Intellectual Property

On Soundcloud: How Should Libertarians Think About Intellectual Property?

Listen now as thinkers from Cato, Mercatus, FreedomWorks, and R Street talk about copyright, patents, history, and cronyism.


For video versions of this event, go here now.

Libertarians have long been divided on the subject of intellectual property such as patents and copyright. Does natural law extend to intellectual property rights, just like "real property" rights? Or is IP just another government-granted monopoly that limits freedom?

The Progress Clause of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress authority to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." During the Constitutional Convention, this provision was adopted by an overwhelming vote and with little debate. But IP was much more limited at the nation's founding than it is today.

In fact, copyright terms are now 580 percent longer than at the start of the 19th century and patents are now granted for software, designs, and business methods that don't look anything like the traditional definition of "inventions."

How should libertarians regard the current legal and regulatory framework and does it help or hinder progress in the digital age? And when considering reform, how can policymakers balance the interests of creators while limiting the potential for regulatory capture and industry-driven cronyism?

On October 8, 2015, R Street and Reason co-hosted a discussion on the pitfalls and merits of intellectual property at Reason's DC offices. Joining the panel was Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute, Wayne Brough of FreedomWorks, Eli Dourado of the Mercatus Center, and Sasha Moss of R Street Institute. The discussion was moderated by Reason's Nick Gillespie.

Related: Check out Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch's take on IP during "What's Your Take on IP & Net Neutrality?" during Ask a Libertarian day.

Edited by Joshua Swain. Cameras by Swain and Todd Krainin.

About 26 minutes.

NEXT: Which Presidential Candidate Resembles Which Star Wars Character?

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  1. By posting first I claim ownership all the following comments.

    1. My comment is my throbbing cock. You want to own that, go for it.

      1. Go on….

        1. Cock.Cockededy cock. Cock.

          1. Knick knack paddy whack

            1. It’s a date.

              1. It’s the mid-90’s Geocities look that really makes it work.

              2. Thats worse than my 4-cylinder-engine-fart-joke

              3. Norm MacDonald told that on a podcast, and I laughed a lot then, and I laughed a lot reading it.

                It is also a very difficult joke to tell without laughing.

                1. Norm MacDonald told that on a podcast

                  Who’d he steal it from? Or is this a public domain joke…?

                  1. I think it is an old joke. Norm’s podcast is just weird, and can be full of random stuff. This is a great joke that Martin Mull told on one of the shows.

                    1. LOL! I haven’t seen Martin Mull since Roseanne. Funny guy and joke.

              4. Best telling of that joke:


                  1. OK. I’m gay and even *I* want to save the cheerleader.

                    1. She is adorable and I’m not that into white girls.

  2. All IP is private property; all private property is IP.

    1. The Yoda of political philosophy.

    2. And so the Shiny Toy government begins its reign of derp:…..k=sf_globe

      1. What possible “Good” does a government possibly pretend to be serving by promising to ensure that “people Not Save so much!!”

        Its one thing if a government is *already* facing massive, current deficits that there is no prospect of “growing their way out of” …

        ….but with Canada, where (as of 2013) it seems a balanced-budget is within reach… WTF is the motivation to do so? It seems like an absurd thing to “promise”, since there is no immediate benefit to anyone, and its obviously something that hurts a wide range of people planning to retire.

        I don’t get it. Its like the NASA goal to “Blow Up the Moon“…. because what else can you do with it?

        1. oh, i see…

          They want to “Pay” for a tax-cut on theoretical group X… by making theoretical group Y “Pay” for it.

          What makes no sense to me is that these are in many cases going to be the same people. and the net-net is merely a reduction in the future value of your savings in exchange for modest increases in your current year paycheck (likely to be erased by tax hikes on other goods, to be sure)

          1. Yup.

            And I see the idiots in the comments section are applauding it.

            The stupid is beyond belief.

          2. Of course. “Pit class X against class Y” is straight out of the little red Leftist playbook.

  3. “How Should Libertarians Think About Intellectual Property?”

    With a can of Fanta while in my Star Wars underwear?

    1. You have enough Star Wars underwear for all of us?

      1. That would be weird.


    2. In a t-shirt with a cold Warsteiner.

      1. Naked, alone.

  4. is IP just another government-granted monopoly that limits freedom?


    Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute

    Fuck Cato

    1. Cato must have made the same mistake as reason and allowed one of their writers to express an opinion contrary to yours, which you naturally took as a personal insult from an entire institution.

  5. Since patterns are not rivalrous and thus do not constitute property.

    It’s not very hard.

