Contrary to popular wisdom, intellectual property (IP) is not a valid form of property, it is not moral, practical, or economically beneficial. Copyrights, patents, and a tiny percentile of trademarks do more harm than good. This page promotes repealing IP laws and finding useful alternatives.
The Difference between Property Rights and Intellectual 'Property'
The moral and historical foundation of property rights derive from the fact that property has physical limitations. Not everybody can use the same thing at the same time so rules are required so as to decide what resources are allocated to who. Intellectual 'Property' is a misnomer. It's not a valid form of property because it's foundation derives from legal mandates, not from physical realities. It is also different from property because IP typically has an expiration date.
Intellectual 'Property' is a dishonest name. Even the creators of copyrights and patents never intended them to be property rights, but incentives. Copyrights, are also a dishonest name - they are not a right, but government granted monopolies. (Also, like most government mandated incentives, they have big winners and big losers)
Why the Law does not justify Intellectual Property
Valid property rights exist outside of law. People have property rights even if there is no government, but typically people organize together in governments and create laws to secure these rights. The preamble to the US Constitution called these inalienable rights.
Because law and property rights are so intimately linked, people often get confused into believing that property rights derive from law rather than existing independently. Typically this leads to the illusion that intellectual 'property' and physical property are one in the same because each is defined by law in most western countries.
Finally, the mere existence of law implies choice and consequences. Law would be useless if people were all destined by environmental situations anyhow. Law can never create morality, but only prescribe punishment (and reward) for different behaviors. When the consequences of law tend to match up with what is naturally fair, then the public tends to be happy - when law doesn't then many in society suffer and individuals have a moral duty to defy those laws. For example, few educated people would consider it right to own black slaves, just because the law allowed it. Nor would an ethical person consider it right to turn in a Jew that wasn't wearing a star-of-david just because the law required it. There is compelling reason to believe that imposing IP restrictions on other people is also unethical, and therefore should be defied inspite of the law.
How Inventors and Creators are rewarded in a IP-not Society
Often there is the misconception that if people don't have a copyright or patent monopoly, then there would be no incentive to create. But this is not the case. "Necessity is the mother of all invention". If a company saves a million dollars a year by implementing a computer program or a machine that costs a few hundred thousand to create - then someone will find a way to do it, copyrights or no copyrights - patents or no patents! Also, think of the renaissance which came about before most copyrights and patents existed.
The best way to be rewarded in an IP-not society is by taking a service based approach. A software developer could distribute programs in mass, and if someone wants a modification to the program, they could pay him by the hour to implement it. A business person who writes a book about finance could use it as a tool to enhance his reputation and land a contract at a large accounting firm. A doctor who writes a medical book, could use it to become an in demand specialist in his field. A musician could distribute his songs in mass to create a demand for live concerts or night-club contracts.
There is also the concept of relative wealth, vs real wealth. For example, in terms of disease and medical conditions there is compelling reason to believe that many middle class people are better off in today's society then kings were centuries ago. The same is true of intellectual "property". If John Q. Citizen as an individual gives up all of his IP rights with a total net value of say $100,000, but in return he has access to everyone elses IP with a net value of $100,000,000 then he has come out with an absolute net gain, even though his relative wealth among the group may have decreased. For John Q. Citizen to look at what he looses, and not what he gains is looking at the hole and not the doughnut. This is because for every IP restriction that he benefits from, there are probably millions that he is restricted by.
Finally, since the programmers, musicians, and the other creative people of the world are a limited resource, there is no reason why people shouldn't be paid directly for the use of their services rather than for monopolies over the works that are created.
What Motives People to Oppose IP
The desire to copy without cost is one motive that leads people oppose IP. From a very young age, people copy teachers, parents, elders, sisters and brothers. People often find it offensive when this very natural and productive behavior is fined in the latter years of life.
Often the desire to copy without cost leads to the accusation that people who copy are just out for a "free lunch", but this is not the case. One example may be a school teacher who wants to Xerox a text book and distribute it to create a lesson. Another may be a computer programmer who wants to modify and enhance an already existing software program. Unlike with physical property, there is no natural right to restrict these behaviors because they do not deprive the creators of limited resources. A creator has no right to coerce a potential commission on IP any more then they have a right to coerce a potential gain in the stock market - even though either could be considered an incentive in a given context.
However, those who work around IP and experience it often have an even deeper motive. They see how it creates pain, damage, and even death. An employee at a pharmaceutical company may witness how the company promoted one drug that had lots of dangerous side effects because they didn't have a patent over a much safer alternative one. An observer at a TV studio may witness how the producers promoted a hype-tv show over an informational one because of issues that relate to IP and ratings. Perhaps a worker at an auto company observed that people died because a safety feature was left out of their line of cars due to patent restrictions. A computer user may experience drastically different standards and incompatible programs because a vendor that "owns" the software has no incentive to make it work with other vendors. A musician or artist may feel inhibited from making enhancements to other peoples works due to copyright infringement fears.
