I have recently become obsessed (if you don’t believe me ask my husband) with understanding the concepts used to justify intellectual property (IP) rights. My main “obsession” I suppose is rooted in my recent awakening that things perhaps are not as they were presented to me as a child. Countless concepts that I previously learned to except as simple facts of life are rooted in what I can only term as false pretenses. Whether this was perpetuated intentionally or obliviously I will probably never know, but either way I am left with a bitter taste in my mouth and a mourning for the lost years of my youth wasted in crippling ignorance.
I first started to question my understanding of IP after listening to a podcast lecture hosted by mises.org, a libertarian think tank. Advocates of IP argue that IP not only supports innovation, but in fact energizes it. Although this argument initially appears logical, as it did to my former youthful self, this belief is in all honesty surprisingly easy to discredit.
In a physical world, there are certain truths that everyone and everything, whether consciously or unconsciously, must adhere to. One of these temporal truths is all tangible goods are scarce. It is scarcity specifically that requires property rights in any society. Without them, disputes between individuals over tangible property could never be settled. No one man (or woman) could legitimately claim ownership of property over another.
That said, it is an absurd notion to extend this idea of property ownership into the realm of thoughts. Thoughts are infinitely reproducible! They are not and never will be scarce. Beyond that, neither you nor I can control the thoughts of others. If you, the reader, re-post this blog entry in own your blog, you did not “steal” anything from me. Neither did my original entry become less valuable. Even if 2,000 people re-posted this entry, I would not have any less than I started with.
This is not the case with tangible goods. If you take my lunch, I am now left without anything to eat. If I share my cookie with you by braking it in half, I am left with only half a cookie. Contrarily, if I download a podcast off of the internet, the original work has not changed or been removed from another’s computer, it did not affect the author’s ability to repeat the thoughts at another time and place, nor did it remove the thoughts from someone else’s mind.
All I’m saying is in a modern world where thoughts and ideas can literately be transported with the stroke of a key… Perhaps it is time to rethink the concept of Intellectual Property Rights?
NOTE: This is a very simplified and incomplete view of this highly complex and controversial subject. If you would like to read more, click on a few of the links in the bibliography below.
Boldrin, M. & Levine, D. K. (2002). The Case Against Intellectual Property. Accessed at http://www.dklevine.com/papers/intellectual.pdf
Kinsella, N. S. (2008). Against Intellectual Property. Ludwig Von Mises Institute: Auburn, Alabama. Access at http://mises.org/books/against.pdf
Poindexter, J. (2012). Set Culture Free. Mises Daily. Access at http://mises.org/daily/5844/Set-Culture-Free
radicalmilitantlibrarian said: The tram lady is also charged for an offense "with intent to cause fear or provocation of violence" due to having allegedly hit another passenger on the shoulder during the incident. The legal theory behind that is that free speech does not confer a right to make others fear that you might attack them or to create a real and present danger of imminent violence. (I.e., free speech does not cover threats.) The charge might be somewhat dubious given the facts of the case, but the theory is solid.
George Reisman (2011, December 21st) discusses freedom of speech in his article Free Speech & Occupy Wallstreet. In this article Reisman points out the hypocrisy of Occupy Wallstreet Protester’s claims to supposed violation to freedom of speech. Their claim, in essence, was that any attempt by the police to eject them from Zuccotti Park would in effect violate their constitutional right to freedom of speech.
Unfortunately, what Protesters and the media alike fails to understand is that Zuccotti Park is in fact a privately owned establishment. Indeed, one of the of the founding principles of libertarianism is individual property rights, frequently termed homesteading, and furthermore it could be argued that without individual property rights, free speech could not legitimately exist. Therefore, had it been the case that the park owners had invited the protesters to “occupy” the park yet the police had intervened despite the agreement of the two parties, indeed they would have been victims of free speech violation.
But we know that this was not the case. The occupiers are the guilty party in this scenario, fundamentally trespassing on lawfully owned land. For all intents and purposes they endeavored to steal the park from its rightful and lawful owners.
