Intellectual Property

Ownership and Ideas

What's an idea worth?


Like many libertarians, I've learned a lot from Murray Rothbard on a wide variety of subjects. Of course, no one gets everything right, especially someone as intellectually ambitious, multidisciplinary, and prolific as Rothbard. Nevertheless, reading the work of the man who left such a mark on the modern libertarian movement is as profitable as it is pleasurable.

While rereading For a New Liberty (first published in 1973) recently, I confess I was puzzled, which is not the frame of mind Rothbard normally leaves me in. In deriving property rights, he used the example of a "sculptor fashioning a work of art out of clay and other materials."

Here's the passage that had me scratching my head:

Let us waive, for the moment, the question of original property rights in the clay and the sculptor's tools. The question then becomes: Who owns the work of art as it emerges from the sculptor's fashioning? It is, in fact, the sculptor's "creation," not in the sense that he has created matter, but in the sense that he has transformed nature-given matter — the clay — into another form dictated by his own ideas and fashioned by his own hands and energy. Surely, it is a rare person who, with the case put thus, would say that the sculptor does not have the property right in his own product. Surely, if every man has the right to own his own body, and if he must grapple with the material objects of the world in order to survive, then the sculptor has the right to own the product he has made, by his energy and effort, a veritable extension of his own personality. He has placed the stamp of his person upon the raw material, by "mixing his labor" with the clay, in the phrase of the great property theorist John Locke. And the product transformed by his own energy has become the material embodiment of the sculptor's ideas and vision.

I find it odd that Rothbard wants us to ignore, even if only for the moment, the "original property rights in the clay and the sculptor's tools." It's odd because to establish the sculptor's ownership of the finished work of art, all we need to know is that he owned the clay and tools. The artist's inspiration, creative genius, and labor — while undoubtedly important to the production of the finished product — add nothing to our ability to determine who owns the sculpture. If he owns the inputs, he owns the outputs. Period. (I elaborate on this in "Intellectual 'Property' versus Real Property.")

As Rothbard acknowledges, when we talk about creation, we don't mean it literally, as though a product comes from nothing. As libertarian thinkers have always understood, when we create things, we only change other already existing things from a less valuable (useful) form to a more valuable (useful) form. (At least that is the goal.)

Rothbard intends his example to demonstrate the injustice of depriving the sculptor of his product. He apparently thought that emphasizing the artist's creativity would be the clearest way to highlight that injustice. "By what right," he asks, "do [others] appropriate to themselves the product of the creator's mind and energy? In this clear cut case, the right of the creator to own what he has mixed his person and labor with would be generally conceded."

Again, he seems to derive ownership of the final product from "the creator's mind." Yet his second sentence, which is actually in tension with the first, indicates that we cannot ignore who owns the inputs. Had the sculptor mixed his person and labor with clay he stole from someone else, we could not conclude that the sculptor owned the final product simply because he exercised creativity and exerted effort. (He might have exercised creativity and exerted great effort in stealing the clay.) And if it would be wrong to steal the sculpture when the artist owned the inputs, then it would be equally wrong to steal the inputs themselves — before the creative act occurred. Ownership of the inputs is both necessary and sufficient for ownership of the outputs. References to mental processes add nothing to the story.

Now, I realize that Rothbard asks us to ignore the ownership of the inputs used by the sculptor only for the moment. A page later he focuses on who owns the clay:

The man or men who had extracted the clay from the ground and had sold it to the sculptor may not be as "creative" as the sculptor, but they too are "producers," they too have mixed their ideas and their technological know-how with the nature-given soil to emerge with a useful product. They, too, are "producers," and they too have mixed their labor with natural materials to transform those materials into useful goods and services. These persons, too, are entitled to the ownership of their products.

Of course, if the producers of the clay sold it to the sculptor, then ownership was transferred to the sculptor, and as noted, that's sufficient for legitimate ownership of the final product.

But note that even here Rothbard muddies things when he mentions that the producers of the clay "mixed their ideas and their technological know-how" in the process of making the clay. Why talk about ideas and know-how to establish ownership of the clay when it's enough to say that the producers acquired the land through purchase or homesteading (or lease or gift). The contents of their heads add nothing to the matter.

