Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Sunday, September 07, 2003

How Intellectual-Property Rights Can Go Wrong

There's currently an active discussion on intellectual-property rights on Samizdata. Abuse of intellectual-property law is one of the few real weak spots in libertarianism. Intellectual property rights would clearly be a good idea in a perfect world, but when administered by imperfect governments they can be obstructive.

That sounds familiar somehow…

Meanwhile we can carry out a worst-case analysis. (We already have a taste of that in Scientology.) Ideas can be patented forever. Words can have a copyright. Potentially embarrassing information counts as a trade secret. Most important of all, “look and feel” can be patented. Anyone who wants to complain can be arrested for the illegal use of other people's concepts. They can't even make up their own terminology since that would violate someone else's patent on the look and feel of liberty. (Libertarians to liberals: You thought we were just brain-channeled drones unable to think of the above possibilities. Nyaaaahhhh, nyaaaahhhh, nyaaaahhhh, nyaaaahhhh, phphphphtttt!!!!)

One way to look at intellectual-property rights is that they have to be discovered instead of being dreamed up a priori. A society that can export its ideas has a good claim to be using a better approximation of the True Axioms of Property Rights. (I'm using exports to measure the worth of a society's ideas since any society can claim they have better ideas but exporting ideas means people in other societies also agree.) For example, you can make a case that Finnish ideas are better for computer software but American ideas are better for pharmaceuticals.


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