The Difference Between Copying, Stealing, Plagiarism, Trademarks, and Trade Secrets
In an IP-not world, right and wrong is not defined by who owns a given intellectual work, but rather by honesty. For example, in an IP-not society if John Q. Citizen copied a music cdrom and gave it to a friend - there would be nothing wrong with this, because copying is looked upon as an inherently good behavior. But if John Q. Citizen copied the music cdrom, and then claimed that he wrote the music, then this would be dishonest and fraudulent. ** It would be giving false witness to both the person who wrote it, and to the person who received it. This is why most trademarks would be considered acceptable in an IP-not society, but plagiarism, copyrights, and patents wouldn't be. Interestingly enough, however, such lying in an IP-not society would happen less in practice, because there is less incentive to lie about ownership when a copy monopoly is not at stake.
Note, some trademarks laws are not designed to restrict fraudulent behavior but rather used to give ownership over a characture (like Mickey-mouse). These types of trademarks are unethical, and are really just another extension of copy monopolies. For example, one would be hard pressed to argue that a day-care center that paints cartoon characters on it's walls is fraudulently claiming to be a subsidiary of Disney co. However, on the whole, most trademarks are OK.
Another acceptable behavior is entering into contract agreements, and keeping secrets. Assuming that people enter into these agreements under ethical circumstances, there is no reason why a person shouldn't be expected to keep their word. And with secrets, there are some times when an ethical person would be expected to keep a secret. This is why trade secrets and contractual agreements are also considered OK. However, one should be aware that printed labels on the outside of a package are not a true "contract" any more that it would be if John Q. Citizen sent out a note in the mail saying that "by opening this letter, you agree to pay me $50 bucks". Contracts are by definition a two way binding mutual agreement.
** footnote, if John Q. Citizen copied someone else's music, modified it, and made improvements of his own - there would be nothing wrong with this as long as he admits that the work was not only his.
In summary, copying information isn't piracy, but rather sharing. Using another's idea isn't stealing it, but acknowledging it. Information can not be owned, and a good idea is valuable only to the extent that it is applied. Contracts are not words, but agreements. Even where information is used to do wrong, secrets are not kept by laws, but by restraint. Privacy is not kept by property, but by respect. Also, plagiarism is only about dishonest authorship, not ownership. Trade secrets should be about secrets kept in agreement, not about silence imposed by law. A trademark should be about identity, and not about control. And yes, being honest is its' own reward.
The Famous IP-not links
The Economy of Ideas - Famous paper discussing the impracticality of Intellectual Property in the information age. (By: John Perry Barlow)
Christians and the Copyright Law - Discussion of copyrights on Christian music, and how the practice is unethical. (By: Jack Decker)
Kaz's Position on Intellectual Property - A thoughtfull opponent to IP who discusses the rationality of it at length.
Against intellectual Property - Paper studying the social implications of IP (By: Brian Martin)
Liber - The Free the Books Campaign - A page opposing the extension of copyright protections for up to 95 years.
Studies Find Reward Often No Motivator - A paper on the gnu web page about how financial reward is not a motivator for people to create. GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF)
The Libertarian Case Against Intellectual Property Rights
Talmud and Hypertext - Discusses how the ancient Talmud provides a paradigm for an information age without intellectual property.
Intellectual Property Protection Regimes in the Age of the Internet - Discusses difficulties and issues about copyright enforcement in the information age.
Copy Rights ? - Talks about copyright morality, the origin of ideas, and how copyrights don't help most creators.
Discussion of the GNU copyright - A short essay about the GNU copyright, and how it's requirement for free distribution nullifies much of the harm done by copyrights.
Some Myths about Intellectual Property - A fact sheet that debunks the most common fallacies about intellectual property.
Against Intellectual Property - This site also opposes intellectual property, it has some discussion and more links.
A little tid.bit -
In addition to this great restraint to literally billions, it should be noted that "no one is an island". We all rely on parents, friends, neighbors, teachers, and/or loved ones, on "the people who have built printing presses, laid telephone cables, built roads and buildings and in many other ways have contributed to the 'construction' of society." (Brian Martin 1995) And if society truly owes one for an invention, one might want to consider that society would also owe his mother, grandmother, and great-grandma, down onto Adam and Eve of which everyone is an heir to. Ultimately, it can be argued, any true obligation is owed to God for making the universe and the idea to begin with. However, He already seems to have decided this issue by giving information one set of characteristics and physical property another!