Why am I making such a big deal of this? Surely, Rothbard understood that if you mix your labor with inputs you legitimately own, then you necessarily also own the outputs. My concern is that his repeated references to the producers' ideas, as though they are essential to establishing ownership, introduce confusion into his analysis. He inadvertently reinforces the erroneous notion underlying patents and other forms of so-called intellectual property (IP). Someone who believes that ideas are essential to establishing ownership of products might be tempted to think that ideas themselves are products subject to ownership. Ridding ownership theory of the intellectual element will help to avert the IP mistake. (Again, this is not to deny that ideas are important to all human action.)

Rothbard did not make the mistake I refer to. He rejected patents. According to Rothbard, no independent inventor could be legally barred from making and selling his product because someone else had already come up with the idea for that product. That position constitutes a rejection of intellectual property. However, in The Ethics of Liberty, he argued that the copyright principle is applicable to inventions as well as to literary and artistic works. Thus inventors could reserve the right to copy their products. The prohibition on copying would not be merely part of the contract between buyers and sellers. For Rothbard, all third parties would be also affected, even someone who found the product after it had been abandoned. The finder, in Rothbard's view, may not legitimately copy the product because the right to reproduce it has been reserved by the inventor (or to whomever the inventor transferred the copyright to). Presumably, the product would display the copyright symbol to notify everyone that this right has been reserved and therefore does not adhere to the object.

This, to say the least, seems peculiar because, like today's patent law, it would permit inventors to dictate to others — who entered into no agreement — how they may act with respect to their own physical property and with respect to other people. For example, if I saw a wheelbarrow, for which the inventor had claimed to reserve the right to reproduce, I would be legally prohibited from fashioning my own wood and metal into that form and from selling it to someone else without the inventor's permission.

How would that be consistent with the natural right to be free from aggression? How would it be consistent with the right to ownership through homesteading and other legitimate acquisition? (For a discussion of the problems with the reserved-copyright approach, I refer readers to Stephan Kinsella's Against Intellectual Property. Also see his "The Case Against IP: A Concise Guide." For refutation of the claim that IP is necessary for innovation, see Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine's Against Intellectual Monopoly.)

For the sake of justice and freedom, we ought not to falsely found ownership on ideas and creation

This article originally appeared at the Future of Freedom Foundation.

NEXT: New York Times Acknowledges "Assault Weapon" Bans Are Bogus Nonsense

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. It’s been a while since I read it, but I remember thinking that Rothbard’s defense of copyright was ridiculous. No one is perfect. If you ran into your highschool calc teacher and she told you that 1 + 7 = 9 would you reject everything you learned from her about integrals?

  2. I can’t think of a logical argument for why somebody who makes something owns not only that thing but the very idea of the thing as well, the sole right to create other copies of the thing. I can understand the utilitarian argument for intellectual property rights – IP laws that allow an artist or inventor to profit from creating new things means we are more likely to get more new things – but the benefit of getting more new things is alloyed by the drawback of having rent-seeking weasels attempting to game the system by claiming IP rights where they don’t or shouldn’t apply and thereby ensuring that we get fewer new things created. The question is: do the benefits outweigh the costs?

    1. I have the same problem with the idea of limited-liability corporations, what logical argument can you make that if you create something that harms someone in some way (if by nothing more than accruing unpaid debts for production materials) you aren’t responsible for that harm if you have a magic piece of paper that says the magic piece of paper is the thing responsible for the harm? I can understand the utilitarian argument that without limited liability there will be less risk-taking in creating new things, but what about the moral hazard of corporate managers – shareholders, boards of directors, and executives – taking a sanguine approach to risk mitigation given the fact that “hey, it ain’t my money I’m gambling with, when the shit hits the fan I can just walk away from the mess”?

      I can also understand that if you deal with a corporation you go into the deal knowing that if the corporation goes bankrupt or whatever that you may be SOL as far as getting them to live up to their end of the deal, but what happens when it’s one corporation dealing with another and the actual human beings making the deal both know that if the deal works out they can make money but if the deal doesn’t work out nothing bad is going to happen to them? Doesn’t it encourage more risk-taking than is desirable?

      1. I disagree. Anyone who is owed money from an LLC had to have entered into some contractual arrangement with them to be owed anything of value. Because you knowingly go into contract with an entity that is specifically designed to shield its individual members from legal liability, you are accepting that fact as a term of your contract.

        1. Which does not address the morality of the state creating that legal environment.

          And more importantly, does not address torts caused the LLE to third parties.

