The Problem with Intellectual Property is – Surprise – Government Aggression

Intellectual property, and the resistance to it, is something I’ve tried to grok for awhile now. RiP! A Remix Manifesto is a solid step towards remedying my ignorance, but it falls short of explicitly noting exactly why intellectual property has become the scourge that it is: government (aggression).

A Queen is a Government Official

The obviousness of the problem starts when the movie announces that a Queen Anne promulgated copyright for the first time. A queen is a government official! How did she enforce her assertion of a 14-year copyright? Through aggression! That is to say, she used her governmental powers to involuntarily force her edict on her fellow human beings. How is copyright enforced today? Through government (aggression)! Is the elephant in the room coming into focus now?

Big Media Made Possible by … Government!

The movie rails against big media, showing that it is controlled by just a few large corporations, which in turn are represented by just two lobbying firms. The filmmaker made it as far as the lobbyists but failed to see his analysis through to the end: government (aggression). How disappointing. There would be no big media without government-granted limited liability and corporate personhood.

Did the Supreme Court Ring a Bell?

The movie prominently features remixes of Disney’s Mickey Mouse character and makes a big deal of the rogue cartoonist being sued. The case went to the supreme court, where he lost. This was another chance for the filmmaker to consider the impact of government (aggression) on the tyranny of intellectual property, but, alas, another opportunity lost. Without government, justice would be rendered via judges and juries agreeable to both parties, and not selected by a compromised state.

Medical Patents

While exploring Girl Talk’s day job, we’re told that overly general medical patents are holding back progress in medicine. Who is keeping it that way? GOVERNMENT! Why? Because it holds a self-arrograted monopoly on the creation and enforcement of patents. Another chance to examine this disagreeable giant elephant in the room moseys on by. These examples go on and on, including the supreme court ruling that life forms can be patented.

Property Good, Aggression Bad

Throughout the movie there is a subtle attack on the concept of property that constitutes an overreaction to the real problem: “property” created or backed by aggression. There is nothing inherently wrong with property. But there is something inherently wrong with aggression. Aggression short-circuits all that is good in us by denying our right to make our own decisions and co-operate voluntarily with others.

D’oh! Government Official Admits it

A former Clinton administration official even admits on tape that government created this insane dependency on intellectual property by trading the manufacturing base for future promises of IP royalties. What’s it going to take for the topic of government to be addressed directly?

Abolish Aggression

“We can change laws” is the film’s call to action. But this is just code for “Let’s grab the reigns of government (aggression) ourselves, and use it for our benefit.” A remix of Lord of the Rings would have been appropriate here. The real solution is to abolish aggression. When a song or movie is released, the producer can lock down their control by voluntary contracts (licenses) and enforce it with their own resources. If they can’t do that or if their attempts at control stifle the market for their products, that’s the free market at work: they lose.

Learn from Open Source

In other words, hold your work too closely and it loses value. Let it go free and you profit. This is the lesson of the open-source software movement. Create a market for your services by giving something away, and you profit. Raise the cost of people discovering the value you have to offer, and you’re dust in the wind. We don’t need more aggression. We need less. And you can’t vote for that!

Recommended Watch

Don’t get me wrong: it’s an entertaining and informative movie. The short history of remixing they hinted at was fascinating. Maybe in the past it wasn’t such a big deal because the corporo-statist complex wasn’t as big – it didn’t have as many parasites on the payroll. Morally speaking, there is nothing wrong with remixing unless you promised not to do it. In that case only, it constitutes breach of contract. Which is not even to mention how stupid and self-destructive it is for the record labels to offend their customer base.

By George Donnelly

I'm building a tribe of radical libertarians to voluntarize the world by 2064. Join me.

14 replies on “The Problem with Intellectual Property is – Surprise – Government Aggression”

Great points. Aggression is the main culprit.

That said however I think intellectual property as it’s commonly known is invalid too. There is one way you could argue for it if you like I did here, but it involves some semantic modifications in language. Ever since writing that article though I found it simpler to just deny the possibility of owning ideas and information, but then emphasizing the fact that ideas and information by their very nature cannot even exist without a medium and you do own a medium, always.

