Steal This Intellectual Property


In 1971 the yippie radical Abbie Hoffman wrote a book advocating resistance to government, capitalism, and the "Pig Nation." Steal This Book advocated shoplifting, squatting, and other methods of living off other people for free. The title and the contents made the manuscript hard to peddle. But when it finally got a publisher it sold well in bookstores, which was good for Hoffman financially. It turns out that most people want to live off other people not by stealing but by paying a fair price earned by their own labors. Hoffman remarked, "It's embarrassing when you try to overthrow the government"—and capitalism—"and you wind up on the Best Seller's List."

I want you to steal what the lawyers self-interestedly call "intellectual property": Hoffman's book or my books or E=mc2 or the Alzheimer's drug that the Food and Drug Administration is "testing" in its usual bogus and unethical fashion. I want the Chinese to steal "our" intellectual property, so that consumers worldwide get stuff cheaply. I want everybody to steal every idea, book, chemical formula, Stephen Foster lyric—all of it. Steal, steal, steal. You have my official economic permission.

What?! A liberal (in the classical sense) wants people to steal? You bet. Here's why. An idea, after it is produced, has no opportunity cost. If one more person reads Hamlet, there's no less of it available for the next person. That's not true of, say, your house. If the neighbors treat your house as common property, there's less of it for you to use. George is in the bathroom right now. Sorry.

It's true of your labor, which also has an opportunity cost—an alternate use necessarily forgone—to you. If you become a slave, you can't use your own self. The master in Kentucky gets those hours in the field away from the little cabin floor, yet he doesn't pay you for their opportunity cost.

The correct price for such scarce items is their opportunity cost, because then, as Adam Smith said, "As every individual…endeavors as much as he can both to employ his capital [and labor and land and other items with opportunity cost so] that its produce may be of the greatest value, every individual necessarily labors to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can."

But ideas have no opportunity cost. So the optimal price, socially speaking, is zero. That's the correct application of the invisible hand. It's like the Brooklyn Bridge. On the day it opened on May 24, 1883, the correct price to charge another walker across the bridge was zero. The additional walker causes trivial wear to the bridge, and unless the bridge was congested, she causes no opportunity cost.

"Aha!" you reply. "But what about the cost to make the bridge in the first place, or the cost of supporting Shakespeare while he writes Hamlet, or the cost of research and, umm, marketing costs such as trips for doctors and their families for conferences in Hawaii to get a new drug for Alzheimer's? And you call yourself an economist!"

Yes, all that is true. If people are going to get the bridge or Hamlet or the drug, someone has to pay for it. There's no free lunch. It's the central dilemma in any system of rights for intellectual property, or anything else with costs up front but no opportunity cost in use.

There's no trick solution that works qualitatively, such as "have a patent system." Too bad. Life is hard. But the rules that apply to property with an opportunity cost simply don't apply to ideas.

Mathematically speaking, assuming you want to maximize national income, there's a solution. In principle, for each particular example of a cancer drug or a romance novel or an idea for a printed circuit, there's an optimal price. To get the highest total national income, all you have to do is find out what term of years for a patent or copyright is optimal for that particular example. That "solution" is like the economist's solution for opening the can of beans left to a shipwrecked survivor. (To open it, assume you have a can opener.) It's the same as the "solution" to the numerous market imperfections that, say, the economist Joseph Stiglitz believes he sees all around him. To fix them, says Stiglitz, assume you have a perfect government.

An irritating case of not understanding the dilemma is the practice by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) of erecting a paywall to charge for its papers written in the national interest. The considerable charge earns a trivial portion of the costs of producing the papers. Stiglitz's salary is way larger than what's collected. And once the paper is written, the marginal social cost of releasing it is, of course, zero. So according to the principles of pricing figured out in economics a century ago, which Stiglitz teaches at Princeton, the price should be zero. I tried a couple of times to get my friends on the board of the NBER to relent in their anti-economic practice, but they were beyond embarrassment. Being the NBER means you don't have to take seriously either the national or the economic.

There's a more serious counterpoint, made by the economist Steven Horwitz of Ball State University. Namely, that a pastrami sandwich made just the disgusting way you like it, with ketchup, once produced and about to be handed over to you at the deli, also has no opportunity cost. The reply to Horwitz is to retreat to constitutional principles. Namely, the system that gives the best overall result. We want sandwiches to be produced even in the disgusting way you want them, and in order to get the deli to do so we need to have a rule that you have to pay for it.

Another counterpoint is the trade secret. After you've thought of it, the social cost of giving it up is zero. Are you required to give it up? No, on a still deeper constitutional principle: the right not to be enslaved. No wonder Aristotle got that exact point wrong in a society in which the nonslaves deemed slavery to be just fine.

We liberals since the 18th century have denied slavery. The U.S. copyright of fully 70 years from the death of the creator makes people pointlessly enslaved to the heirs of Walt Disney. In Hoffman's 1987 trial for trespass while protesting the activities of the CIA at the University of Massachusetts, he quoted Tom Paine: "Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself, in all cases, as the ages and generations which preceded it. Man has no property in man, neither has any generation a property in the generations which are to follow."

Right on, brother.

NEXT: Brickbat: A Familiar Tale

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  1. Did the author accept payment for this piece?

    1. More importantly, can you make copies and give them to other publications?

    2. If Reason paid her to produce this piece, that is distinct from people copying it from Reason’s website, which is Reason’s problem, not hers.

      1. No it’s both Hihn

    3. I hope he got paid exactly what it’s worth.

      Let me just point out under our current 17 year patent system we’ve done pretty well with both encouraging innovation, and not locking up the benefits for so long that it increases costs. There is actually a pretty aggressive price decline for products after they reach the market. Just look at HDTV prices and innovation. Or the PC a generation ago.

      1. Now if only copyright was back in it’s original 28 year form.

      2. The current patent system is 20 years from date of filing; this changed in about 2008. And absent patents, companies would practice in secret and others’ chance to improve on the inventions would be delayed or completely lost. Our system is quite good and has been remarkably productive.

        Die in a fire McCommie.

        1. BigT makes a great point regarding disclosure as one of the requirements related to being granted a patent. Others have the chance to improve upon the product, or simply copy it once the patent term has expired. Even during the term, there’s diffusion of the knowledge for someone else possibly to think of new uses and then try to negotiate a license. Looking at filed patents can also sometimes give competitors ideas of how to “design around” the patent to achieve the same end in a different way.

          IIRC, there are some cases where companies choose to try to protect IP as trade secrets because they think that competitors will design around a filed patent.

          1. What’s more, although others can be prohibited from practicing the patented invention, it is only when they are making money that it is in the patent owner’s interest to sue for infringement (suing costs $100,000’s). This means that I can experiment in my lab using all the patented information, looking for ways to improve the process or for flaws, with no fear of a lawsuit. In fact this is how many R&D labs operate.

    4. I think the author’s point would be a lot stronger, a la the pastrami sandwich, if they merely acknowledged that whatever the “principal” of no added opportunity cost, that doesn’t prevent a private individual from charging whatever they want for whatever they make, opportunity cost or not. The author almost seems to take the position that there should be some sort of law regulating what activities you can charge for and what you can’t based around opportunity cost. You don’t need to do that. The pastrami maker can charge whatever they please. You don’t need to appeal to some higher principal beyond the right to use and dispose of property as the owner sees fit. Once I own that copy of Hamlet, I can then do what I wish with it, including copying it and distributing on the internet free of charge.

      It’s also probably deeply flawed to assume there is no time component of opportunity cost. That is, the opportunity cost of making the sandwich, was assumed to be remunerated in some future state and thus taken on. The opportunity cost of a transaction cannot be reduced to simply the last step in a transaction without introducing some sort of absurdity. There is no transaction for which you cannot define a discrete state at the end of the transaction for which there is no sIgnificant opportunity cost.

    5. Wrong question. Did she copyright it?

      1. Yeah, I was thinking about this as well

    6. I sure hope they didn’t pay him/her. I think reading this article easily qualifies as the largest waste of time I’ve experienced this month.

    7. Quite an informative article on Intellectual property. YOu can more on the history of Slavery, capitalism and much about liberal values on Alexa. All you have to do is to download alexa app from and follow onscreen instructions to complete Alexa setup. After downloading Alexa app, you have whole set of information with Alexa

  2. Good way to slow down innovation – the costs of failure are borne by the loser, and the winning ideas get taken away for free.
    For every drug that the author wants everyone to make for the cost of production, how many drugs failed to make it into market? How do drug companies recover that cost if all their competitors can steal their successful research?

    1. Yes, because no one ever produced anything before copyright came into use.

      1. Well, we could go back to the guild method – keep intellectual secrets close so that competitors can not copy them.
        Of course, people invented things before patents. You only have to look at the dizzying pace of technological change from AD 600 – 1600 to see how much changed when there was little way to profit from innovation.