          1. It doesn’t matter if the state made the legal environment. It is still understood to be part of your contract and you did have a choice in signing that contract.

            Who are these “third parties” and why does this LLC owe them anything if they don’t have some kind of contract with them? I mean I theory, if an LLC denies payment to another company and then in turn, that company cannot pay its employees, the employees have a gripe with their employer, not the LLC.

          2. And more importantly, does not address torts caused the LLE to third parties.

            The issue here is that the shield of liability has been too broadly construed.

            If John Smith, employee of Acme LLC, commits a tort against Jane Doe, random bystander, then the ensuing case should be Doe v. Smith not Doe v. Acme LLC.

            1. Your example makes no sense. Why is Jane Doe even bringing suit against Acme, if John Smith did the deed?

              If Jane had a contract with Acme to supply her with industrial strength rubber bands, and John, an employee of Acme, sold her a type that would not have the strength needed, Acme would be at fault for any harm that came from John’s negligence because he is acting in that capacity.

              Lets say Jane has a company too, an LLC called Widgets. Widgets LLC uses big rubber bands from Acme in their factory. Somehow, an innocent bystander gets hurt when one of the bad rubber bands snaps. The person operating the machine at the time was Joe, an employee at Widgets. Is Joe at fault, jane? What about John, the sales rep from Acme? Do you even think that any one of these individuals could possibly compensate the innocent victim for his pain? Would you like to get used for a work accident you might have been only partially to blame for? Of course not. Acme failed to train John on his product. widgets failed to prevent random outsiders from wandering past dangerous equipment. Who should pay now?

  3. This type of article illustrates why they say “Libertarians are college students who smoke dope and then debate their friends until 2am”.

    1. I literally Googled “Libertarians are college students who smoke dope and then debate their friends until 2am”. No one other than you is saying that. Dumbass.

      1. This shows you two things – first, no one cares much about libertarians unless the Kochs pay them to. Secondly, stringing ideas together isn’t always the forte of google.…..ibertarian

        “A Republican who wants to smoke pot and have wild sex.
        Example: “Bob Barr voted for the Patriot Act, but somehow got addicted to pot and butt sex, so he became a Libertarian so it wouldn’t look so bad if someone found out about it.”

        Lots of good definitions there for you to see exactly how the public view this “thinking”…and I use that word in quotes.

        Here’s the 2am part:…

        “I hope he can separate the theoretical and the interesting and the hypothetical questions that college students debate until 2 a.m. from the actual votes we have to cast based on real legislation here.”

        It’s quite well known in modern vernacular that “Republican who smokes dope” is the main definition – but based on the numerous articles here about sex among the young, we can see some of the other fascination. As far as 2am, many of the posts even here seem to happen at that time, so they are either up “debating” or doing something else…maybe getting home from the late shift at the 7-11?

        1. Ah the old, “libertarians are simultaneously the most powerful force destroying the world, and nothing but a bunch of losers no one seriously pays attention to”.

        2. That’s what happens when you hang around with Barney Frank.

  4. Whoever has the biggest gun, obviously. Don’t tell me we can use government as a third-party enforcer of an abstraction such as intellectual property rights but can’t use it subsidize tangible basic needs. That would be picking and choosing, on the basis that you merely like having IP.

    1. You missed the entire point of the article. The article is essentially saying that while Rothbard may have gotten some things right, it would seem that he is suggesting IP rights be enforced by law, which is basically using force to prevent other people from using their brains and creativity to shape their own resources the way they wish, just because someone else already did it.

      Additionally, your comparison is off the mark. At least with IP, you are preserving the ownership of the raw materials (clay). In your example, you are suggesting that the raw materials themselves can be removed by force from their rightful owner and given to others who contributed no effort at all to obtain those resources, except to be especially needy looking in the eyes of a bureaucrat.

      1. The point is, IP is wrong because of the violence it necessitates against people who never entered into contract with the inventor.

        1. A speck of consistency that makes capitalism impossible. How tough it must be to be a libertarian. You just can’t win.

          1. Rothbard isn’t capitalism, nor is he libertarianism. Just because he seems to be suggesting IP be enforced, doesn’t mean it is right, or capitalistic, or libertarian.

            The article is critical of this very concept. Capitalism does not need IP to work, in fact, it would work a lot better if we didn’t have IP.