Fundamental Problems with IP
One indicator that IP is all wrong is that there are several success stories that are counterintuitive if intellectual property is indeed valid. There are also many paradoxes and legal delimas that pit IP against the Bill of Rights that would never come up otherwise.
There are many examples of where IP failures have led to real world success. One example is Linux , a high quality UNIX type OS that is quickly gaining commercial success as an Open Source software project. Even more interesting, is how other alternatives to Linux (and varients of other Open Source projects), like FreeBSD, have not been as successful even though their copyright is claimed to be less restrictive because it lets developers "fork" off their own derivatives of copyrighted code. If copyrights were truly valid, then the relative success of Linux is counter intuitive. (the success of Linux, where other projects like Java that is centrally licensed have stagnated should also indicate something about the nature of IP)
Another example of an IP failure of leading to real world success is the IBM compatible PC. IBM originally thought that they had intellectual "property rights" to the interface on it's initial PC line. When AMD (a competitor to Intel) made pin compatible chips, IBM sued and spent over a 100 million dollars trying to win in the courts, but lost. Shortly after, the PC market exploded. One would think that the overwhelming success IBM compatible PC would be counterintuitive if IP rights were truly an incentive that betters society. Even more interesting was the flop of the next line of IBM PC's called the PS2, whose interface IBM was better able to control.
Another example is the failure of Macintosh computers to dominate the market, where Microsoft succeeded. Most engineers and OS experts agree that the Motorola architecture used by the mac was superior, as was the design of the operating system superior. Since Microsoft licensing practices were considered lenient at the time compared to Apple, one would think that the Mac was better leveraged for long term success. The relative market success of Windows is counterintuitive if IP is a valid property right.
An example of a great trademark failure is that little yellow smiley face that we have all seen hundreds of times by now. The company that originated the idea (Avis, I believe) forgot to register a trademark on it and the rest is history.
In addition to many examples whose successes and failures are
counterintuitive to the IP philosophy, there are also some fundamental
problems that IP may lead to. For example, consider the following
skldj akljd lkasd alksj faksjdf alsjf quweriuykjash xcnvkjsahf
kjd ajskdh alskjh fkajlsdfh lkajsh fklajs flkajs dflaskjhfals
Now this could be an encrypted copy of a companies most prized intellectual property holding, and once it is spread all over the planet, all someone has to do is release the password and there's not a darn thing the company can do. Or this could be just random garbage, and if the US government tries to do anything about it, they would be blatantly violating my first amendment rights.
Another example may be a internet protocol that scatters a copyrighted work among 10000 web sites such that anyone could access the work, but such no one site would hold a legible enough piece of the work to be considered a copyright infringement. Who would the government go after in this case? (PS: don't be surprised if Ipnot plays a role in developing a protocol like this)
Here's another scenario,
A Government collects information about itself that should be known by the general public, when it becomes a threat that this information could be revealed, the government sells the information to a company so that if anybody publishes it, they are liable. All of a sudden, my rights as a citizen to publish what I see fit about the Government are compromised by the companies supposed copy "rights". (Yes, this has happened, see Brian Martin's link, Against Intellectual Property)
One may also wish to consider many large companies like IBM, MGM, and Microsoft who strongly embrace the rule of IP law, but who also have a notorious reputation for using strong arm tactics to ignore others IP "rights". If IP is valid, it would seem counterintuitive that such practices would evolve. One may also wish to consider how often honest individuals ignore IP quite a bit, sometimes accidently, sometimes intentionally justified with phrases like "I only copied it for him because he wouldn't have been able to afford it anyhow)
Of course, both those who love and hate IP do agree on a few things. First, that IP is becoming ever more difficult to enforce (because of new technologies like encryption and the internet). Second, it is impossible to locally enforce IP without also enforcing it globally. If there is any one country or place in the world that has no IP rules, then it pretty much unravels the IP restrictions for the rest of the world because technology makes the globe so inter-connected. Either way, this begs the argument, why not invest your time and your life in a way that does not rely on IP.
Overall, new technologies have changed the rules. There are many examples of success in the real world that are contrary to IP. Also, eventually society will half to choose between IP and the Bill of Rights when it comes to practical enforcement.
A bit about freedom
The phrase, "you get what you pay for", sums up a philosophy that leads many people to think that free information will also be cheap, trinket-y, and not too useful in the real world. However, it should be noted that free information is not about being free of all costs, rather it is about free opportunity for people to make the best of what is already naturally there before them. The phrase "the best things in life are free" is much more appropriate. (or "freedom of speech" is even better)
A little IP humor . . .