        1. What does pre-Guttenberg anything have to do with cheap printing presses copying Beethoven music sheets? Or US printers copying Dickens royalty-free yet Dickens still making money off the pirated American copies?

      2. I’m not sure you understand how long copyright has been around. Limited term copyright is actually a step back from forever copyrights. (And those copyrights were held by the publishing houses, even on stuff that had been written millennia earlier). Monopolies on the right to publish/copy in England go back to the 15th century with the Stationers Guild, that is, pre-Shakespeare.

        And, strangely enough, very little literature was written before copyright, and what was written tends to fall into two categories: rich people spending their abundant leisure time (because they had serfs, rent-seeking) writing, and religious materials (e.g. Aquinas). People who could actually make a living from writing? That’s pretty much post-copyright.

        (I’m not capable of speaking to the ‘publishing’ industry in the classical era, which was likely profoundly different than the medieval and later periods).

        1. I’m not sure you understand how hard copying was before the printing press. Pre-Gutenberg anecdotes are meaningless as regards copyright.

          1. Well, some form of copy monopoly has been around almost as long as Gutenberg (and little to nothing of artistic value was created pre-copy monopoly and post-Gutenberg), so I’m clearly confused about your comment that prompted my response.

            “Yes, because no one ever produced anything before copyright came into use.”

            If we limit this to post-Gutenberg (~1440; first printing press in England 1476), there’s *maybe* a century before copy monopolies, and I can’t think of much that was *worthwhile* written in that period. So that’s an extremely small reference class, much of which is dominated by first printings of stuff originally written before printing presses.

            1. Which had more to do with education level and available time than anything. As societies gained a higher floor of basic education and various inventions freed up more time, or made it easier to extend the time one could write in the evening, more was written.

            2. What copyright did Beethoven have?

              1. Beethoven lived from 1770 to 1837. Well after copyrights were common.

              2. Not only is this a non-sequitur, but it’s also not even an argument, since Beethoven probably did have copyright (it was common at the time), and you’d have to prove he didn’t.

      3. Well we didn’t have penicillin before we had patents did we? And before penicillin we didn’t have squat (with the notable exception of laudenum in an alcohol base, I’m definitely not discounting that as a wonder drug), so I’d say that argument doesn’t hold much water.

    2. Why do the fashion industry, chefs, and sportsball coaches all innovate so much without IP protection?

      1. What is the cost of trying avocado on toast vs the cost to Edison of spending years finding the carbon filament for lightbulbs? How does a chef go about collecting royalties from hundreds of thousands of locations that later put avocado on toasted bread, and what is said royalty? 1 cent? Does the chef not go broke trying to administrate this? It’s a bit different than Microsoft Office

        1. The chef writes a cookbook, which is copyrighted.

          1. The rules of the recipe aren’t copyrighted. the surrounding pictures, illustrations, and descriptions, font and layout are however.

            1. The text is copyrighted. The recipe itself is not. Though you could potentially patent a recipe. It’s just not done usually.

              1. So he’s right, and you’re wrong, but can’t just say it.

              2. Often you are just better off keeping it a secret like Coca Cola or KFC. Others may copy it but you are still the one and only original.

                1. Pretty sure every major chicken outlet is better than KFC

                  1. Your choice of chicken but hard to argue with that kind of success.

                    Lots of examples of industry secrets. I like drums. Zildjian is a family owned company and keeps it cymbal craft secrets for 400 years. It is still the #1 choice for most drummers. Nothing matches a K ride in my book. OK Sabian makes some good instruments.

                    I guess the only point is that in some things, not everything, you dont need patents. You just need a secret recipe.

                    Guilds are not that different. We have them. The apprentice goes from one stage to another. Things are passed down from the master to the student. Then the student becomes the master. The government is hardly needed. They are mostly self regulating.

              3. Recipes for making chemicals are often patented. For food, there is likely too much ‘prior art’ to be successful getting a patent. The prosecution of the application would be very expensive and time consuming.

        2. You costs do not create a property right in their recovery…

      2. Because innovation in fashion, recipes, or sport coaching does not require capital investment.

        1. Trademarks cover much of this, and you can copyright designs.

      3. Technically, things like football playbooks contain trade secrets and do have IP protection.

        There’s plenty of copyright and trademark in the fashion industry. I mean, illegal knock-off handbags are such a cliche, they were on criminal procedurals decades ago.

  3. What’s the incentive to invest to create IP if it could be immediately stolen and exploited by competitors who avoided the cost of investing but could then reap the same rewards?

    1. Ask Beethoven and his ilk.

      1. IP for IP’s sake?

      2. You mean, people who were given patronage specifically to produce works of music, etc… by wealthy people?

        I mean, there is some writing that happens via patronage now, and it’s free to consume online, generally. But it’s not exactly a common business model these days.

        1. You admit that people did innovate before they had the protection of copyright. Why do you think it is impossible now?

          1. Would you prefer a world in which the only works of merit are produced because rich people approve of them?

          2. Sigh, no edit function.

            Also, there was a lot less produced when patronage was the primary way of funding creative producers, and access to that as a profession was a lot more restricted.

            1. Keep thinking up excuses. Make sure you copyright them.

              1. Copyright existed during Beethoven’s day. Keep grasping at straws. His patrons owned the copyright since they owned his music.

              2. Please demonstrate a flourishing of creative production in writing or music composition before copyright and post-Gutenberg. You’re just assuming the conclusion you want with zero evidence to back it up. I’d say the record argues rather strongly for a lack of creative production without copyright in a world of easy reproduction. As far as I can tell, it isn’t until after copyright that we get a dramatic increase in the production of creative works.

          3. Patents – which cover tangible objects – have been around in Europe since the 13th or 14th century, and there may have been a similar concept in ancient Greece. An English patent system that’s similar to modern patent systems has been around since the 16th or 17th century. The requirement for a patent filing to include a complete description of the product that would be publicly available dates to about 1700 in England. The Constitution grants the enumerated power “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” because of familiarity with English laws covering patents and copyrights.

            In short, the Industrial Revolution occurred in the company of patents. We can hypothesize how it might have been different – delayed inventions or faster spread of them? – without such a patent system, but patents pre-date it.

    2. It’s the seen and the unseen. Charles Dickens was plagued by the fact that the US did not enforce British publishing rights so as soon as he came out with a new book, American publishers would rush to put out unauthorized copies of his books. He made money selling books outside of the US and by selling the official authorized genuine Dickens version in the US but he still had to supplement his income, as many authors of the time did, by going on lecture tours where people – radio, TV, movies, video games and bowling alleys not having been invented yet – would pay good money to sit and listen to him read excerpts from his books and talk about his writing.

      So Dickens did okay without strong copyright protection, but imagine if he had had strong copyright protection and didn’t need to go out on the lecture circuit for his money. He would have had more time to write and an incentive to produce more books and maybe instead of producing those goddamn 500 page doorstops like he’s being fucking paid by the pound to write that shit he would have written a lot more novels of a decent length that wouldn’t suck all the joy of literature out of eighth graders worldwide.

      1. Dickens also profited from the US book market, even though his books were pirated. Did you know that?

        1. But his primary market was English which has very strong copyright laws.

  4. This is one of those issues where “balance” is needed… We need SOME IP laws to reward creativity, but we need to NOT be ridiculous!

    One of the many problems is that in the USA (also in Europe to some extent), a simple “idea” can be patented, even though it hasn’t been built, or tested, or even computer-modelled! I can patent “the idea of a screen door on a submarine”, and now, if someone else BUILDS and VERIFIES such a design 5 years later, I’ve already got the patent!

    Some genius needs to write a computer program to create “patent babble”, associating every known human word and phrase with every other known human word and phrase. Then “defensively publish” all this stuff, so that it can NOT be patented this way! NOW we’d have MORE freedom to create, and fewer parasitical patent trolls!

    To see details… And a START on this patent-babbling, defensive-publishing project… See

    1. Well, both the one and the zero have been published over 70 years ago, so it looks like we are all good here.
      Computers are not the solution.

    2. Yeah, Wizards of the Coasts’ only (?) patent for Magic: The Gathering is the concept of “tapping,” which just means you turn the card 90° clockwise to indicate that it has been used in some fashion since the start of your previous turn. Nobody else can use that now, yet WotC’s own games are heavily built on existing mechanics and rules structures that others created and were unable to or did not bother to patent. There’s no doubt their games would be worse without those things (MTG, D&D, etc), and tapping isn’t exactly some revolutionary idea of extreme brilliance, though it is easy and efficient. They just got to the low-hanging fruit first in a time before there was really any sort of TCG market to compete in.

