As I discussed last week, the Libertarian Internet Geeks (myself included) have been involved in a heated debate over the legitimacy of the concept of “intellectual property” in recent weeks. My article last Friday was carried at Economic Policy Journal and generated a good amount of conversation there, over at the Daily Paul and our own comments sections as well.
My contention that “there is a debate to be had” on this issue drew the particular ire of Stephan Kinsella, seen rightly by most as the leading libertarian voice against intellectual property. He even has a book by the same name. From Kinsella’s comment on the Daily Paul:
I understand this issue probably better than anyone on the planet and have answered dozens of — always flimsy or incoherent — arguments for it. The debate is over. Principles libertarians know this.
I do understand Kinsella’s point of view in a way. The man has spent twenty years or so on this issue, is clearly passionate about it and it is true that, amongst his peer group (let’s call them “leading libertarian thinkers”), it is true that the consensus position is anti-intellectual property. And from this point of view perhaps it is fair to say “the debate is over.”
While the debate may be “over” in that sense, the conversation is not and never will be. The libertarian movement is growing at an exponential rate thanks to the attention brought to the ideas by the Ron Paul campaign and the ability the internet has given us to communicate with our fellow man. For this reason, it is important that libertarians are always trying to refine their ideas, not only to better grasp them for themselves, but in order to help teach them to others.
I will give Kinsella credit – he has been very engaging on this topic, and if you check out the comments section of our last post on the topic you will see that he has even been over here answering questions and participating in conversation. As one who has admittedly not given much deep thought to the subject of intellectual property until recently, I find all of the thoughtful conversation on both sides of the issue productive.
Our goal here is to not only teach others about the ideas of liberty, but to do so through our own learning process as well. I plan to table further thoughts on intellectual property until I’ve had a chance to give the issue a fair hearing, beginning with reading Kinsella’s book, Against Intellectual Property. Read the free PDF here. (And if you want to help us get a small commission, you can buy it from Amazon in the link to the right).
I’ve read many other thoughtful anti-IP pieces, but Kinsella’s work seems to be the standard bearer so I will leave you with his work for now. There are other works, such as the often-cited paper by Michelle Boldrin and David Levine, that make the case against intellectual property on more utilitarian grounds. But I plan to first focus on Kinsella’s work because he makes the moral case against intellectual property, and it is the moral arguments, not just the utilitarian arguments, that led me to the pursue the cause of liberty in the first place. As Murray Rothbard said in his speech on the six stages of the libertarian movement:
We are for liberty not only or mainly even because liberty will bring us more soap and more bathtubs, as much as we like soap and bathtubs. We are for liberty and against oppression because we believe strongly and passionately in the morality and justice of liberty and the immorality and criminality of statism.
We hope that our readers, as I will, will give a fair hearing to all of the arguments over intellectual property, and then join the conversation.
This is how we work out ideas; this is how we later defend those ideas.