            And handing out basic necessities to everyone who claimed to be poor, would make everyone poor, except the bureaucrats who hand shit out. Look at the Soviet Union. On top of that, it is wrong to take resources from one farmer who LABORED to get those resources and hand them over to someone who did nothing to earn them. Unless you think its ok to make people pick cotton without compensation.

    2. you know what? you’re right, Tony.

      However, it’s the fact that WE DON’T HAVE THE MONEY to pay for all the infinite welfare that you want to giver out that makes it immoral. And let’s face it, there’s basically no end to the amount of welfare/social programs that you fucks want. You’ll ALWAYS spend more and more than you tax even if you were allowed to raise the tax until you eventually bankrupted us, like you did with Detroit

      1. So stop telling me the trillions you are fine with wasting on pointless tax cuts are morally superior. That it’s 100% acceptable to spend tax money on stuff you like and 100% impermissible to do anything else.

        These shifting rationalizations for your arbitrary policy preferences are getting tiresome. Welfare is immoral because it costs too much? That’s a new one.

        1. Tony your arguments are getting tiresome. You know What Edwin is saying. Instead of being content with just stealing a little bit, shits like you try to steal it all incrementally. You are the really stupid parasite that kills it’s host.

  5. But note that even here Rothbard muddies things when he mentions that the producers of the clay “mixed their ideas and their technological know-how” in the process of making the clay. Why talk about ideas and know-how to establish ownership of the clay when it’s enough to say that the producers acquired the land through purchase or homesteading (or lease or gift). The contents of their heads add nothing to the matter.

    Also note that Rothbard’s rationalization excludes midddle men, who merely buy and resell property at a profit.

    The construct of his argument is a very dangerous semi-socialist one. Although, it undoubtedly is merely a reflection of the zeitgeist at the time.

    1. Also note that Rothbard’s rationalization excludes midddle men, who merely buy and resell property at a profit.

      Eh, that’s pretty well covered by the right to transfer ownership of property voluntarily.

  6. The artist’s inspiration, creative genius, and labor ? while undoubtedly important to the production of the finished product ? add nothing to our ability to determine who owns the sculpture. If he owns the inputs, he owns the outputs. Period.

    What is this magical property by which only partial ownership of the inputs can lead to full ownership of the outputs which include objects outside of the person him or herself? After all, under Lockean property theory I don’t actually own the unowned materials or property until I’ve worked with them to the point that I’ve “improved” it through labor or somesuch. Oh right, the X-factor is work — I almost forgot. So I guess every time I take a shit in an unowned toilet, I own it. Or something. Nothing at all like the magical thinking involved in copyright.

    Also? Perhaps Reason would be better off leaving the philosophical aspects of libertarianism to Mises or some libertarian journal; Richman just plain sucks at it.

    1. Outsource this shit to Volokh or Popehat.

    2. If you revisit this thread, maybe you could restate your first line a little differently. I’ve read it several times over, and the bit about partial ownership isn’t connecting for me with Richman’s argument.

      The sculptor would necessarily have to own his “raw” materials, which would not be raw in the sense of being unworked. Granite has to be mined and drug from a quarry, the material for a chisel has to be mined, smelted, and forged, etc.

      In the case of unowned, undiscovered property (or universally owned if you’re a Lockean), there’s necessarily a subjective element of labor that, as far as I know, has not been definitively described outside of appeals to common law and cultural standards. Dumping the soup in the ocean wouldn’t make it yours by any reasonable or common standard, but labeling every tree in a rain forest may, depending on the culture’s notions of what constitutes property as defined by evolved common law.

  7. Thought experiment — if I copied and pasted this article on a PC I own, and put it on a website I own, and put my name on it, would Sheldon Richman have any problem with that, since he doesn’t believe in IP?

    1. Copyright isn’t (and never was) a property right. Sheldon Richman has, under copyright law, rights to tell you not to duplicate it, plagiarize it, and so forth.

      People confuse copyright with property rights, particularly with respect to ideas, all the time. The problem is further muddied by the fact that the government recognizes copyright as property, thanks to all the donations from the *AA’s.

      You’re talking about copyright infringement, not property rights (with your scenario).

      This explains it better, though:…..t-property

      1. If you are claiming that I can not take your written down thoughts and republish them anywhere I want, without attribution if I so choose — which is the basis of copyright law — then you are claiming property rights in those ideas.

