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.