Database Nations

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Both those who would expand intellectual property rights and those who would roll them back are, for the most part, restricted to making broad theoretical arguments—incentives are necessary for innovation; the ability to build on previous creative work is necessary for innovation—and appealing to anecdotes. But Duke law professor and Q-lookalike James Boyle has found a pretty good empirical case study: intellectual property rights in databases, which are protected in Europe, but not the US. Boyle concludes that the European database IP rights confer no detectable economic benefit and are little more than a means of seeking monopoly rents by market incumbents. Insert my Claude Raines–style faux shock here.

NEXT: Just Ffolkes

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  1. Another data point. I am hoping more libertarians revisit their views on IP (as I have). There is solid property rights foundation for opposing a government created ‘property’. I’m still mulling over what ideal patent law would look like. However I am firmly convinced we should do away with copyright altogether.

  2. There is solid property rights foundation for opposing a government created ‘property’.

    Interesting. I think you will find that all interests in real property are government-created in the most literal sense; that is, if you trace the chain of title back to its root, you will find a grant from a sovereign. The positivist view of the law is very hard to ignore when dealing with real property, so I’m having a hard time imagining a solid property rights foundation for opposing rights in real property.

  3. There is solid property rights foundation for opposing a government created ‘property’.

    Interesting. I think you will find that all interests in real property are government-created in the most literal sense; that is, if you trace the chain of title back to its root, you will find a grant from a sovereign. The positivist view of the law is very hard to ignore when dealing with real property, so I’m having a hard time imagining a solid property rights foundation for opposing rights in real property.

  4. RC,
    Of course as a libertarian, I am a strong advocate of property rights. Furthermore the enforcement of those rights is, while perhaps not the sole purpose of government… or perhaps it is. I therefore am in favor of a system of title and deed, despite it’s historical heresy.

    However, I no longer view intellectual property as the equivalent to more tangible property. What’s more, I find that individual liberty would be better served without copyright. A reformation of patent law is also in order.

    There are a number of reasons for this. I’ll just mention a couple that I find persuasive.

    First, IP is fundamentally different that tangible property because ‘theft’ of IP in no way deprives the ‘owner’ of its use. This by itself is no assault on individual liberty, but it does provide a clear-cut distinction.

    Second, IP fails in its role to provide benefit to the individual creator. In practice, IP is the province of whoever has the highest priced lawyers.

  5. I’m with you, Warren.
    I think the Founders went a little too far.
    If it can’t be defended by a gun, it ain’t proppitty, I say.

  6. “If it can’t be defended by a gun, it ain’t proppitty”

    This is the ungrounded ‘logic’ that makes it safe to say that anarchists are fools.

  7. For those staunch advocates of IP:

    Do you believe your posts are your property? If I quote your post, am I violating your IP?

    If I am violating your IP, what do you propose to do about it?

    If I am not violating your IP, why not? Why should a “fair use” policy even exist?

    I’m interested in moral and philosophical arguments concerning IP, not the particulars of the current laws.

  8. R.C. Dean,

    I think you will find that all interests in real property are government-created in the most literal sense; that is, if you trace the chain of title back to its root, you will find a grant from a sovereign.

    More myth-making? You’ll find that the “root” was often never in a sovereign, though sovereigns later on – of course – claimed such as a means to demand taxes, etc.

  9. Julian Sanchez,

    You’ll find that IP copyrights in databases are protected in the U.S.; lawyers came fairly easily game the system in order to create such. Thus, they are not formally protected, but one can fairly easily engineer a database to fit the requirements of copyright law.

  10. First, IP is fundamentally different that tangible property because ‘theft’ of IP in no way deprives the ‘owner’ of its use.

    The appropriate metaphor for unauthorized use of IP isn’t “theft”, but “trespassing”.

    Let’s say I own a million acres of land somewhere in Idaho. A bunch of people decide to come live on it without my permission and are always careful to stay out of my way, avoid damaging or altering the landscape, and pick up after themselves. Are these people violating my property rights? Of course they are. Even though they are harming me in no way at all, they are using my property without my permission, and that is wrong for them to do.

    Intellectual property is somewhat like an area of human knowledge that has been fenced off from the rest, with a little “no trespassing” sign posted outside it.

  11. Warren:

    First, IP is fundamentally different that tangible property because ‘theft’ of IP in no way deprives the ‘owner’ of its use. This by itself is no assault on individual liberty, but it does provide a clear-cut distinction.

    The reason to protect intellectual property is to promote its creation. The ‘use’ of IP comes from making it available to others for a cost, thus making a profit. If you ‘steal’ my IP without my consent, you have taken away my ability to charge you for its use, and therefore taken away my ‘use’ of IP.

    Do you think Microsoft created Office for its internal ‘use’ or do you think its purpose was to sell it to make a profit?

    Second, IP fails in its role to provide benefit to the individual creator. In practice, IP is the province of whoever has the highest priced lawyers.

    Um, what? I call bullshit on that one. You would be hard-pressed to name more than a very select few cases where the true creator of an IP product (book, software, invention, etc.), properly registered and actively protected by the individual, was usurped in the courts by “whoever has the highest priced lawyers.”

  12. Dan,

    Actually, certain forms of IP have characteristics which are very chattel-like as well. There is no perfect analogy.

  13. Okay, Dan, if the issue is “trespassing,” then the question becomes, “Why put up a ‘No Trespassing’ sign”?

    Shouldn’t Reasonoids be tolerant?

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