    1. Thanks for the link; that clarifies certain issues.
      I still don’t see it as settled as you do. For instance, if person A patents and produces X, and person B immediately copies it, the demand for X from A is now half of what it was. It then seems the marginal production costs of that pattern may be rivalrous…
      Not sure.

      1. It then seems the marginal production costs of that pattern may be rivalrous…

        Actually, it’s revenue that is potentially rivalrous. If such rivalry exists, then marginal production costs for the original inventor will be higher than for the copier. Accordingly, the relative returns on “investment” would favor copying over invention.

        In order to say that IP is the same as other forms of property, you basically have to say you own the revenue–i.e. the money in other people’s pockets–which is why the original conception of copyrights and patents was based upon the public benefits of encouraging invention.

        1. “In order to say that IP is the same as other forms of property, you basically have to say you own the revenue–i.e. the money in other people’s pockets–which is why the original conception of copyrights and patents was based upon the public benefits of encouraging invention.”

          Obviously, no one owns the money in others’ pockets (we’re posting as if commie-kid, Tony and other thieves are not here), but if there is no product, there is no *expectation* of revenue.
          The expectation (and thereafter receipt) of the revenue is a good, much as risk is a good to be traded, no? IOWs, it is a good and a property.
          (I don’t think I’m falling into tulpa contrariness here)

          1. In fact, I can see the expectation of revenue from a pattern is indeed a rivalrous good, in that, were you to attempt to monetize it, a non-protected status would reduce the value of that pattern, but would not remove it.
            So gov’t-granted protection of a pattern is an extension of the condition of being a proxy for a rivalrous good, but not a requirement of being such.
            Terran, I’m gonna disagree.

            1. To be clear:
              A pattern can be sold, therefore it is a good.
              The first seller of the pattern holds a ‘first mover’ advantage and that means the time valuation of the good is rivalrous, making the good rivalrous (see hula hoops)

              1. A pattern can be sold, therefore it is a good.

                No shit; but so are actual, tangible goods. If I make a widget with my own time and materials, is it not mine? Then you tell me that you “expect revenue” from my widget and therefore I can’t sell it. Well, I “expected” revenue from it, too…

                Thus your “intellectual property”, which is intangible and somewhat arbitrary (why did you get the patent, and not Bob, who more or less invented the same thing at the same time?), trumps my “physical property”, which is corporeal and well defined, and so there is a conflict of “rights”.

                In fact, I can see the expectation of revenue from a pattern is indeed a rivalrous good

                Expectation of revenue is just a number pulled out of someone’s ass. It is like a climate model; it never seems to predict anything until after it’s already happened. Moreover, saying that “expected revenue” is rivalrous (i.e., zero-sum) implies that no other factors of production–not quality, not geography, not price, not warranty, not serviceability, etc.–matter. This is patently false; consumers select for more factors than simply “what the thing is”.

                You invented the thing, but made it shoddily. Bob didn’t invent the thing, but he made it well. Or he sold it where you wouldn’t. Or he offered to repair it if it broke at no extra charge. Or ….

                1. While I’m phrasing things in terms of patents, this also applies to copyright. The intangible idea of the artistic work is distinct from the factors of (re-)production. Format shift, quality/fidelity improvements, supplemental materials, derived works (e.g. abridged/parody/differently cut versions), etc. all play into a consumer’s choices. And this consumption is not inherently zero-sum. Some people will get the bootleg copy of a movie (because it’s stripped of restrictions, advertising, etc.), while still buying a legitimate copy. Where is the rivalry?

                  I’m not saying we can’t have copyrights and patents; what I’m saying is that, while they are property-like in character, they aren’t the same as physical property (real or movable). There are shades of this distinction in real vs movable property as well; land looks rivalrous (there are only so many square miles of land area on the surface of the Earth) but we have things like easements and rights of way which aren’t (always) rivalrous with primary ownership. Moreover, real property (esp. when homesteaded) can be quite arbitrary. I was farming that thin strip of land without you doing any harm to you; it’s not my fault the surveyor was a little off when he marked the line.

      2. Re: Sevo,

        For instance, if person A patents and produces X, and person B immediately copies it, the demand for X from A is now half of what it was.

        And, somehow, A “owns” the demand as well – right?

        NOW do you understand what IP is really about?

  6. Holy Shit!

    All you short-legged bitches need to step up your game

    1. What the fuck are really tall people like that doing buying Mini-Coopers?

      1. I don’t know why anyone would buy a modern Mini-Cooper but they’re actually pretty big cars.

      1. -1 Adam Sandler TW

      1. Want deep dish pizza? You can have deep dish once you understand the pain of burning the roof of your mouth off.

        1. Can I get it with foreskin or is genital mutilation extra?

        2. I have no feeling in that part of my mouth I’ve burned it so often.

    1. Want a car? You can have one, once you understand the pain of being run over.

      Want a circular saw? You can have one, once you understand the pain of cutting off your finger.

