I am half-way through the book on intellectual property that I linked to in my previous post – “Against Intellectual Monopoly”, and the authors have so far made a very convincing case against patents and copyrights. They do tend to take the utilitarian way some times, talking of the benefits to society-
Do the innovators lose because of this? Probably, although there are circumstances in which not even this is true. The good news is that, in most circumstances, everybody else gains a lot more than the innovators lose. Good economic laws and institutions are not designed to make a few lucky people super wealthy, but to make the average consumer better off. Three desirable features of a world without “intellectual property” should be noted:
- The number of copies available to consumers is higher and the price is lower, thereby making consumers better off.
- The initial innovator still earns a substantial amount of money.
- The market functions whether there is one or many innovators–and socially beneficial simultaneous innovation is possible.
but on the whole their argument is that “intellectual property” is not property but a monopoly, that inventors, artists etc can still hope to make a tidy sum under standard property laws, and that the free market actually allows that to happen – they have numerous historical precedents to prove that. They also have statistics and stories which show that patents and copyrights have been used not to innovate, but to keep competition out, to indulge in patent trolling, as a cartelization device, and to keep earning monopoly profits over extended periods of time (always extending the term limits specified under copyright law in the nick of time, for example) often at the cost of the rights of everyone else. And when I say they are making a convincing case, I don’t mean a utilitarian case – abolish ip and it’s good for everyone, but a moral one – ip simply widens the definition of property beyond what is “right.” This, however, is my first impression. Read the book.
If you want to read other attacks on IP, this time from the Austrian perspective, read Stephan Kinsella’s “Against Intellectual Property” (pdf) and Murray Rothbard’s “Man, Economy and State [with Power and Market]” (pdf). Kinsella is an attorney specializing in IPR law, and you can read his monographs here, and his blog posts here.
The Randian position, strongly in favor of IP, I have linked to in my original post. Greg Perkins’ “Don’t Steal This Article!” is based on her position.