    2. Setting aside Richman’s opinion for the moment, suppose you did just that.

      So what? What have you deprived him of? How have you materially harmed him in any way?

      Suppose furthermore that you made some money off of it. Now, you have a material gain from someone else’s thoughts. Yet Richman’s article still exists, and he still has a platform from which to show that you have plagiarized his thoughts.

      If people continue to consume “your” content, then does that not constitute an affirmative choice on their part to favor what you provided over what Richman has provided? On what grounds does Richman have to demand that eyeballs come his way instead of yours?

      You have as much right to put words (original or otherwise) to print as Richman does. Consumers have as much right to give you money as they do to give him money. To say that you have caused injury to him is to say that he was owed the money out of their pockets.

    3. He’d have a personal problem with it for the same reason he might have a personal problem with you calling him a child-eating warmonger, but that doesn’t mean he’d aggress against you or your property. Even thick libertarianism (pretty sure that SR identifies as such) don’t believe that libertarianism is a totalistic moral system, just a political one.

  8. If I sneak up behind you and brand you, you become my property! Gotcha!

    If I whisper an idea in your ear and brand your neurochemistry, I can govern your actions. Gotcha!

    It’s evil.

  9. There is an interesting trend in the world today which seems to place a premium on “creative” ideas versus the work, energy, knowledge and talent required to put ideas into practice. Concept ideas are a dime a dozen; actual solutions to problems less-so, but practical, applicable, testable (let-alone TESTED) concepts are the real value.

    The idea that we should place any real-world value on someone simply stating/identifying a “new” (or old) concept is tantamount to stating if the Wright Brothers had a marketing department they would have claimed ownership to the invention of powered flight.

    1. That’s the perverse irony of corporations and holding companies “owning” the copyright of some author’s work.

      It’s silly to think someone who didn’t create the work owns the rights to it. Oddly, that’s how media companies behave, these days. Disney robbed from the Public Domain, and thanks to large stacks of cash, holds on to those things in perpetuity without giving back to the Public Domain.

      To all the copyright == property folks out there, how does that further useful arts and science again? Life + 90 years?

    2. The trend is simple.

      You don’t make money producing commodities, you make money when you can produce something that others can’t.

      The easiest way to make that happen is to have people with guns prevent others from producing it. Hence ownership of ideas. Or licensing laws. Government enforced monopoly. That’s where easy profit is at.

      Monopoly power through being *just that much better* than others is hard. Monopoly power through government guns is easy.

  10. I’ve always consider it this way… the inventor has the right to invent, create, and sell a product. Everyone else should have the right to create the same product. But they cannot sell the product that they create because only the inventor can.

    1. But they cannot sell the product that they create because only the inventor can.

      Why? This creates all kinds of anti-libertarian invasion of private contract nonsense. Additionally, it creates all kinds of prejudiced distinctions about which thoughts and ideas are patentable/protectable and which aren’t.

      I’m all for discoverers/inventors getting rich and famous, but these rules don’t guarantee riches or fame and do guarantee that the government has to interfere somewhere to prevent people from conducting business as they see fit.

      I don’t like arguments against libertarianism because they usually invoke some sort of absurd scenario where one guy has something that everyone else needs and refuses to produce and/or distribute it at any fee (rational or not) and so, the public must erode individual property rights or die. The problem with IP rights is that are designed to create just such scenarios.

    2. …create just such scenarios, artificially.

  11. OT: Wondering given all the police militarization we all decry, how Rothbardian (maybe it’s more Nozickian) ideas about competing firms when it comes to law enforcement would improve that situation.

    1. If all police were private, and only harm were crime …. victims (or their guardians) would call police. Police would be fully accountable, much more polite, and much more prone to thinking ahead.

      1. Wouldn’t there be firms that would, to cater to their customers, go full SWAT-tard?

        1. Sure, but without government backing, they’d just be simple thugs, fully accountable for their actions.

          1. Accountable to whom again? I have no doubt there would be a range of different enforcement firms. Including full on military-style (SWAT) types. Why would I choose a weaker or less outfitted firm to enforce my rights?

            I am a libertarian, but these flights of philosophy I’ve never found convincing. Some government as a necessary evil seems, alas, best in practice. Which is why I’m not an anarchist.

