1. What is Intellectual Property?
Intellectual Property is first an active government intervention into the market regarding non-rivalrous ideas.
Second, IP is a raft of different, related topics. Copyright is distinct from Patents, and also from Trademarks. Indeed, we may well need separate analyses of all 3 in order to understand them well.
Patents: A government creates a central repository of claims to having invented and first used a technology, and anyone who then uses a technology may sue to either collect royalties from, or prevent the use of a technology by others.
Copyright: A government prohibits most forms of duplication of an artistic work without the express consent of the author.
Trademarks: A government takes over the business of enforcing sourcing identification. If I want to buy an opinion from Foseti...the government will punish anyone delivering counterfeit opinions while claiming to be Foseti.
2. What arguments exist for the support of Intellectual Property?
There are basically 2:
A. Moral: Intellectual Property deserves protection. It's like physical property.
B. Practical: Intellectual Property is useful for encouraging the production of ideas.
Taking them one at a time.
A. Bollocks! IP is almost nothing like physical property...and furthermore it doesn't deserve government protection.
Physical property rights rest morally 3 notions: scarcity, abundance, and value-added.
- Scarcity -- If I take your chair, then you don't have one.
- Abundance -- If I find a natural resource and claim ownership...the moral validity of my claim is predicated on the ability of other folks to find similar resources.
- Value-added -- My ownership of a farm is morally based on my adding value to the resource. If I find a patch of wildflowers...ownership is fishy. If I weed them, and breed them for years...I have a much stronger ownership claim.
- Scarcity doesn't apply in the case of IP. If I use it, you can too.
- Abundance doesn't apply either. Two people discovering the same thing has no abundance. (Alexander Graham Bell submitted his telephone patent HOURS before Elisha Gray)
- Value-added? I'm uncertain of the applicability here.
What else do we have as a possible ethical reasoning? A general sense of propriety of ownership. However, I'd even like to suggest that this notion is far weaker than one might think.
What types of activities ought be owned? Jokes? Song? Clothing Designs? Math Proofs? Computer Programs? Genes? Short stories? Chemicals? machine designs? Furniture Designs? Paintings? All of which are discovery/creation processes, and in the United States, some are protected, and some are not. Can one make sense of which should be protected and which shouldn't? What makes a short story protectable, while a song is barely protected, and a Joke not at all. What makes it right that an Ikea chair non-copyrightable, while a poster is? The case is weak that one can find a difference...which leads me to suppose that the law is the difference, not the ethics.
My claim...there is no MORAL case for either patents or copyright. Trademark is more difficult. I've recently been shifting against it. Trademark is a way for government to take over the trust function in a market...and unsurprisingly, I'm not thrilled with a government taking over market functions.
The effectiveness question I'll leave for another post.