      1. That patent is expired.

      2. This is why it’s important to make those saving throws of a D20 when your copyrights are challenged.

    3. Some guys had a computer work out every melody for an octave or however it works and published them with an open license so musicians would not be able to sue each other over them.

    4. Fuck off Á àß äẞç ãþÇđ âÞ¢Đæ ǎB€Ðëf ảhf

  5. The U.S. copyright of fully 70 years from the death of the creator makes people pointlessly enslaved to the heirs of Walt Disney.
    You don’t have to buy anything from Disney. That you can’t get luxuries at the price you want isn’t a violation of your rights. It must be difficult when all your coworkers are talking about the Mandalorian, but you aren’t willing to pay for Disney+.

    1. Yeah, that point was incoherent. There is no use for a slavery analogy in copyright extension.

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    1. I’m stealing that.

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  10. It’s kinda funny. The author understands that we need laws to encourage people to make pastrami, but doesn’t understand we need laws to encourage people to make ideas.

    IP law needs an overhaul, especially in the technology and medicine sectors, but getting rid of them entirely is a bit like getting rid of murder charges because you don’t like the death penalty.

    1. “I have no reason to think unless the government enforces a monopoly on the idea I come up with.”

      1. It seems that you think that patentable things are just what someone thought up over a beer. Perhaps some are, but most are the result of trial and error – an expensive process – and those errors have to be paid for as well as the successes. I worked for a major oil company that employs several thousand researchers and only applies for a few patents a year. Most of the research only proves what doesn’t work.

        1. Right. If some Mesopotamian architect couldn’t patent the arch we’d all be living in caves and arch-less mud huts.

          1. We should still be paying royalties to the guy who invented the wheel.

            1. His descendants deserve nothing less.

      2. Study Thomas Edison. He blatantly stole people ideas and inventions. If they didn’t have a parent, they got fucked. Edison became a millionaire and they made nothing. And we had patent laws. Now imagine Edison without any restraint.

    2. “IP law needs an overhaul, especially in the technology and medicine sectors, but getting rid of them entirely is a bit like getting rid of murder charges because you don’t like the death penalty.”

      Reason is not that logical when it comes to the death penalty either

  11. “To get the highest total national income, all you have to do is find out what term of years for a patent or copyright is optimal for that particular example.”

    And who does this? Some government agency? That’ll work well, I’m (not) sure.

    1. The climate modeler clowns.


    Next do the Lockean Proviso.

    Then do ending government enabled rent-seeking by the medical mafia.

  13. Nice to read a libertarian inspired article that doesn’t involve TDS.

    Curious to know what is thought of the Music Modernization Act signed by Trump that confirms the rights of musicians to get payment for the creation.

    I don’t know if it applies to this content of this article, but do musicians not have a right to people stealing their creative content on the Internet?

    1. I’m not sure how much you know about the MMA, but I believe it doesn’t confirm the rights of musicians to get payment for their creations so much as it confirms the right of the music publishing industry to establish a monopoly union to “represent” the musicians and demand royalty payments in their name whether or not musicians want the representation and whether or not the musicians actually ever see a penny of the royalties. It’s sort of like if you appointed yourself the neighborhood guardian, set up a tollbooth at the end of the street, demanded visitors pay you to enter the neighborhood and claimed that the money you collected was going to be used for neighborhood improvement (less expenses, of course) and therefore everybody in the neighborhood should be cool with your tollbooth.

    2. If I record a song from the internet, or sing it on stage at a coffee house, does it then cease to exist? Does it vanish from everyone else’s iTunes library? Does it stop playing on the radio? Does the author forget it and become unable to sing it? If not, then nothing has been stolen from anyone. There are good arguments for limited copyright protection, but copyright is not a property right. It is a privilege extended by government that violates the rights of others. If you want to argue for copyrights, then you must argue that the good they do justifies that infringement of rights, rather than trying to make the absurd argument that a song or a poem is “property”.

      1. I’m sure you’ll be happy when little Susie writes a great song and Jennifer Lopez records it and sells millions of copies.

        I know, fuck Susie, she should keep her songs to herself!!

        1. But for the possibility of government enabled rent-seeking shakedowns, Susie would otherwise likely be thrilled to have her creation spread far and wide.

          Artists generally want audiences to see and appreciate their work.

          1. Artist also want to be able to make money. That was a pretty stupid statement on your part. Yeah, little Susie gets fucked but she should just suck it up because J Lo recorded her song and now J Lo is making money off it and Susie gets nothing but a warm feeling in her stomach. Really?

        2. Under current laws and practices, there is no possibility of Little Susie making any significant money in that situation. In fact, there is virtually no possibility of Jennifer Lopez recording Little Susie’s song—the entertainment corporations never buy “over the transom” songs just because they want complete control over the rights.

          1. And so Susie’s song never gets heard.

            “advancement of the arts”

            1. There’s always the chance that she might go viral on YouTube. Then she’d have a chance of making 14¢ from streaming royalties.

              1. Patreon.

          2. It would be better for J Lo just be able to record it and little Susie has no protection. Gee, that sounds like a winner.

          3. I don’t know what Vernon means by “over the transom” songs, but this description doesn’t seem correct. There’s a whole industry of people who do nothing except write songs for others and then earn royalties from them over time. It’s historically been more prevalent in pop and mainstream (or “Nashville”) country than in other genres. In recent years pop songs will sometimes have something like 10 credited songwriters because there are people who specialize in writing the parts for particular instruments that collaborate with each other without ever meeting in person.

            I’m sure that labels would want to make sure that they have certain contractual arrangements in place – I think one key is to make sure that they’ve got the right to administer publishing. They may also want to make sure that the songwriter joins either ASCAP or BMI because much of the system for paying royalties to songwriters runs through those two performing rights organizations. For a long time – all the way back to the 1940’s – ASCAP and BMI have operated under DoJ consent decrees because they’re considered monopolies.

            1. “Over the transom” works are those submitted unsolicited to publishers by members of the public who are not under contract with the publisher. Yes, there’s a “whole industry” of song writers, and they are people who are employed by or under contract to record companies and their associated publishers. As I said above, the “Little Susie” example is very unlikely because the entertainment corporations, with very rare exceptions, do not use material from writers whom they do not employ or have under contract. Jennifer Lopez is not going to record Little Susie’s song, so Susie has no need of copyright protection to ensure she gets rich from it.

              1. I see. Suck up to big business or else.

                Rather sell the rights to your portfolio (copyrighted or why couldn’t you sell it twice.)

      2. I believe Led Zeppelin is still locked in a copyright battle over Stairway to Heaven. Band called Spirit claims they copied it from an instrumental song they did.

  14. An idea, after it is produced, has no opportunity cost.

    How much would you pay for an AI engine that create all ideas?

    1. Isn’t there an infinite number of ideas?

        1. The therapy will not be free.

          1. It didn’t help you anyway.

  15. To get the highest total national income, all you have to do is find out what term of years for a patent or copyright is optimal for that particular example. That “solution” is like the economist’s solution for opening the can of beans left to a shipwrecked survivor.

    I’ll bite. What *is* that economist’s solution?

    1. Now that my coffee has kicked in, I get that the “solution” is “assume you have a can opener”. By extension, “assume you can find out the optimal term or a perfect government”. I’ll assume the author has no solution to the IP dilemma.

  16. The author should rest assured: ideas, in the abstract, are not protectable under any IP framework. The expression of an idea may be (under copyright) and the reduction to practice of idea may be (under patent), but those require some effort. Further, what is actually protectable, when it comes down to enforcing rights, within a particular copyright registration or patent is a small subset of what is in totality being disclosed or described.

    In my experience, useful modification to existing US laws would address DMCA-style take down protocols and facilitate recovery against troll-style actors who flag e-commerce listings without conducting due diligence.

    1. No matter how thin you slice it, it’s still baloney.

      The use of an idea in reality is the “reduction to practice”. People don’t want ideas simply to order the platonic forms in their heads, they want to make use of them in the real world.

      1. You do realize it isn’t just the ideas but the products of those ideas that are being protected? With your comment above about the medical mafia I am starting to suspect you are more leftist then libertarian. Protecting ones property is the bedrock of libertarian ideals.

        1. Opposition to government enabled rend-seeking is a bedrock libertarian ideal.

          Your products are protected by laws against theft. You don’t need IP law for it.

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  18. What a poorly written article by an author with a poor handle on the issues she’s discussing. I’m not one of those people who will forgive sloppy thoughts just because I happen to be on the same side as them. McCloskey seems to be so vulnerable to the same motivations and conceits that Top Men and central planners fall prey to. She seems obsessed with “solutions” and maximizing revenues and determining the correct costs of things. That’s not why copyright and patents should be abolished though (and lets be really clear here: Intellectual Property is not one thing, it’s actually three very distinct things which various people have, apparently successfully on Ms McCloskey, tried to confuse the public into believing they are related or even the same thing).