            1. I really am interested to hear what you and others have to say on this matter. I want to understand this better.

            2. Accountable to their victims. Victims of AAA Police would call on Unified Police or Bob-s Cops for investigation. Any cop agencies who declined to investigate fellow cops would get the reputation they deserved, leaving plenty of opportunity for upstart agencies, and victims could always get their cousin Vinny to take the case as a last resort, or even do it themselves. Because no cop agencies would have government backing, they would have no legal way to block an investigation, and any illegal blocking, lack of cooperation, or active obstruction would just make the coverup all the more criminal.

              1. I loved Gangs of New York! As a movie, not a lifestyle. Therein lies the problem.

                1. Great. Throw in the easter bunny while you’re at it. For someone who claims to want to understand other points of view, you do a remarkable job of hoisting strawmen.

            3. Accountable to whom again? I have no doubt there would be a range of different enforcement firms. Including full on military-style (SWAT) types. Why would I choose a weaker or less outfitted firm to enforce my rights?

              Would you, or anyone you know, pay high monthly premiums to have a gang of SWAT teams go and periodically bust down your neighbor’s doors and throw them in a cage because you found out they were smoking weed?


              Wouldn’t it be a massive improvement to not have to pay for that?

        2. Do you think insurance companies–who would fundamentally run the world in libertopia by catering to the needs of their clients, large and small–would sit still for SWAT behavior when so many people are harmed by it?

          Private security wouldn’t be perfect or a utopian end of history, but it would cut down on violent abuse by aligning the incentives of private police with common desires for security and safety from bad actors who’re presently protected by the state.

    2. Law enforcement as a for-profit business is a really bad idea. When “arrests” are your only metric, you arrest more people.

  12. Dude that makes a lot of sense man.

  13. I like the argument about who owns the statue if the artist stole the materials. Made me smile — a new twist. I’ve never liked intellectual property. It has always been my premise that one of the intrinsic, ummm, properties of property is that it must have effective transferable control. It’s why you don’t own the airspace over your property except to some controllable limit — a few feet for pasture land, thousands if you build a skyscraper.

    But this particular section made me smile because I know people who would say the artist owns the art, even if it was made with stolen materials and tools. So if I steal wood and build a doghouse, I don’t own the doghouse, but if I use that same material and make a statue, I do own it. I am sure they would say that. And it makes me smile.

    Thank you, Sheldon.

    1. Just make a doghouse sculpture.

    2. All the carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, water, etc., atoms and molecules of ALL of the (non-Native-American) brains of ALL inventors in North and South America? ALL of this “raw material” input into trademarks, copyrights, and patents? ALL of it has been STOLEN from the Native Americas!!! Therefore, it is clear to ME (if not to you, and you don’t mater, because I am more righteous than you are), that ALL of the patent and copyright royalties etc., in all of the Americas, should IMMEDIATELY be repatriated to the “Native Tribes” that are fully recognized, credentialed, and pedigreed by Government Almighty of the USA. I have spoken!!! Read and heed!!!

    3. but IP rights are just as “controllable” or “transferable” or “tangible” as land rights and so many other made-up forms of property that we have. They’re all just enforced by law/custom. Land rights are just as intangible as IP rights, unless I’m missing something and all those lines in the ground you see on plats are actually drawn under the ground by Gaia herself.

      1. Well, one difference is that I have to pay out the ASS every year (real estate taxes) for the “privilege” of owning my own land. Let’s make KKKorporate AmeriKKKa pay yearly taxes for their patent rights, to square it all up, seems fair to me?

        Another theory of mine? I invest time-labor-money into my real estate, I have to pay more taxes, because my property is more valuable now. When athletes and movie stars get training and diet supplements and plastic surgery and what-not, to make their BODIES more valuable, likewise, to make it “fair and square” against me as a homeowner, they should be paying “body taxes”!!! If I can’t pay my real estate taxes, I get “taxed” out of my home? For them? Same deal? They should be “taxed out of their bodies” if they cannot pay!!!

        1. SQRLSY,

          Your first paragraph is quite a good idea.

          If people want to treat ideas as property through copyrights and patents, they should have to pay property taxes for that privilege.

          Like land (property) taxes, intellectual property taxes would increase as the value of the property increases. Ideas which remain unrealized or are not sold for profit would incur no tax. Once someone tries to make money from the idea, they would have to pay taxes proportional to the monetary value of the idea in return for protection of their property rights.