So that’s the trick. You create a song. First it’s in your mind where the medium are your brain cells. Then it could be on your hard drive (another medium) and then it could be on rented server space online (another medium). You can’t precisely claim to own the song itself anymore than you can claim ownership of a number, but since you own these mediums (and in the latter case have a rent contract) you decide how are these mediums to be used. You can decide to deny a download for instance unless the would be downloader agrees to your terms. And a promise is a contract.

But even so this differs greatly from how copyright licenses typically works, and of course that’s due to aggression. If your downloader breaks a contract and gives it to Joe (provided terms are against copying to others) and Joe continues to share with others, Joe isn’t the one liable, only the first downloader is because the contract was between him and you. But copyright says otherwise and thus calls for persecution of Joe and everyone else whom he shared with despite the fact that they had no relationship with the original author.

This is also why I think that, while certainly possible (you can have the contractor agree to a scary enough damages payment to deter copying), it would be more difficult to enforce draconian contracts in realm of information, digital works and software than with government aggression and why in a free market “Open Source” would probably thrive a lot more than today (and more so with BSD style contracts than viral GPL style).

Hi Daniel, thanks for your comment.

Right on. And I like the BSD license better too.

Is intellectual property a valid concept? I’m on the fence. But frankly I think it doesn’t matter. The market can decide that. People who don’t want to accept IP won’t, and those who do, will. I agree with you that it is impossible to really enforce consistently, so inevitably IP will de facto cease to exist without the aggression of government behind it. And that’s fine by me.

I don’t see how it could be a valid concept. If I purchase a CD, it is now my property. If I am not able to make copies of the CD (my property) we have a paradox of property rights.


It can be argued that you purchase the CD and a limited license to the data that is on it, that license being described by the agreement you made when you purchased it.

But, again, it’s a moot point because the market will decide. It’s only a topic worthy of debate when the tyrant – who makes one decision for all – must be convinced one way or another.

Thanks for commenting. :)

I agree it’s moot, especially since two people can take both of the opposing positions and still get along in practice quite well so long as both believe in basic property. One can say property can be intellectual by simply considering it one with the medium and the other may prefer to view the information as distinct and thus unownable. Yet in practice, if both believe in basic property rights, given that this “intellectual property” cannot exist without a medium, the physical property rights override everything.

So ultimately, yeah, the only real issue is a monopoly on violence violating basic property itself.

I think intellectual property is too often broken down to music and prose and the like. The real test of intellectual property comes in the technological sector. If I invent a widget worth billions of dollars, as long as I maintain the rights to sell it exclusively, I have a serious interest in making sure no competitors enter the market.

Say for example, I invented the wheel. I sell wheels now, and am originally the only one to have realized its usefulness. It’s going to seem to be obvious to everyone how simple it is, and that they could have thought it up themselves, and that they don’t owe me anything. Before my idea truly gets off the ground, masons and stone carvers (who can make much better wheels than I can, given their expertise) start to work, and profit from my idea.

I’m not saying I would use force against these people, but it would definitely cross my mind. They are profiting from my incredible technological advance, and I am not. Only through my enforcement of my perceived property rights will I be able to generate profit.

How is my claim to my idea any less valid than your claim to physical property, and would you accept me using an equivalent amount of force to stop you that you would use to stop a thief from taking your property?

You would have to bring a lawsuit against the stone carvers (in a stateless society) to get them to stop. Twelve of your peers would then have to see if they agree with you or not. You would have to pay for the whole courtroom affair, including the judge and jury members, and you could not compel the stone carvers to attend. I think that’s a reasonable way to settle such matters.

Of course, in the process you may bankrupt yourself and alienate your potential client base, defeating yourself.

Yeah… sounds really clever. If I were the stone carvers, I’d just say go fuck yourself. At that point, I would almost find the guy with the idea justified in using force to create some sort of restitution. I find it asinine to think of someone bringing a lawsuit against others in a society with no laws. I’ll “stick to my guns” as the case may be. If that’s justified, and a proper deterrent for people willing to steal other people’s ideas, then maybe anarchism isn’t so bad.

If the stone carvers refuse to answer your claim for damages they are in dishonor under the common law. Default judgment for you. You can now go after them.

It’s not the lawless society. It’s the stateless society. There will always be laws, even if they are only natural law. So far I find the common law, which was built up over centuries, to be compatible with a stateless society.

Thanks for your comments.

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