    Copyright is the prohibition on creating certain speech and the receiving of that speech by anyone except the “owner” of that speech and those they have licensed to both produce and receive that speech by whatever scheme the “owner” has dreamed up. It is granted automatically on almost any sort of activity no matter how unartistic or derivative or noncommercial and effectively lasts forever. It is the imprisonment of all human thought and it has been distended beyond all sanity to where those who merely observe a copyright infringing work have been made criminals because of the trivially necessary step of producing a copy somewhere that they can view it. Make no mistake. The abolition of copyright will not lead to higher revenues for media producers. You can’t argue that the current setup isn’t optimal… for them, but it is ghastly immoral and an affront to the freedom of speech and culturally impoverishes the world without benefit to anyone when extended so long that even works your grandparents forgot about are locked away never to be seen or used again, making money for no one but prohibited to everyone on the off-chance that their owner might think of some way to make money off them in the future maybe. It is the least defensible of all intellectual property and should be completely abolished.

    Patents is the prohibition on doing things in a certain manner, for a limited period of time, that was newly invented and developed by someone. This at least has higher justification than copyright in that it only applies to actions, not thoughts, and doesn’t just lock up everything by default but only those actions and processes which people directly apply to gain protection for. It says something that applying for a patent is both more expensive (requiring that there is some value to the process that makes that application fee worth it) and lasts for a far shorter term than copyright and additionally must pass some basic hurdle of novelty rather than simply automatically locking up everything that is performed. A lot of abuse of patent law exists though, especially in software and medicine where not-particularly-novel processes are frequently rubber stamped with patents that really shouldn’t have been granted. But aside from its many abuses and when properly applied patents are good at promoting the useful sciences and encouraging actual innovation.

    Trademark is the one super legitimate form of IP. This one is just so critical because it has nothing to do with the content of speech or action and everything to do with marketplace confusion, and confusion is never an ideal state for a market. The basic idea is simple: If you are selling something under a sort of brand then no one else should be able to trick customers into believing that they are in fact you. That’s not to say trademark abuse doesn’t happen. Trademarks granted for silly/trivial things, universal things that no one would particularly associate with the brand, granted to entities not even selling goods in a market, and so on are all problems with trademark and require serious reform, but the underlying idea is solid: Tricking people is bad and society works better when deception is not a main feature of the market.

    1. So I finally get my novel finished. I send it to a publisher. They like it, they think it is a masterpiece, a bestseller. But there is no copyright law and they print it without my permission. I lose out, after 100s of hours of research, 1000s of hours of writing and rewriting. But hey, me wanting to be able to protect my work against others is an affront to freedom of speech? How so? How is me expecting to be paid for my work stopping your speech?

      1. Ah, that must be why there was absolutely no literature published before copyright law. My bad. I forgot that government coercion and thought policing was a necessary component of creative expression.

        Also pass whatever you are high on because that shit is STRONG.

        1. Copyright laws first started to come into existence around the same time as the printing press was created. Greeks and Romans had protections also for artists. So not sure what you are talking about. Maybe Mesopotamia, I’m sure there were plenty of great literary works from the city of Ur.

      2. I think it’s funny that you simply assume that you’re a moron and refuse to adapt to changes in market conditions.

        If that’s what happens to you, it’s what you deserve for being an idiot.

    2. A lot of abuse of patent law exists though, especially in software and medicine where not-particularly-novel processes are frequently rubber stamped with patents that really shouldn’t have been granted.

      Each patent is examined by a Patent Examiner. And the quality of the examination varies greatly. Some Examiners are like rusty gates and let everything pass, others are very stringent and do a great job. It is in the inventor’s interest to have a strong examination since the patent is likely to withstand challenge in court.

      Fun fact: 85% of all claims in patents are found to be invalid in infringement suits. Usually due to a poor examination.

  19. But ideas have no opportunity cost. So the optimal price, socially speaking, is zero.

    So the ideal price, in a thought-experiment sort of way where we can just hand-wave away externalities and transactional costs, you know, assume a can-opener, is theoretically zero. Great idea! Now let’s put it to a practical use.

    “Steal This Book” is a good starting point. You mean the physical object, the printed words on pages thing? No, you can’t justify stealing the book, somebody else paid for the paper and the ink and the printing press, paid somebody who shipped and packaged and stored the thing, paid for the bookstore and the electric bill and the cashier who sells the thing, you can’t just take it and claim it didn’t cost anything to produce and make available at this place and time and therefore you have a right to help yourself to this free thing.

    Now, if you mean take the ideas expressed within the book – well, yeah, that’s the whole reason the guy wrote the book, he wants you to take those ideas. What you have to pay for is the cost of the process of conveying his thoughts into your head. Which is the cost of the book.

    There certainly are opportunity costs of sitting around thinking up new ideas or new things, you could go get a real job instead. If you want to incentivize the production of new ideas and new things, you’re going to have to create some way for the thinker and the inventor to profit off his thinking and inventing. The trick is finding the balance between creating an incentive to produce new things and the disincentives to distribution of the new things by barring anybody else from getting in on the distribution end of the business. It’s why the guys who wrote the Constitution put that “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” thing in there.

    Unfortunately, “limited times” is a vague concept, better defined by the people who are paying you to define it. Disney certainly has billions of dollars worth of incentives to see it defined it as broadly as possible, not having any idea what Disney is planning on producing that I might like to see, I don’t have a nickel’s worth of incentive to see it narrowly defined. Guess which way it’s going to get defined?

    1. What you have to pay for is the cost of the process of conveying his thoughts into your head. Which is the cost of the book.

      Well, you *could* just drop in on the Drag Queen Library Reading of his thoughts.

  20. The issue is particularly pointed in the drug industry. Even if you didn’t have the FDA, designing and testing a drug properly costs billions. Analyzing a pill and copying the chemicals in it costs thousands. Producing the pills might cost pennies.

    Now, why on earth would anyone produce another novel drug in this no IP world? Nobody is going to pay $65 per month for Lipitor when they can get the same drug from Walmart for $8. And that’s the last new drug you’d ever get.

    Then where are we? Back to having to publicly fund this stuff?

    It is just an absolutely incoherent philosophy. There’s a lot that could be made better with IP law. But just junking the whole thing doesn’t work.

    1. Totally agree. The US market for drugs – yes, the most expensive – pays for just about all the drug research all over the world. All drug companies, regardless of where they are located, depend on the profits made in the US to fund the research into new drugs. We can do as Bernie demands and lower prices to stay in line with the rest of the world and we will see a 90% drop in research. As the drugs well into the development pipeline come to market, the drop will approach 100%.

      1. That’s a little different. Other countries have drug patent laws. US customs agents and the FDA shouldn’t be acting as a rent seeking mechanism for the drug industry. There’s no reason we should be paying more than Canadians or Europeans for drugs.

    2. Didn’t you understand? McCloskey claims that magical people will continue to invent new drugs with the same motivations that drove Shakespeare to keep writing plays. (Though I am pretty sure that Shakespeare got paid from performances after he got done writing.)

      1. That’s right. People will come up with new drugs because it is inherently satisfying. They will find rich patrons to support the research and donate their findings to the public. Also, everyone will work according to their ability and donate their products to others according to their needs.

        1. “Also, everyone will work according to their ability and donate their products to others according to their needs.”

          Nicely done

    3. “Now, why on earth would anyone produce another novel drug in this no IP world?”
      “I can’t imagine why people would *voluntarily* fund something with a positive externality, therefore it couldn’t possibly happen and we must award the power of government shakedown and control as a reward for doing so.”

      Libertarian Moment.

      1. How many people on planet earth have a billion dollars?

        About two thousand, actually. Most with only the one. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say 10% of them give up everything to fund one drug development cycle.

        Ok, drug R&D runs at just shy of $200 billion per year, globally. So that’s a fit.

        If ten percent of all billionaires give up pretty much their entire fortune, every year. We are good to go. For about 10 years. Maybe.

        Not that many folks have multiple billions. Less than 50 in the US have double digit billions. And that’s the kind of wealth you’d have to have to be able to shrug off a hundred million per year to spend on drug development.

        Of course, that ain’t happening. Some folks would be happy to spend that kind of money on drug research. But maybe that’s not your thing. For most, it wouldn’t be.

        This hand-wavey sarcasm of “oooh, I just couldn’t possibly imagine anyone voluntarily doing it” doesn’t begin to engage in the actual issues at hand.

        1. “If people won’t *voluntarily* do it, we’ll use government coercive power to make it happen!”

          Libertarian Moment!

          The gazillion dollar development cost is *because* of government control.