Reisman (2011) elequently stated, “Contrary to the prevailing view, freedom of speech is not the ability to say anything, anywhere, at any time.” That said, I must disagree with your assertion that “when her audience could not just walk on by because they were captive in the tram that the offense occurred (quoting radialmilitantlibertarian).” My reasoning is two fold.
First, the tram station and any tram shuttle is a publicly (I use that word lightly) owned institution and therefore conventional private property rights do not apply. If we assume this to be fact, then we must conclude that either that this publicly owned space is partly owned by the before mentioned individual, or that it is not owned by anyone at all. In either case, either she partly owns the space and therefore she is at liberty to say what she pleases on her “property” or no one owns it and she has therefore transgressed against no person’s rights as no one has claim to it.
Second, I disagree that her audience was “held captive”. Could they physically leave in the instant in which they desired? Perhaps not, but each individual passenger voluntarily (choice being key here) boarded the tram. If we were to consider this for instance to be captivity, then we would have to concede that a commuter in an overcrowded tram standing next to a smelly homeless person as a captive as well. The commuter’s unfortunate nose is “held captive” much in the same way as the unwilling and unsuspecting listener in the My Tram Experience. The commuter way wish to leave the tram or move to another section of the tram immediately, but is hindered in this example by the overcrowding of the vehicle. Any fair-minded individual would have to concede that although the commuter may in fact be “offended” by the homeless person’s smell, that the homeless man is not in turn guilty of aggressing against the commuter. Indeed, the commuter boarded this public space with the understanding that he may be subjected to unfortunate smells, scantily clad women, or advertisements of products for which he may have moral argument, but nonetheless he voluntarily boarded all the same.
My intent is not to demote the freedom of speech argument with my comparison to a smelly homeless guy, only to simplify my argument. Libertarian philosopher Walter Block (stated in eloquently when he said, “But in both cases, two people have come together on a voluntary basis, in an attempt to mutually gain satisfaction. In neither cases is force of fraud applied. Of course, the customer… may later decide that the services he received were not worth the money paid. The [seller] may feel that the money she was paid did not fully compensate her for the services she provided… But both regrets would be after the fact and would not alter the description of the trade as ‘voluntary’ (p. 3-4).”
All the tram riders in this example voluntarily boarded the tram knowing that it would be impossible to board until the destination was reached fully aware of the risks associated in doing so, including hearing racist rants. Whether or not they regretted the ride after the fact is another base entirely.
Block, W. (2008). Defending the undefendible. Ludwig von Mises Institute. Accessed at http://mises.org/books/defending.pdf
Reisman, George. (2011, December 21st). Free Speech & Occupy Wallstreet, MISES daily. Accessed at http://mises.org/daily/5842/Free-Speech-and-Occupy-Wall-Street
radicalmilitantlibrarian said: Regarding the tram lady: The principles of free speech do not grant an unlimited right to force others to listen. Indeed, there is a free speech principle that people can choose what speech /not/ to receive. (No forced propaganda!) Had the lady been on a public sidewalk in this country and not so loud as to disturb those in the buildings around her, it would have been legal; it is when her audience could not just walk on by because they were captive in the tram that the offense occurred.
Good point. I did hear the woman threaten violence at one point during her rant, which according the the libertarian axiom of non-aggression would justify retaliation (possibly incarceration), accordingly I cannot argue with your point in that aspect.
I’m not sure about your point that some were forced to listen because of where they were and therefore unable to leave. I am inclined not to agree with you, but I honestly never considered that aspect of the argument before. I’ll think on it and respond when I have a better understanding of your point. Interesting aspect either way though that I had never before considered.
I guess that I was just more surprised with the subsequent outcry of those posting “responses” to this woman’s words. Without fail, all those responding discussed how relieved that she had been arrested because of the horrible things that she had said. That is a slippery slope… Not to overuse an old quote, but:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.