Intellectual Property

August 2008
"Creators have a right to control copies for distribution."
- Jesse Phillips

I was over on the D Programming Language NewsGroups and the issue of piracy came up. There was some discussion as to whether it was stealing or had to do with taking ships at high seas. Unfortunately like most English words it obtains many meanings and everyone wants to to claim it is the other meaning that it is not. So really it because a debate of what the word means and not the idea behind the word. I use this tactic a lot in my arguments, but it is usually my method of admitting defeat (my friends are smart enough to pick up on when I have changed the topic). At this point I would like to state my claim that, intellectual property is a bunch of BS.

The best way I can think to describe what intellectual property would be, is to claim it as the ownership of ideas. To me this sounds more like something you would say to teach your kids from being influenced by others. "These are your ideas, no one else has the right to change them for you." Laws just allow you to have control of others when it comes to using these ideas. But many claim that this breaks the right to information.

Oh what another lovely word to bring into the debate. Information. Do we really know what this is? Is it software, is it music, is it a picture? We are living in the information age, where control of information is extremely hard to accomplish. So really what is it, and why do we have this right to access it?

Could I make a claim here that we really don't have the right to information? Could I claim we don't have the right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness? As a Libertarian these might make it seem like the devil has taken over me to be able to even think such a claim. Not only do I think this is a safe, but more legitimate, claim then that written in the U.S. Constitution. I started listing claims that a person does not have the innate, God given right to have, the problem was that I stopped too soon. Not only do I not have a right to life, I have no right to take away life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. You see, all I have done is taken a simple statement an made it longer. So what did this give us? Ownership. I own my life, my liberty, and my pursuit of happiness, and my information. It gives me control over what I own. So if we don't have all of these innate rights, why do we have this right to ownership? Who gave it to us? How was it given? As I don't have a belief in a higher being, I do feel I will explain in a way that can satisfy those that do.

In order for an explanation of how one can own something, and even what it means to own something, we look at production and distribution of physical goods. Physical items are lost when distributed to another. So if you have possession of a physical item that others want you have control over what happens with it, you have ownership. You could claim that once it has been set down you could argue that you no longer have possession and thus do not have ownership. That would be a little silly as people would be holding a lot of stuff then. We end up giving the object an owner which is unchanged without permission from that objects owner, other wise we call it stealing.

What other ways might we wish to assign an owner for an object. We have farmers, and while they may have never touched the corn, people that take it are stealing. Lumber jacks have trees to cut and sell. The lumber jack and farmer may not have had to pay for the material, and even if they did, they could charge at a hire amount then what the material was worth. Why can they do this, well for one they have ownership of this item, but there is a charge for the labor that went into getting the product. They are given this control of these products because of the innate nature of a physical item, it takes labor to produce a copy of the creation. After all, if it did not take labor to do this how could it be sold, everyone could make their own without any work.

This is where intellectual property laws try to make up for the fact that duplication takes no labor. Ok, there are more reasons for patents and people will argue about the stupid points about them, but I'm not here defend it (I'm Libertarian I know laws really do come in lots of crappy flavors). What I am trying to do is extend the innate property that physical objects have in creating them to the creators of intangible works such as music/art/software and many others that fall under "intellectual property."

The main idea here is that a creator has a right to control copies for distribution. A creator is someone that has put forth labor to produce his idea. Note that the idea could be classified as information, but the creation can not. This gives the creator control over the copying of his creation, but not his ideas. This is the area I differ from intellectual property.

I wish to claim that it should be legal to take a song, and if you are able to reproduce it exactly with your band, you have created and have the right of copy for distribution. The problem, is that defending yourself in court might not be very easy, as it would be hard to prove it is not just a modified copy of the original.

I should probably go into more detail as to what a right of "copy for distribution" is. Think of the physical object. If I know how to create the product I can take it to/create a production line and teach them to copy it so I can make more. Copying software doesn't take said training, so instead we say that the creator gets to say who and how his product is distributed. This also means they can attach any binding contracts they wish to the use of the product.