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The ‘intellectual property’ oxymoron

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

    — Thomas Jefferson

I personally think intellectual property is an oxymoron. Physical objects have a completely different natural economy than intellectual goods. It’s a tricky thing to try to own something that remains in your possession even after you give it to many others.

    -- John Perry Barlow 

Royalties are not how most writers or musicians make their living. Musicians by and large make a living with a relationship with an audience that is economically harnessed through performance and ticket sales.

    -- John Perry Barlow 

Government granted monopolies have unintended consequences

So called ‘intellectual property’ laws are government granted monopolies, that while purportedly intended to encourage creativity have exactly the opposite effect.

Many examples and studies have shown the harmful effects of copyright and patents, but the reasons for this effects would be much more clear if one realizes that copyrights and patents are dramatic and arbitrary restrictions of both freedom of expression and free trade.

As with any other government regulations, it is not surprising that big corporations (eg., Microsoft and Monsanto) use them to stifle competition; while others (eg., the Church of Scientology) use them to censor information that could embarrass them.

Aside from all the abuses and unintended consequences, copyright and patents are a great obstacle to creativity and innovation: the creations of all great thinkers, inventors and artists in history would never have been possible in a vacuum and always depend on a context consisting of all the preexisting works and ideas.

Copying isn’t theft

Copying isn’t theft, and it isn’t piracy. It’s what we did for millennia until the invention of copyright, and we can do it again, if we don’t hobble ourselves with the antiquated remnants of a censorship system from the sixteenth century.” — Karl Fogel

Copyright infringement is not stealing, and copyright law is against the free market: it is a system government sponsored monopolies.

Copyright law is routinely abused to suppress free speech and other individual freedoms, it is abused by recording companies to exploit artists, it is abused by governments to control information. Copyright law is not only evil, it is also stupid, and should be ignored by anyone that believes in a free society and free markets.

Bach, Shakespeare and Michelangelo didn’t need copyright, we don’t need copyright. Copyright infringement is a victim-less crime, nobody has a right to have a monopoly on ideas or information, you have a right to keep your ideas and information private, but if you make them public, they are not your private property anymore.

Copyright also is in direct conflict with one of the most fundamental principles of a free society: free speech. Copyright has been used again and again to censor and silence critics, once more failing its supposed real purpose.


For one thing, there are many “inventions” that are not patentable. The “inventor” of the supermarket, for example, conferred great benefits on his fellowmen for which he could not charge them. Insofar as the same kind of ability is required for the one kind of invention as for the other, the existence of patents tends to divert activity to patentable inventions.” — Milton Friedman

Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that "plagiarism” farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernal, the soul — let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances — is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men — but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly smail portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington’s battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a photograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite — that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.“ – Mark Twain, letter to Helen Keller, after she had been accused of plagiarism for one of her early stories (17 March 1903), published in Mark Twain’s Letters, Vol. 1 (1917) edited by Albert Bigelow Paine, p. 731.

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