Ask a Libertarian

Ask a Libertarian: What's Your Take on IP & Net Neutrality?


Welcome to Ask a Libertarian with Reason's Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch. They are the authors of the new book The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America.

Go to to purchase, read reviews, find event dates, and more.

Matt refrences Peter Suderman's article, "Internet Cop," found here: 

On June 15, 2011 Gillespie and Welch used short, rapid-fire videos to answer dozens of reader questions submitted via email, Twitter, Facebook, and In this episode, they answer the questions:

Steven Nowosielski: 
"How can libertarians condemn intellectual property?"


Waldemar Ingdahl via Twitter: 
"So what's the the libertarian perspective on net neutrality?"

For the complete series, go to and's YouTube Channel at

Produced by Meredith Bragg, Jim Epstein, Josh Swain, with help from Katie Hooks, Kyle Blaine and Jack Gillespie.

NEXT: Ask a Libertarian: What About the War on Drugs?

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  1. how are these related?

    1. They are both statist polices dressed up in libertarian values.

      1. weaksauce.

  2. Which net neutrality are we talking about here? There are so many to choose from! Is the the one where the government forces networks to carry the packets of other networks? Or is it the one where the government forbids networks from price discriminating based on packet type? Or is it the one were the government puts price controls on the last mile provider?

  3. Also, did Nick and Matt release the book under a creative commons licence?

  4. Nick has been reading his Konkin, note his invokation of the lack of any legitimate economic harm from IP violations is, in style and substance, pretty much the opening shot of Copywrongs.

  5. You know, by the time we end the war on drugs, end corporate welfare and the warfare state, reclaim the 4th amendment, stop taking money away from the poor young to give to the rich old, implement some kind of fiscal solvency, and remove barriers to starting businesses, I have to say that I’ll be so happy that I don’t think I’ll care what we do about IP.

  6. What exactly happened on the Reason cruise? Things have been awkward ever since getting back.

  7. Copyright 2011, Reason Magazine

    1. yeah, so what’s the licence?

  8. “How can libertarians condemn intellectual property?”

    By being inconsistent and hypocritical in their application of private property rights.

    1. Depends on what rational basis you use for where property rights derive from. If you are a natural rights sort of person, it’s up for debate (though probably leaning anti-IP; Robinson Crusoe doesn’t have the right to bash Friday’s head in for copying something he does). If you take the lockean point of view that property rights come from the “conversion of something useless to useful” then you come down pro-IP. If you take the utilitarian point of view that property rights are necessary to encourage labor, then you’re also pro-IP. If you take the utilitarian point of view that property rights are necessary to avoid the tragedy of the commons, you come down for IP if you think knowledge is scarce, you come down against it if you think it’s unlimited.

      here’s semi-libertarian Nina Paley on a fundamental difference between copying and material theft:

    2. They should have at least pointed out that, like abortion, IP is one of those questions that tend to divide libertarians.

      Personally, I can see a pragmatic argument for net neutrality too, in some form* — but I’m aware that what’s proposed is not that form, and it’s being proposed by an agency that is more than willing to censor content in those forms of media it regulates heavily, with the backing of a government desperate to control the internet, at the behest of a political movement that believes that restricting the speech of its enemies is not illiberal, but simply “fair” (which incidentally controls the agency and government right now).

      *From a practical perspective, low-level IP tends to toward less competition because of its capital and land-rights intensive (not to mention highly regulated and politicized) nature. Conversely, the market for services built on IP is incredibly dynamic and is only now getting infected with K Street tendencies. It’s much more feasible to prevent the former market’s uncompetitive tendencies from leaking into adjacent markets than to make it competitive. And we already do this in the power industry (with transmission and generation), which has been critical for the creation of functional generation markets.

      1. “Conversely, the market for services built on IP is incredibly dynamic and is only now getting infected with K Street tendencies.”

        You’ve never worked for biotech, have you?

        Having been a coder (I wrote an an android app), I opted to not bother copyrighting or whatever because you can sell a ton of copies really easily, fast, and relatively securely using built-in “DRM” and the cost of purchase (less than a coffee at starbucks!) is far less than the effort to break the DRM.

        A whole industry is built up on the fact that development is faster than copyright infringement; that other assets (like social network data possession) is worth more than the software – the only players dabbling in IP suits are the big ones.

        Contrast that to biotech. I talked to a VC; basically you can’t even pitch an idea unless they’re sure that it can be protected by patents. If I’m successful, I’m going to try to upend that model. Maybe in 20 years you’ll see a company that sells “direct-to-generic” drugs.

        1. “You’ve never worked for biotech, have you?”

          Sorry, total communication fail (my fault for using the same acronym in two different ways). I was referring to the Internet Protocol.

          1. shoulda said TCP/IP.

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