          Reason: Where “libertarians” don’t believe in giving liberty a chance.

          1. “If people won’t *voluntarily* do it, we’ll use government coercive power to make it happen!”
            Libertarian Moment!”

            Please define that “coercive power” in this case; you’re writing bumper-stickers, not arguments.

            1. Government enabled and enforced rent-seeking.

              The government declaring something property is about having the government point guns at people.

              How is it that this needs to be explained on a “libertarian” web site?

              1. That is stupid. My ideas, my novel, my thesis etc are my property, no less then my guns and my cattle. Why are they not my property? Can you just walk in and decide you want to publish my novel and I don’t get squat?

                1. “Muh ideas”

                  I’m in favor of limited copyright for limited time, not Mickey Mouse Forever copyright.

              2. Who is being coerced by government granting IP? No one. The people working on the new drug are free NOT to do that work. They MIGHT be rewarded if they find a new drug and do the billion$ of testing and it becomes popular, in an IP world. Offering carrots is not coercion.

          2. That, once again, was completely stupid.

            First, we are not anarchists.

            But even if we were, you could still posit a framework where IP exists. Her argument is not “IP requires government force and is therefore evil”. Her argument is “IP should not exist because you already thought it up and anyone should be able to use it for free”.

            But Ok, let’s go with your proposition. No government force.

            I could still use a cartel or guild to enforce IP in a completely anarchist world. It might be a much harsher, more harmful way of enforcing IP in that world. But the point wouldn’t really change. She’d still be arguing that it shouldn’t exist because of her “incremental costs” idea, and I’d still be arguing that it should exist, because people make stuff so they can sell it.

            The value of something isn’t in the cost of production, it is in the usefulness to the buyer. Even if it costs you $300 to make a ritz cracker, I ain’t paying more than $0.05 for the thing, because that’s all it is worth to me. I don’t care if you hand ground the wheat on an heirloom stone from the Chickamauga tribe and used an actual, fully restored Roman peat oven with hand-harvested peat from a thousand year old peat site in Finland. It’s still just a cracker.

            The same goes in reverse. If your idea can help me make a million, I’m happy to pay a hundred bucks for it – even if it didn’t cost you a dime to come up with it.

  21. Libertarian slogan of the year: “Intellectual property is theft.”

    1. Quick–copyright that!

    2. No, it’s coercion.

      1. “No, it’s coercion.”

        I don’t think you know how patent law works.

        1. I don’t think you know anything at all.

      2. You do not know the meaning of coercion or how patent law works. There is no coercion, it’s all about potential rewards, no force is ever used to generate IP.

          1. Correct. As I said, no force is ever used to generate IP.

            You better look up ‘generate’

            1. Sorry, I assumed you were following the conversation and not speaking gibberish.

  22. Let’s see the future in entertainment, absent IP law. How would movies work?

    Well, if you were going to make Avengers IX, you couldn’t do it the way they do it today. Someone would just steal it and start selling it themselves.

    So you’d have to strictly control access. Theater owners would love this, I suppose. All movies would be at theaters, shown on special studio provided equipment with full encryption and security features out the wazoo. And there’d be no secondary market. No blu-ray. No streaming. None of that. Too easy to steal.

    So if Hollywood did manage to fight back and survive this change, there’s no more home video entertainment. Probably nothing on TV or streaming except live sports. (everything else could be pirated). People would probably get out more, I suppose.

    1. They might have to go back to making going to the theater a pleasant and exciting experience. The horror.

      1. No, you completely missed the point.

        They’d have to make *not* going to the theater impossible. And they would. Or they wouldn’t make any movies.

        It is that simple. Without IP protection, you are not watching Hollywood movies at your home. If the industry were to continue, it would of necessity have to tightly control its “trade secrets”. Which means preventing anyone from getting their hands on a copy of their movie. Ever.

        And that means end-to-end control. They might form happy partnerships with theater chains. Or they might cut them out.

        But you ain’t watching Star Wars XXII on your big screen TV. Heck, even YouTube streamers might be out of business. If I could just rip the YouTube stream and monetize that myself, it certainly makes it tougher for YouTube to make a go of it.

        Like I said, the only content outside of a tightly controlled environment would be either worthless stuff, or real-time stuff, like sports.

        It has absolutely nothing to do with making going to the theater a pleasant experience. In fact, that’s what is happening now – because we can have the theater experience at home. They are competing with your couch. In a No-IP world, your couch is no longer in the competition.

        1. No, you completely missed the point. Without copyright protection, the theaters would have to sell the EXPERIENCE of going to the theater as something worth paying for, instead of just selling access to the films. At one time, theaters made a great effort to do so. As Adolph Zukor said, “the show begins at the door.” Today, by contrast, movie theaters are nasty dumps and going to them is seen as a chore one must put up with to see a film on its first run.

          1. No they wouldn’t.

            That is precisely what they are doing right now. The EXPERIENCE of the theater. With reclining seats, couches, even beds. Full service bars. They are having to raise that part of their game.

            For most of history, the IP and the experience was the same thing. You couldn’t see that play in your living room. And when it became a film, you still couldn’t see it at home. And then when TV came along, you still couldn’t see it on the big screen, with the speakers and high resolution.

            But now you can.

            And absent IP, you would not be able to. Because the studio could not charge you to stream the movie. Or for the Blu-Ray.

            I suspect that you haven’t been to a theater lately. They are not “nasty dumps” by any stretch of the imagination. Not the theaters where first-run blockbusters play. They have nicer seats than your Barcalounger at home. They have seat warmers. Power recliners. Wide aisles with varying degrees of isolation.

            They compete on “experience” today, because the content is available at home – sometimes the same day.

            Removing IP would change that calculus. They would no longer have to compete on experience. They’d be competing on content. Because content would become a trade secret instead of having copyright protection. And they’d hold that content very close in that world.

    2. Just like streaming music killed the music concern mirite?

      1. No, nothing like that.
        Streaming completely and utterly depends on copyright. That’s how they are able to collect all those payments.

        Now, posit a world where Tidal, YouTube Music, Apple, Amazon, etc. all can just grab any audio they’d like and stream it without royalty.

        Music might still make a go of it. The barrier to entry is extremely low these days…. just look at Billie Eilish. She made the hottest album of 2019 in her brother’s bedroom. Just the two of them and some computer audio stuff.

        So you could produce music and release it as concert promotion. But you wouldn’t be getting paid for the music you release.

        Movies are totally different though. The recording is the only product. There is no live tour to charge for. So your $100 million blockbuster doesn’t get made, unless there is a way to protect that recording so it can be monetized.

        1. Very good points Cyto.

          Extending this idea a bit more, the concert tour side would also be meaningfully less profitable for artists because of knock-off T-shirts. Selling merch at shows is really high margin, and bands have IP protection for the designs (such as logos) on apparel.

    3. Good luck with that controlling access thing. You can download a cam version of highprofile movies within a day.

      I’m relatively positive on a short term copyright, and not the Disney Mickey Mouse Forever Copyright that allows a corporation to own the latest century of our cultural heritage.

      Copyright should require *filing* high fidelity digital versions that then can be distributed freely once the *short* copyright term is up.

      Perhaps extensions are possible, but they too would require *filing* so that we don’t have a century of zombie works made inaccesible because the “rights” owner is unknown or uncaring, but someone trying to make the work available is under threat of *statutory* damages if they do so.

      The friction costs should be assigned to the person wanting government rent seeking privilege, not the person wanting to keep the work alive. We should give a window to file on past works, and if you snooze, you lose.

      1. That point about the cam version is precisely what I was talking about. Security would be different than it is today. Today, they don’t invest a huge amount in that sort of security. The BluRay is coming out in 3 months anyway.

        But in a world where even 1 good copy getting out cuts in to your sales forever – and not in a minor way – well, you’d better bet they’d have more security. Laser lens detection, on-site armed guards, non-too subtle rules against electronic devices… who knows what they’d come up with?

        But it would be down to either being successful with your security, or not being able to produce films. Maybe it would be impossible. And the age of the high-budget film would end. You’d still be able to exhibit films with small budgets, if you could find mass appeal. At least you’d have a window for making your money back. But the days where you might count on making back $100 million? That’d be done for.

      2. There are lots of good arguments for not caving in to Disney though. We agree on that.

    4. Software would also be a tough one: another product with high fixed costs to create and low marginal costs to copy. I suppose there are some technical workarounds – making everything SAAS requiring an active Internet connection as you use the product – but that’s not always a convenient set-up.

      I think there’d be real fear from software vendors about letting any big enterprise customers get their hands on any software, because those customers would have monetary motivation and possibly the technical know-how to buy one license and then try to find ways to work-around any protections.

