Discussion Notes - Intellectual Property

I led the LDS Liberty Study Group discussion last Thursday on the topic of Intellectual Property. As promised, here is the discussion outline we followed. I recommend reading the free resources at the bottom to understand the arguments against defending intellectual property as a libertarian. What made for a very exciting discussion were our opposing view points. I was glad to be a part of it.

LDS Liberty Study Group - October 7th, 2010 - Intellectual Property

Topic - The purpose of this discussion is to understand the true nature of "Intellectual Property". We will discuss the purpose of property rights, contrast intellectual property with real (physical) property, and how intellectual property "rights" are enforced. We will not be discussing whether or not a society should grant and protect intellectual property rights. Resources are provided that explore the nature and desirability of intellectual property rights. These are comprehensive, and should be studied with the intent of determining whether or not intellectual property rights should be defended by liberty-lovers. I personally believe they should not.

Discussion Points
  • Property Rights - What is the purpose of the concept of property rights?
    • World of scarcity.
    • Conflict prevention, resolution.
  • Ezra Taft Benson on the importance of protecting property rights, "The civil government’s obligation then is to...secure to every man the free exercise of his conscience and the right and control of his property. No liberty is possible except a man is protected in his title to his legal holdings and property and can be indemnified by the law for its loss or destruction. Remove this right and man is reduced to serfdom." (http://www.latterdayconservative.com/articles/ezra-taft-benson/freedom-and-free-enterprise)
  • Intellectual Property vs. Real (physical) Property
    • Ideas are not "scarce".
    • The copying of ideas does not deprive the owner of his idea.
    • The copying of ideas effects only the value of the idea.
      • Is "value" a form of property? Can it be "owned"? 
      • Can "value" be stolen?
  • Intellectual Property = State-granted monopoly to utilize and/or profit from an idea.
    • State-created artificial scarcity.
    • Enforcement requires an ever-expanding state because ideas can be copied anywhere in the world/universe.
    • Arbitrary, not principled, rules govern IP. So many years for patents, etc.
  • Intellectual Property violates Real Property Rights.
    • Prevents certain uses of one's real property.
    • Re-distributes wealth of one's real property.
  • The LDS Church and Intellectual Property.
    • Revelation to Joseph Smith on the Book of Mormon's copyright,
      • "Behold I say unto you that I have covenanted & it Pleaseth me that Oliver Cowderey Joseph Knight Hyram Pagee & Josiah Stowel shall do my work in this thing yea even in securing the [Copy]-right & they shall do it with an eye single to my Glory that it may be the means of bringing souls unto me Salvation through mine only Be{t\gotten}." (http://www.fairblog.org/2009/09/22/copyright-revelation/)
      • To prevent others from obtaining a copyright on the Book of Mormon first, and then using it to prevent the Church from publishing the Book of Mormon?
    • Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
      • LDS Church's intellectual property arm.
      • Protection of intellectual property is "traditional"? It's certainly not to protect value, because the Church doesn't profit from their scriptures and manuals.
  • Two Founders' views on Intellectual Property:
    • Benjamin Franklin, "Governor Thomas was so pleased with the construction of this stove . . . that he offered to give me a patent for the sole vending of them for a term of years; but I declined it from a principle which has ever weighed with me on such occasions, viz.: That, as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously." (Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography)
    • Thomas Jefferson, "That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property." (http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/a1_8_8s12.html)

Intellectual Property Resources

Roderick Long - Libertarian Case Against IP Rights - http://libertariannation.org/a/f31l1.html
Stephan Kinsella - Against Intellectual Property - http://mises.org/books/against.pdf
Michele Boldrin & David Levin - Against Intellectual Monopoly - http://levine.sscnet.ucla.edu/papers/imbookfinalall.pdf
Johanna Blakely, TED - Lesson's From Fashion's Free Culture - http://www.ted.com/talks/johanna_blakley_lessons_from_fashion_s_free_culture.html