      Want a bathtub? You can have one, once you understand the pain of slipping, hitting your head, and nearly drowning.

    2. Want a military. After your house is blown up, your kids are dead, and you lose a few limbs

      1. Want a police force. After you spend a few years in a cage.

  7. “How Should Libertarians Think About Intellectual Property?”

    I like to do it while I wait for my Torrents to finish downloading…. I look at the little flags next to people’s IP addresses and go, “huh! 5 people from Belarus”… and i feel like i’m part of a global community. Which is very intellectual.

    1. I don’t torrent any more. I’m an adult now.

      I use my parent’s HBO account instead.

  8. Conyers man gets DUI on motorized wheelchair at grocery store…..-gr/nn6hj/

    WHAT IT IS, Peanuts?

    1. More stupidity from turd.

  9. Ladies and Gentlemen, the former substitute drama teacher who is the new Prime Minister of Canada, had this to say after the Boston Bombing:

    Let me try to ask this as fairly as I can, because it’s only a couple of hours after something has happened that clearly was not an accident, in Boston. People have died, many people are injured. You’re the Canadian prime minister, what do you do?

    First thing, you offer support and sympathy and condolences and, you know, can we send down, you know, EMTs or, I mean, as we contributed after 9/11? I mean, is there any material immediate support we have we can offer? And then at the same time, you know, over the coming days, we have to look at the root causes. Now we don’t know now whether it was, you know, terrorism or a single crazy or, you know, a domestic issue or a foreign issue, I mean, all of those questions. But there is no question that this happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded, completely at war with innocents, at war with a society.

  10. And our approach has to be, okay, where do those tensions come from? I mean, yes, we need to make sure that we’re promoting security and we’re, you know, keeping our borders safe and, you know, monitoring the kinds of, you know, violent subgroups that happen around. But we also have to monitor and encourage people to not point fingers at each other and lay blame for personal ills or societal ills on a specific group, whether it be the West or the government or Bostonians or whatever it is, because it’s that idea of dividing humans against ourselves, of pointing out that they’re not like us and, you know, in order to achieve our political goals we can kill innocents here. That’s something that no society in the world that is healthy, regardless of ideology, will accept.

    1. Boston had it coming – duh.

    2. Rebel Media made a little collection of Justin’s Greatest Hits. Oddly enough, none of those got a lot of play up here, regardless of which media outlet. Including not in those horrible, divisive, evil and unfair Conservative attack ads.

      1. He’s dreamy, getting comparisons to JFK. The media splooged itself. The local Npr reporter couldn’t resist tossing vonn palmer the question, “what politician is he most like?” which predictably got “Barack obama!”

        It was a creepy lovefest.

        1. Talk about being behind the times. Canada has its 2008 moment. People talk about Trump or Fiorina or Carson being “unqualified,” but this seems like electing Patrick Kennedy or some Kardashian relative.

  11. I think with copyrights there definately needs to be a distinction between commercial and non-commercial use. It’s not really practical to try and prevent people from sharing music or books or movies and that’s only going to get more difficult to enforce. Also, the timespan on those as well as on patents seems excessive.

    1. The issue with patents I think has become even murkier with attempts to patent every idea no matter how trivial. I think that whole legal concept needs to be revisited. I’m not sure where exactly you draw the distinction but I think there needs to be some actual real investment in time or money to clam any sort of patent protection. It’s gotten completely out of control. I’m open to arguments against having them at all but I’m not 100% convinced that they are a problem. I certainly can see both sides of the argument. As I said above I think the timeframe for them needs to be shortened. I think the time issue is even more important with patents them with copyrights.

  12. If IP is, in fact, private property, then what possible justification is there for EVER making it public property? If you can own an idea, well then you own it. The flaw in the logic behind patents and copyrights is built right into the idea. It’s private property or it’s not private property. If anything IP stunts progress and creation.

    1. If anything IP stunts progress and creation.

      Well, the flip side of “intellectual property” is that nobody is forced to employ it as a means of exclusion (outside of trademarks–which are kind of a weird animal and weren’t even established under the original Constitutional framework). You can obtain a patent, and yet promise (with force of contract to back it up) that you’ll never sue anyone. There’s an entire movement (“copyleft”, open-source, Creative Commons, etc.) centered around using copyrights to “free” ideas.

      The Constitution establishes a specific purpose for copyrights and patents (“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts”) and a rather important if somewhat vague limitation (“for limited Times”) on them. It seems like neither the Congress nor the courts pay this any heed, though.

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