    5. Movies like Avengers already are exclusively at theatres for a period of time and that’s when the bulk of the money is made on those movies. Getting rid of copyright on movies would limit what could be charged for a dvd but it wouldn’t prevent such movies from being made. At worst it would end the dvd industry. More likely is it would push dvd releases out several months or even years so as not to cannibalize the box office.

  23. Deidre McCloskey’s piece inspires nostalgia for when Reason was a libertarian magazine.

    1. Winner.

    2. Perhaps this article is the first of a series about how Communist China represents the fulfillment of libertarian ideas?

      1. That’s the Boehm articles against taxing Slave Emperor Xi.

  24. I suppose McCloskey did not have the lack of scruples to charge Reason for ideas that had no opportunity cost to them or did McCloskey depend on the notion that value received deserves recompense?

    The problem with not having legal intellectual property protections is that it seems likely it will encourage less openness about the development of new ideas, not more. McCloskey does not seem to considerc”what else does this change” ripple effects and assumes that producers and consumers of ideas will act similarly to they do n ok w under a new regime. This seems an unlikely assumption.

    1. Any author and publisher can make any contract they want for any price they want, and that has nothing to do with others copying what is published. Just as Beethoven wrote music for patrons, so McCloskey can write articles for Reason.

      Failure to distinguish the two is … failure.

      1. McCloskey is saying that a work of the mind has no value once produced, therefore getting paid for a work of the mind seems tad dishonest.

        1. You are very confused on basic economic principles such as price, value, exchange, and consent.

          1. No, she explicitly removes consent from the equation.

            And she explicitly argues that once the work has been created, there are no costs to sharing it with everyone for free.

            She is explicitly arguing that there is no value to exchange for IP. In this case, it would be a work for hire situation. Writers would only write things they are specifically contracted to write. And the person paying the freight wouldn’t even be able to claim exclusive rights to the work – they would only get first publication rights. 20 seconds later, it could be republished by anyone, anywhere.

            So …. imagine that world. How long do independent outlets exist? Reason publishes an article. 15 seconds later it is featured on Google Media and Amazon Press. Where would you go to find your articles? Scour the web for various outlets? Or go to Google and read everything published, ever.

            1. Me: You are very confused on basic economic principles such as price, value, exchange, and consent.

              Cyto: She is explicitly arguing that there is no value to exchange for IP.


              We can add “explicitly” to the vast list of terms Cyto has no grasp of.

              Note that she only has the term “value” in her article once, and that’s in an Adam Smith quote.

              1. Idiot.

                There is no IP. None.

                That is explicit. Therefore there is no exchange of any kind for it, value or otherwise.

                So not only have you proven yourself to be an idiot, you have attempted to engage in pedantry to support your orthagonal argument.

                And anyway, the point of this exercise was to discuss her ideas. Not mine. Not the ones you brought with you. Her ideas don’t hold up to scrutiny. There are interesting clashes of interests brought about by the extension of libertarian philosophies, and this is one of them. It brings up interesting consequences.

                None of them are enlightened by idiotic miming of definitions. All you managed to prove was that you didn’t understand the entire conversation.

                1. Maybe more fiber would control your verbal diarrhea.

                2. Cyto, arguing with ignorant idiots like bbd about patent law is like wrestling with a pig; you get dirty and the pig likes it.

  25. This is an interesting piece and it should make us all think about how we choose to handle intellectual property. I think the author makes a good point that there may be different ways to look at and handle intellectual property. Jonah Salk for example never patented the polio vaccine. He recognized the importance of the vaccine and in reality he had a good job doing what he liked. I think of Ron Popeil a businessman who felt patients wasted time and it was better to get a product to market and get what you could. I think of young musicians or authors who are more interested in getting a song/book out to the public and thinking of copyrights later. Finally I think of companies that abuse patient privileges by making small changes to claim a new patient. I do think we could rethink the meaning of intellectual property.

    1. We need to be honest and abandon the concept of “intellectual property” (burn in Hell, Victor Hugo) and recognize that copyright protection is not a property right but a privilege granted by government and enforced by coercion. Start from there when arguing for copyrights. Justify the government’s use of force against those who would copy or perform a protected work, rather than make the specious argument that “property” is being protected.

      1. A novel isn’t the authors property?

        1. Did I stutter?

      2. “We need to be honest and abandon the concept of “intellectual property” (burn in Hell, Victor Hugo) and recognize that copyright protection is not a property right but a privilege granted by government and enforced by coercion.”

        You need to be honest and not poison the well; you’ve offered several assertions absent any evidence.
        “Start from there when arguing for copyrights. Justify the government’s use of force against those who would copy or perform a protected work, rather than make the specious argument that “property” is being protected.”

        Unless you are an anarchist, there are proper role’s for a government, typically those which we cannot, as individuals, accomplish at all or, as individuals, accomplish worse than government does anything. We accept the government is a bad alternative, but at times it is either the best or the only alternative.
        Protecting property rights are among those role’s, since doing so on an individual basis would mean vigilantism; we choose government instead.
        While you assert IP is not property, you’ve yet to support that claim. The assertion of a lack of ‘opportunity costs’ has been debunked above; IP law serves to protect anticipated opportunity costs; the driver of innovation.
        And discouraging free-ridership, as IP law does, seems appropriate, since, as individuals we can do nothing of the sort.
        Further, you need to be specific in your claim of “use of force”; do you understand what remedies IP law provides?
        Now defend your position.

        Disclosure: I am an “inventor”, holding several patents and inventing at least 6 or 8 products which are not patented. The choice being based on the economic calcs.

        1. Reason’s crap software – please forgive apostrophes where accents are intended.
          Welsh? You got $5 this year; expect an invoice this coming December.

          1. Comments with proper editing tools and preview capabilities is nigh impossible. I don’t see how it could possibly be done.

        2. The article covered why IP is not really property – basically because it can be taken without any loss to its owner. To that you’re going to argue that me copying your novel or whatever is a loss to you because you could otherwise sell it to me. But the key difference is that’s only true if the government is granting you exclusivity on it whereas property is exclusive by nature i.e. if I own a building then you and everyone else can’t possibly own it.

          With that said, whether the government should be granting exclusivity to encourage innovation is debatable. It’s complicated. But what isn’t debatable is that this exclusivity (and with it your intellectual “property”) only exists because the government grants it.

        3. Yes.

    2. “Jonah Salk for example never patented the polio vaccine.”

      That’s unpossible! We’re assured that medicine cannot advance without government enabled IP rent-seeking.

      The Science Is Settled!

      1. Lame.
        If Salk covered the costs of his development, he was welcome to dispose of it as he pleased.
        If someone else did so, he was free-riding to give it away.

        1. Lame.

          The argument as I explicitly stated was:
          We’re assured that medicine cannot advance without government enabled IP rent-seeking.

          Supposedly, it’s simply unpossible for Salk to have developed the polio vaccine.

          1. buybuydandavis
            February.17.2020 at 11:21 pm
            “The argument as I explicitly stated was:
            We’re assured that medicine cannot advance without government enabled IP rent-seeking.
            Supposedly, it’s simply unpossible for Salk to have developed the polio vaccine.”

            Rewarding free-riding in no way supports your claim.
            Try again.

            1. Lame! Most of the internet runs on FOSS, go pay every linux dev or you’re a free riding hypocrite!

        2. Sure, but the point is that he developed it free of the profit motive.

          Except that Jonas Salk was funded by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.

          See, Polio was kind of a big deal. 20,000 people every year were paralyzed by the virus….. just in the US. There were huge drives to fund research.

          Now apply this same logic to today’s market.

          With funding dependent on mass appeal to fear, how does that change the news cycle? What about work on chronic conditions? Do we keep funding cholesterol research once we have the first cholesterol reducing drug?

          And who funds research into the DNA repair mechanisms of archaea? The biggest tool for medical research created in the last 20 years, and maybe ever, is CRISPER. That comes from basic research into the molecular mechanisms of obscure little prokaryotes, unrelated to any diseases. How does that sort of research get funded in that world? It required multiple discoveries made across the world by many different groups, all working on similar aspects of these creatures. And then it required multiple different groups working on applications of that knowledge in completely different areas.

          The final result is that we are now moving exponentially faster than we were before the discovery of PCR in the 80’s. None of that work was directly related to any plausible big philanthropic push.

          And most of the application of basic knowledge to human health has been driven by the profit motive. It is the market that informs where to place your research dollar bets. It is really hard to envision the progress made over the last 50 years happening in a purely philanthropic model. Sure, progress would still be made… but one really has to question what that progress would look like. We already spend a ton on philanthropic research. If that money had to flow to fill the $200 billion void left by the absence of commercial R&D, where would our priorities be? And how much would be spent?