          This would create a new revenue stream for government and act as a brake on patent trolls, who would have to fork over a part of any settlement, in proportion to its value, as property tax in addition to any other taxes incurred (such as capital gains, etc). I haven’t thought through all the possible implications but the effects could be far-reaching.

          Of course, those who are so hot on enacting and enforcing IP laws would fight like hell to prevent this from ever happening but, the idea would certainly have popular appeal as another means to tax the rich.

      2. There is no effective control of IP. An individual painting or recording or novel can be sold — but copying cannot be prevented.

        This is not about tangible or intangible, or scarcity. I would have no problem with someone asserting control over a recording or ebook if they actually could sell uncopyable copies. But that’s an oxymoron, just as IP itself is.

        1. Yes there is, the current schema, where the property owner can sue for infringement. You know, same as land rights.

          They’re both equally imaginary and enforceable. The only “real” and “natural” property is small, movable personal property.

          1. IP infringement is almost undetectable, and the only thing which makes it profitable is government backing.

            1. again, same as with land rights. Why can’t you get this?

              Even granting your [odd] claim, so what? Does the effectiveness of enforcement really effect the validity of the right?

              Land rights are imaginary property lines drawn on maps and defended by the right of the “owner” to sue for breach. IP rights are imaginary conceptual lines drawn on submitted patents and trademarks, or automatically presumes to pop into being in the case of copyrights, defended again by the right of the owner to sue for breach.
              They’re the same thing. WHere is the difference? I think you think there is a difference, which is the intuitive but in this case incorrect way of thinking

              1. Oh pish tosh. You keep asking the same question, I answer, you won’t answer my objections. Poo on you.

          2. If I exchange my small movable personal property for money, am I not entitled to use that money to buy large immovable property?

    4. IANAL, but I know a couple and we talk law a lot.

      I believe is the materials were basically commodity materials, the artist would own the statue, but owe compensation to the original material owners for the market price of the commodity materials. Common law is generally about equitable outcomes and restitution, not fetishizing the rules of who owned what clump of what.

  14. Why do some libertarians want to end the pharmaceutical industry or any other whereby it is so much easier to copy a product than to invent it?

    1. Because we don’t like being shaken down for money by government enabled monopolists.

      1. But here’s the catch: Nobody is shaking you down and forcing you to buy antibiotics or airliners.

        If I invest millions in inventing a drug to treat your antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, I expect to recuperate that investment, with profit. Without IP, there’s no reason for me to invest, and you can bitch about being “shaken down” for a fucking funeral plot instead of my product.

        1. Nobody is shaking you down and forcing you to buy antibiotics or airliners.

          OK, I’m just being shaken down for the salaries to debate about whether I should be shaken down for drugs I, or my kids, don’t necessarily need in order to take part in programs that we’ve already been shaken down for;


          I feel so much better than 6th or 7th shakedown, that will help me experience the previous 5 shakedowns more safely, is entirely at my discretion.

        2. If I invest millions in inventing a drug to treat your antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, I expect to recuperate that investment, with profit.

          So you want a monopoly to justify jacking up the price of the drug to recoup your R&D cash.

          If I can make the same drug cheaper, why shouldn’t I be able to?

          If you can make the same drug cheaper, why shouldn’t you?

          1. If I can make the same drug cheaper, why shouldn’t I be able to?

            WTF? If you can use the rule of law to force people to pay your premiums or die; why bother with the whole “drug discovery” B.S.?

            Your time would be better off investing in ways to tap into the much larger market of people who will never contract gonorrhea. I bet if you spent enough money to create a narrative about insurance premiums and equal access to medical care, maybe greased the right palms on K Street, you could probably make it mandatory for people who will never have a need for your product biologically; pay for your product.

          2. If I invest the time and capital to invent something like a new drug, then yes, I expect to recoup my investment plus profit.

            It’s easy for you to make the same drug if you don’t spend the money on R&D, and just steal my formula that took me millions of dollars to develop. You shouldn’t be able to because it removes any incentive for me to invest further millions in R&D for new drugs. Without an investment of time and capital, there are no new drugs, airplanes, cars, etc..

            These things don’t invent themselves.

            Of course, in a libertarian utopia, I’d have millions to invest and nowhere to invest it, so I’d just hire someone to burn your factory down and imprison all your workers for stealing from me, just for something to do.

