  3. 3 Dalec

    The first thing a potential manufacturer or investor will ask an inventor or innovator is “are there patents, trade marks, registered designs and copyrights”. If none of these exist there will be slow progress indeed.
    The law as it stands is very much to the benefit of the capitalist (Surprise surprise) an employee must concede an idea or improvement to his boss, without any consideration at all. If he manages to patent the idea he must offer his boss first right of refusal for the commercialisation.
    Copyright serves to protect the author against wholesale theft by publishers and is routinely abused to protect the corporate owners of copyright such as Disney etc.
    Your use of the trade mark “Kindle” has already compromised your independence in this debate, you clearly have no issues at all with trade marks.
    Socialised production will have even greater need than monopoly capitalism for new ideas and new ways of doing things.
    How innovation is to be handled will be a major test, I am a great believer in the power of innovation that is present in every office and factory floor.
    Be aware that the espousal of revolutionary ides is no guarantee of modernism, remember the hysterical opposition to electric vehicles expressed in the LS a few years ago? Guess what is the fastest moving innovation in the Chinese and Asian economy?

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