          1. “…And most of the application of basic knowledge to human health has been driven by the profit motive…”

            Another view:
            ‘And most of the application of basic knowledge to human *welfare and prosperity* has been driven by the profit motive’

            1. Right.

              Like all those cool jet-skis we were riding earlier. Just some dude trying to make a buck. But dang if we didn’t enjoy getting exploited for our dollars.

  26. Against Intellectual Property by Stephan Kinsella
    Read it

    1. Only if it’s free.

      1. There you go.

        Note there would be no contradiction in availing yourself of a government privilege and proposing that the privilege should generally end.

  27. Is it certainly the case that modern copyright is too long? Yes. 20-30 years *from date of first composition* would certainly be long enough. That copyright is ridiculously longer than that is thanks to distributed costs and concentrated benefits. (Disney is much better at lobbying lawyers than the population as a whole on an area of special concern to itself). Authors life + 70 years is clearly ridiculous, since once the author is dead, clearly the author no longer needs copyright to live off his or her writing.

    Does that mean copyright serves no value? Well, unless you want the only works of literature (et al) to be those produced by the idly wealthy or those who have the idly wealthy as patrons, copyright is kind of necessary. Pre-copyright renaissance saw prices drop through the floor on most commercial writing, and that was with renaissance printing distribution technology. Now copying a work of writing is as simple as copy + paste. The ‘first to market’ advantage without copyright can literally be measured in seconds today without copyright. (Not to mention, without copyright, ridiculous DRMS to deter easy copying would become common, and that just makes it harder for people who want to engage in fair-use activities).

    Patents, of course, require you disclose what it was you did, and do last for limited times. The alternative to patents is everything becomes a trade secret, which leads to some areas of productive effort being minimized (those easy to reverse engineer – which includes most drugs), and generally stops the sharing of useful innovation, which would ultimately be a bigger social harm than time-limited monopolies on a technology.

    Are there abuses? Sure. But that will be true of any system.

    1. Authors life + 70 years is clearly ridiculous, since once the author is dead, clearly the author no longer needs copyright to live off his or her writing.

      *** rising intonation ***

      What about funding xir cryonics?

    2. I don’t see that life+70 years is unreasonable if it just means authors and heirs getting paid. But it is too long to the extent it stops other creators from releasing derived works of their own.

      So I propose that every copyright be divided into two parts: a right of total control, as now, that lasts only 2 or 3 years, followed by a long lasting right to receive a standard royalty for every copy produced, similar to the mechanical license scheme we now have for recorded music.

      While we’re at it, I would allow the standard royalty to be paid to the copyright office (and make it the author’s or heir’s responsibility to keep his address current with the office).

      These reforms would not only serve the purpose of copyright (to foster more creative works, as spelt out in the Constitution) better than the present system, it would also solve the orphan works problem — and stop the misuse of copyright to keep works off the market.

      1. Heirs don’t deserve a monopoly on their forebears works. The purpose of copyright is to encourage creative expression, and you only need to encourage it for (at most) the lifetime of the author, because that’s the person who needs encouraging.

        I’d far rather see 20-30 years terms (long enough to encourage people to write. Not so long that there’s still incentive to keep writing). OR the term expires 5 years after the author’s death, whichever comes first.

        No reason for heirs to get paid for their entire natural lifetime. A short grace period is plenty sufficient.

        Meanwhile, that 2-3 years of total control probably isn’t sufficient, as you’d have (some) trilogy writers getting pre-empted mid-trilogy by other people publishing their own versions of the ending.

  28. “It’s like the Brooklyn Bridge. On the day it opened on May 24, 1883, the correct price to charge another walker across the bridge was zero. The additional walker causes trivial wear to the bridge, and unless the bridge was congested, she causes no opportunity cost.”

    What an idiot. If I perceive a market for something, concrete or abstract, and then create the thing, the correct price is what the buyer/user and I agree on–and that will not be zero. I would like to shop in McCloskey world, since once goods are delivered to retail stores, the correct prices are zero.

    1. Well, she’s not trying to argue for the correct price, she’s arguing for the ideal price. We all know the correct price is the price agreed upon by a willing seller and a willing buyer and that’s the only price that matters and that philosophical and theological arguments that went on for centuries over the idea of an objective “just price” were pretty much scrap-heaped by Adam Smith. But hey, she got paid for the article attempting to revive the argument, so who’s the winner here?

      1. *** scratches head ***

        Bernie Sanders?

    2. Bridges don’t need maintenance, the Brooklyn Bridge doesn’t need constant maintenance. These hippie scums have everything figured out (steal this book, AFTER I have been paid for it, but before the poor schlubs who bought it to be brought into your neighborhood have an opportunity to be paid)

      1. Yeah, right. And I-94 didn’t fall into the Mississippi River.

    3. Yeah, it ignores the “why am I building this?” question. It ignores amortization.

      In the case of a bridge – let’s posit a private bridge builder and his Brooklyn Bridge. He sees all these ferries operating and says “I could capture that market with a bridge!”

      So he invests millions in building a bridge. Everyone using ferries for $4 per crossing goes to his bridge instead. Even at $5 per crossing it would be a better deal, since it is so much faster and more convenient. But he even charges less, at $2 per crossing.

      In her model, he’s a cheat… because each additional customer costs him nothing.

      Which is a stupid analysis. Even in a make-believe world with magical bridges that require no maintenance, you don’t build the stupid bridge if you have to raise all the money for it up front and never recoup any costs afterward. That sort of transaction might happen… sometimes. (gofund me being an example of an attempt at this sort of marketplace) But it ain’t happening most of the time.

  29. “An idea, after it is produced, has no opportunity cost”

    No, it has an opportunity cost for the NEXT idea. If the man who produced the idea goes unrewarded, he will take up something that WILL support him, such as armed robbery or governance (but I repeat myself)

    Frankly, this is one of the dumber statements I can recall being publish by Reason. I’m ashamed of you.

    1. Exactly.

      Let’s suppose you have an idea for a novel. And you are not even on welfare at the time. But it might take years to write it evenings and weekends after working to feed the family. So what do you do?

      Well, if you think you might be able to sell it and make your living that way instead … maybe you sacrifice that time with your family. But if you have to do it just for the joy of sharing your story.. well, maybe you do, maybe you don’t.

      But more impactful… if you happen to be the rare bloke who is actually good at writing novels… you have the same incentive to continue that the dude who sucks at it does. So Tom Clancey doesn’t go on to write 20 novels and become a factory writing machine with people co-writing dozens of books under his label. Nobody makes movies out of his novels, because it costs too much money and you can’t make it back when you can’t charge for a copy of it.

      Now, you could argue that nothing of value is lost. But the same dynamic is true for all books, and all ideas.

  30. Work tirelessly to solve a problem only to watch others get paid for it? Certainly a great way to destroy the west.

    1. Oh mental effort isn’t labor. It’s just happy happy joy joy time!

  31. Just like a leftist, never thinking about a policy’s effects from the point of view of incentives or practical effects. If there is no legal protections for stealing others’ ideas and not enough pride/shame in a society’s culture against stealing others’ ideas, that implies there is no incentive to innovate at all. A person will work their ass off coming up and perfecting an idea but will not benefit from it even if society as a whole will. Intellectual property wasn’t nearly as important 200 years ago when almost everybody was either a farmer or some kind of tradesman. In this day in age especially where most value is created in new inventions and not in mass manufacturing intellectual property protection is paramount.
    I’m not sure if our patent, copyright, trademark system is too rigid or too loose, but not having any legal claim to intellectual property is insane as all innovation would come to a screeching halt. As libertarians we concede that there is unfortunately a role for government in society in the form of police, military and courts because many people do simply lack morality or respect for others and their property. Again, there can be bickering about exactly how much police and military is necessary, but not having any at all is about as nuts as having no intellectual property protections whatsoever.

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  33. Ideas do very much have an opportunity cost. Ms. McCloskey, you’re looking at the wrong level of market incentives.

    The widespread infringements that you advocate, if they happen, will make it less rewarding to publish inventions by patenting them. I predict that if it happens and goes unpunished, innovators will have to react, where possible, by keeping their ideas secret even if it reduces their ability to use them. This has already been happening in fields where the companies making the inventions are operating in countries like China, where industrial espionage is part of official policy.

    1. Exactly this.

    2. Well stated.

      I’m stealing that..

    3. This has already been happening in fields where the companies making the inventions are operating in countries like China, where industrial espionage is part of official policy.

      This also is the justification for Trump’s trade war.

      Great comment, killed two prgressive turkeys with one comment.

  34. The additional walker causes trivial wear to the bridge

  35. Here’s a crazy idea Mr. McCloskey, gender is not a feeling or a performance.

    1. She had so many vulnerabilities in her argument, but irrelevant this show of white trash intellectualism must have felt a lot better for you.