  15. OK, fine,

    then can we also admit that owning land and “homesteading” is bullshit?

    I mean, fuck, even our “immoral” IP system at least has a time limit on patents. Land ownership IN PERPETUITY is way out of line of the original principles of “mixing your labor with stuff”. WHy the hell should your rights extend beyond what you’ve input? Some dude 100 years ago built a fucking $200 fence on the property and so the chain of title remains forever? Bullshit. Clearly the “mixing your labor” would have a time limit like modern IP does, based on a reasonable time to get the investment back plus a little.

    1. A number of us believe this. Look up Geolibertarianism at La Wik.

    2. “…can we also admit that owning land and “homesteading” is bullshit?”

      It’s these kinds of comments that will forever commit libertarians to the outer fringes of politics.

      “Some dude”, bought 100 acres for $5000 25 years ago. He paid off his mortgage, and ownership was transferred “in perpetuity” to him and his heirs. At what point in the future do you plan on taking that land from him?

      1. Ideally, when the land is no longer occupied or put to use (e.g.: being cultivated or used as a warehouse facility) and there is no clear owner, then it is considered “unowned” until someone homesteads it.

        Properly understood, abandoned property is exactly that, abandoned. And, therefore, unowned.

        1. If I own a piece of property, it’s mine no matter what I choose to do with it. If I choose to leave my land uncultivated, it is still my land. I challenge you to find a single piece of land in the US that is “unowned, abandoned or not.

          1. Note: “and there is no clear owner

    3. For one, it’s unclear that fencing in a piece of land is sufficient for ownership. But whatever the cultural standard for ownership is, if a piece of land is owned, it can be willed, sold, given or even repudiated back to a state of unclaimed nature. More important than the particulars (right to roam and other cultural norms of ownership included) is that there’s political protection and mutual respect between people for each other and their property, however it’s defined.

      If we ditch homesteading theory and adopt some variety of socialist theory in which capital goods belong somehow and broadly to “the people,” there is no agriculture, as no one would be willing to raise corn or wheat that could be eaten freely by others with no compensation, and White Indian comes back to gloat while 90% of humanity starves and the rest of us return to being hunter-gatherers.

  16. Why talk about ideas and know-how to establish ownership of the clay when it’s enough to say that the producers acquired the land through purchase or homesteading (or lease or gift). The contents of their heads add nothing to the matter.

    Because Locke would argue that the clay belonged to nobody before it was extracted and sold, and only the person that produced something with it deserved to be called the rightful owner.

    1. Locke said that unclaimed property belonged to everyone, not no one, which is how the Lockean proviso wormed its way into the debate–if everyone has a claim to something that hasn’t been worked, then a single actor can’t claim all of the property for his own good without doing significant harm to everyone else. It was Rothbard and the emergent libertarian movement who said that it belonged to no one until it was worked, which effectively neuters the proto-socialist Lockean proviso. Block is pretty passionate about this point, though I haven’t read up on it very much.

      All of this talk about universal ownership vs. no ownership made a lot more difference prior to the 20th century, back when land was the world’s most important capital resource and the limited amount of land available to be worked seemed like an insurmountable problem for unalloyed private property. That’s how Georgism became so popular among early or proto-libertarians. WIth the capital explosion of the 20th and 21st centuries, much of the talk about land and limited capital seems naive and antiquated (as would most of the non-emotional arguments for socialism and the end of the division of labor).

      1. Locke said that unclaimed property belonged to everyone, not no one,

        Wrong; Locke said precisely the opposite. If I remember right:

        If a land belongs to everyone, then it belongs to no-one, and an actor that mixes his labor with the land gains natural ownership of that land.


          Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.

          It’s a small point, but an important one, as I mentioned in the last part of my previous post about the importance of land in the 19th century and before.

  17. I stopped after reading this stupid shit…

    The artist’s inspiration, creative genius, and labor ? while undoubtedly important to the production of the finished product ? add nothing to our ability to determine who owns the sculpture. If he owns the inputs, he owns the outputs. Period.

    What does he mean undoubtedly important? I would say necessary and sufficient. If and only if. Geez.

    1. Oops I didn’t read the next to the last sentence…NEVERMIND.

  18. On this issue. A little black market activity is healthy for society. IP, and copyright laws make these markets possible. I know, from a Libertarian perspective this is a strange way to look at it.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.