We live in a world of scarcity. We can’t all have anything we want because resources are limited. This means there is a potential for conflict between individuals if they desire to use a given good in different ways simultaneously. So what to do about this?
Private property rights. Property rights are a universal method we can use to determine who has the higher moral claim to use something.
Intellectual property, or simply ideas, does not warrant a property right assignment. This is because they are not a physical good that has the potential for conflict of use. For example, if Bob were to manipulate his resources to create a new flying car and Jill saw the invention and made one for herself, Jill would not be violating Bob’s property rights. Bob is still able to use or sell his vehicle and has not had anything stolen from him.
Some people may claim that Bob has had his “market share” stolen from him. Or in other words, Jill has taken away Bob’s potential profits. But this is simply competition. “Stealing” market share is not literally theft. Businesses win and lose market share all the time. They are competing to win more customers, and there isn’t theft if customers voluntarily choose to frequent one business over another. Businesses also copy each other quite often, whether it’s the practice of franchising or the style of a building or the addition of various items to a menu.
In fact, enforcing a patent on Bob’s flying car would itself be a property right violation. If law enforcement prevented Jill from making her own cars and/or selling them, they are violating her right to use her property how she sees fit.
Bob has the right to manipulate his own physical resources and to attempt to sell them if he likes. Jill has that same right regardless of if she gains some knowledge or inspiration from Bob or anyone else. All of our knowledge is built upon the ideas of the people who have come before us. We are in no way stealing from our ancestors when we apply those ideas to our resources.
Intellectual property laws are inconsistent with property rights because ideas do not have the potential for conflicting uses. Ideas aren’t meant to be kept to yourself. Share them with the world.
This post originally appeared at Minnesotans for Liberty
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