      1. Your hatred of whites is showing.

  36. The argument addresses the likelihood that inventors and authors will not be compensated for their work by saying ‘too bad.’ Talk about attention-seeking philosophical purity. Sure, let’s blow up the foundation of innovation and creativity and just see what happens.

    Libertarians are so cool! Like a punk band member smashing a guitar to impress a crowd. Fuck consequences!

    Why limit this argument to intellectual property? Why does government have recording offices to establish neutral metes and bounds? Why have courts resolve boundary disputes? Why should people be enslaved, usufruct to our dead ancestors, by inherited real property. By golly, if someone isn’t using land they have abandoned their natural right to it and people should be able to squat to take it away. Let’s change the statute of limitation on adverse possession to a week! Seems to be working out well in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

    1. Thank God for government, w/o it humans would have no creativity or innovation!

    2. “The argument addresses the likelihood that inventors and authors will not be compensated for their work by saying ‘too bad.’”

      Society has lots of positive externalities. Not all of them should be made into government privilege.

      1. Is it a government privilege to expect to be paid for your work and property? Is an author’s novel not his/hers property? Is it not their work? So why shouldn’t they expect to be paid for it? Copyright insures they are protected from others theft of the work. Why is that such a hard concept.

        1. This is the same as claiming the air you exhale is your property, and anyone who breathes it in later owes you money. It’s so dumb it’s hardly worth arguing, but here it goes: the author can keep their book their own easily. By not publishing it. Once they put their ideas into society they don’t get to control what others do with their own minds. You pay the plumber to fix your toilet, they don’t get royalties for every flush thereafter.

          Bonus hint the term “royalties” is a clue here….

          1. Bullshit. It is nothing like the air you breath. And royalties aren’t the same as the plumber fixing your toilet. It is receiving payment every time one of your products are sold. It is like Ford expecting to get some money every time a dealer sells a new F150. Is that wrong?

    3. Did you take that last paragraph from an AOC speech?

      I was going to say Sanders, but then I remembered that he has three houses. He obviously can’t be at all of them at the same time, so this idea would be a problem for him.

  37. When can I expect the anarcho-capitalist argument about the brilliance of abolishing corporations and limited liability companies? GOVERNMENT IS ALWAYS BAD FOR CAPITALISM RIGHT!?

    1. Shhhh! *Those* government interventions in the market are good for Koch Profits.

      Koch Profits Uber Alles!

      Reason has so much rage against violations of the free market. Except when it helps those who Own over those who Labor.

      Benjamin Tucker’s critique of Herbert Spencer in 1884 applies to most all of Reason’s articles on economics.

      It will be noticed that in these later articles, amid his multitudinous illustrations (of which he is as prodigal as ever) of the evils of legislation, he in every instance cites some law passed, ostensibly at least, to protect labor, alleviate suffering, or promote the people’s welfare. He demonstrates beyond dispute the lamentable failure in this direction. But never once does he call attention to the far more deadly and deep-seated evils growing out of the innumerable laws creating privilege and sustaining monopoly. You must not protect the weak against the strong, he seems to say, but freely supply all the weapons needed by the strong to oppress the weak. He is greatly shocked that the rich should be directly taxed to support the poor, but that the poor should be indirectly taxed and bled to make the rich richer does not outrage his delicate sensibilities in the least. Poverty is increased by the poor laws, says Mr. Spencer. Granted; but what about the rich laws that caused and still cause the poverty to which the poor laws add? That is by far the more important question; yet Mr. Spencer tries to blink it out of sight.

  38. So the author doesn’t consider mental effort to be labor? Einstein would be thrilled to know the months he spent agonizing over the math of general relativity was leisure time.

    1. There you go.

      Note there would be no contradiction in availing yourself of a government privilege and proposing that the privilege should generally end.

    2. The author is mentally ill. He believes that on some days he’s a woman, on others he’s a man.

  39. My sister teaches Intellectual property law at UC Berkeley and we argue about copyright all the time. In my view, by expanding the definition of “idea” to include many types of artistic creations, our copyright laws are obscenely prejudicial.

    If I’m a bus driver, and I spend $500,000 over thirty years, making mortgage payments on a house, no can take the asset away from me or my heirs. If I’m a novelist, supporting myself as a bus driver, and I invest thirty years of my income in keeping myself alive and writing, my copyright expires after 70 years, and the government reduces the value of my asset to zero by making it freely available.

    You call that fair?

    1. My understanding is the reason Disney keeps redoing their movies like Lady and the Tramp and the Little Mermaid is to keep the copyrights going indefinitely.

      I noticed that Amazon is producing a TV series based on LOTR. Wonder how that works with the Tolkien estate. I suppose they have to pay something.

  40. The (c) Reason Foundation at the bottom of this page pretty much refutes the author. You can say it’s reason’s copyright and not mccloskey’s, but she choose to publish on reason instead of putting it in the public domain someplace else. Copyright for me but not for thee, eh mccloskey?

    This comment not approved by Silicon Valley brain slugs.

    1. “Ayn Rand was a communist for cashing her social security checks and driving on government roads.”

      1. Was that strawman hard to carry from home, or did you find it nearby?

  41. Hi…
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    you can also read more…click here

  42. Let’s use publishing as an example. An author has one of two choices, to self publish or to submit their manuscript to a publishing house.
    Self publishing is rarely successful. You don’t have the resources necessary to get your product out in the eyes of those who are interested. But let’s say it is the next great literary masterpiece. Well, you could self publish a small run (unless you are wealthy enough to do a larger run). Now you have to market it. You could get the local bookstores to carry it, or you could sell it on e-format. But wait without copyright, as soon as you upload it to Amazon they can now sell it without any recompensation to you. Or, if you get the bookstore to carry it (what you paid for out of your own pocket) they can just make more copies and again you get no recompensation. Sure sounds like theft to me.
    Now, let us take the publishing house. If you are lucky you sell it to the first publishing house you send it to. But in the real world you have probably sent it to multiple publishing houses. All of them can now print it and sell it, even under their own name, with no mention of your efforts. Again, sounds like theft to me.
    Hey but some of you say the author should just be happy that they got their works out there. Okay, but now they don’t have any compensation for the original effort, and unless they are independently wealthy, they have less time (and motive) to write the next work.
    Well what about copyright after the author dies. Well, let’s take Chris Kyle for example. He was murdered soon after his autobiography was written. Leaving aside the Jesse Ventura lawsuit for the moment. Eastwood decided to make a movie from his biography. If copyright ended at death, Kyle’s widow and children would be shit out of luck. And why should this matter. Kyle also co founded a business. His widow and kids are still owners in that business. How is his autobiography different from that business?

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  44. Article I, section 8, it reads, “Congress shall have power… 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.”

    Patient, Copyright and Trademark fits the POWER = JUSTICE model. There is no justice in pretending that copying someone else’s work is “FAIR”.

    There also isn’t ‘Justice’ in using that same POWER to monopolize all-people with that POWER and thus is the reason the term ‘LIMITED’ exists.

    The debate left really is one of judiciary rulings. Each situation probably has entirely different circumstances/evidence to consider but the striking KEY should be ‘intent’.

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  49. This is econ 101 stuff guys; a private good must be what? Lets all say it together: rivalrous AND excludable. Ideas are ……neither! Q.E.D. ‘intellectual property’ cannot be private property. Passing a law that down is up doesn’t make it so, this shouldn’t be hard for reason readers!

    1. How many other course did you fail?

  50. Yeah because people are really going to work their asses off for some nebulous collective good and accept whatever scraps come their way because they can’t defend their distribution rights to their own creative works.

    Fuck off, slaver.

    1. Yeah because people are really going to work their asses off for some nebulous collective good and accept whatever scraps come their way because they can’t defend their distribution rights to their own creative works.

      Of course they will. That’s why Cuba, Venezuela, Soviet Union, N Korea etc are economic powerhouses spitting out mega-corporations and Nobel Prize winners by the dozens!

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  52. Copyright can be a legally enforced form of censorship. If A has written, say, a book that B doesn’t like and A will take B’s price for exclusive rights to it, it can be embargoed for at least 70 years. If A has retired or died, A’s heirs are unlikely to write a “different” replacement for the book (as B might be able to do). And if C tries to replicate A’s book, B likely can sue him for copyright infringement.

    1. Adjustments should be made to the ‘current’ patient and copyright laws just as adjustments should/could (oh, and are) being made to criminal law.

      But pretending that the ‘best’ criminal law adjustment is to just throw justice completely out the window isn’t really a notion I’m going to entertain.

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  54. I hope Reason “stole” this article from McCloseky. As-in, accepted it, but did not pay the agreed upon fee.

    There are problems with copyright law. This… is over the top.

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