Once upon a time, a man prayed to know if intellectual property was true. To his astonishment, an angel popped out of the sky at that moment and whacked him on the head with a stick. At first stunned, and then frustrated, he recovered his senses and asked, "Dearest angel, what did I do wrong?" The angel paused for a moment and then exclaimed, "Why nothing, I was just answering your prayer! God gives information one set of characteristics and physical property another."
Browser War Worries
Recently, in the USA, the Justice department has cracked down upon Microsoft for allegedly playing unfair with its IE 4.0 browser. While few people dislike Microsoft's business practices more than I do, this particular reaction worries me. This is a classic example of how our societies failure to recognize that IP is fake, leads to unethical business practices. This, in turn, leads to government regulation to deal with these unethical practices and leads to an expanding government presence on the Internet, and within the software industry, to enforce these regulations. Who knows, the government could perform random searches and seizures in the name of preventing abuses. So at first it may seem like a relief that "Microsoft is finally getting what's coming to them", but this is actually just another example of how IP can never be enforced accept at the expense of the Bill of Rights. Moral, instead of looking at Microsoft, It's better to take a look in the mirror at ourselves and see what we as individuals believe.
Real War Worries
This page has shown that many people suffer from IP as it is now, so this does not look like a promising start for the future. In fact, consider WW 1 for comparison. The industrial revolution had brought the kings of Europe great wealth, but almost no accountability to the rights of the public. This change eventually led to an attitude where the kings of Europe had no problem going to war in the name of national pride. It wasn't long before war spread across Europe, and millions of people died.
This should teach us today that changes in technology always demand higher values, and that a failure to understand these values can have deadly consequences. This page explains that one of these values must be the nullification of IP. The concept that intangible things can be treated like owned commodities is, by definition, not founded in reality. It is a problem waiting to happen, it is a time bomb waiting to explode. There is no telling how severe the consequences can be, and it is better not to find out.
Consider a possibility where the USA is at constant odds with China because their nation is so restricted by America's IP laws. As each country grows, contention builds. Eventually WW3 breaks out.
Another scenario could involve the US government becoming more and more intrusive into the Internet, software companies, and private peoples lives by forbidding encryption, etc.... As the people become more and more outraged from IP related problems, the government responds with more regulations and controls, but this just leads to outlaws and gangsters making a killing on the black market. Soon a type of anarchy breaks out, gang like groups spread everywhere, and the citizens become terrorized (Perhaps even some form of genocide breaks out).
Now, don't get me wrong, my outlook for the future is bright. But just as we could have never gotten where we are today under the old pharaoh dynasty philosophy. We can not get to the future without getting rid of IP.
It should be considered that the establishment of private property lays upon a historical foundation that is thousands of years old, and has been tested by countless wars and bloodshed. So where is this foundation for intellectual "property"? Indeed, some of the more evil influences of this century centered upon politically limiting the free press, and free speech. Not a good track record for a philosophy that economically limits the free flow of ideas.
At first the idea of IP (intellectual property) sounds honest because all people have a built in hope that their photo, song, book, computer program, invention, painting, or that "pick anything" will bring something good to others, while gaining personal reward. However, IP is a trap because pursuing a good thing is its own reward that naturally attracts opportunity without a granted monopoly. Beware that IP causes others to be limited in their usage of inventions, works, and ideas, not because this usage limits someone else's needs, but because of a perceived entitlement. That whatever creation IP does promote is often done at the expense of someone else being able to enhance, complement or add to it - IP makes those who pursue similar interests into enemies instead of a team. To make matters worse, many creations that IP promotes are not even beneficial (see examples above). Also, IP is not natural in a free society because when anybody claims economic entitlements from another due to a perceived right, then this is not free.
Consider that, as society races toward the information age - massive majorities will have huge and unlimited access to information and ideas, while small minorities may claim to be entitled economic control over such. This will not only create contention, but will eventually become unenforceable, even at the expense of the Bill of Rights. Indeed, as information becomes abundant and access to it becomes cheaper, the law that will come to be noticed won't be a copyright law, but the law of supply and demand. For with information, the supply will approach unlimited so the demand per unit will approach zero. The real value in a work will not be in its informational content, but rather in how it's applied by individuals servicing individuals. So since the programmers, musicians, and the other creative people of the world are a limited resource, why not pay directly for the use of their services rather than for monopolies over the works they create?
Sincerely,David Christy Founder, IP Not! Foundation
The positions of IP Not (I can almost guarantee you) do not represent
the positions of my employer or my ISP. People are free to copy and
modify this page as long as they apply the same rules to the pages
they create. The IP-not foundation web page was created by, and paid
for by the Christy family whose religious values hold that copyrights
and patents are immoral and unethical.
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