Against owning information, i.e. ‘intellectual property’

Some say: “You can’t copy someone else’s idea; that’s stealing.”


Stealing means you are taking away something from someone, so that they no longer have it. So copying is not theft of any personal property, as that isn’t taken away.

What could next be argued is that copying is the stealing of revenue. In other words, where stealing makes someone worse off right now, copying makes them worse off in the future.

There are other ways of making someone worse off in the future. Consider two producers of similar products. One of them can lower the other’s revenue by:

Working harder and producing more, and then selling more at lower prices. Or by.. switching to a completely different kind of product. In the market, money can be spent on all sorts of goods, and more spent one place means less spent in another. Or by.. convincing people to change their habits. You can convince someone of desiring a less luxurious lifestyle for the sake of traveling more or spending more time with their children. Or by.. innovating. Creating products with new features or altogether new products can harm someone else’s revenue.

What an entrepreneur does is anticipate future consumer desires, and then he combines and transforms resources in such a way that he expects to gain a higher reward than he incurred in costs. It remains up to consumers to trade with you if they think it benefits them.

The process of taking goods and turning them into more valuable goods is a creative process. It creates a trading opportunity for consumers that did not exist beforehand.

In the market we find information that helps us in this process. We find prices of things we may buy as inputs and we find prices that people are willing to pay for products that we want to compete with. We also see what those things are that people like, in what way they are being sold, and where and when. All this information has come available through the free choice of individuals.

What is valuable to the consumer, what is an innovation in the market, is an improvement on any of the characteristics of the existing product offerings: price, quality, functionality, location, time, format, etc.

I want to argue that any information that is voluntarily exposed to the public should be free to copy by others. If you send out information into society then that responsibility is on you. If you don’t want that information to be used by others then you should keep it to yourself or treat it like a trade secret. This means that you contract with any person you give the information to that they keep it a secret.

Suppose your product is a book and you treat it as a trade secret. This means that bookstores cannot allow customers to browse through it without signing a highly demanding contract, that buyers cannot allow anyone else to see it and thus have to keep it locked up at all times, and that reviewers cannot talk about the content publicly at all. Such a business model is nonsensical for goods that you are trying to sell in large quantities and are easily copyable.

Entrepreneurship is a process involving unavoidable uncertainty; you cannot know if the profits of tomorrow will equal the profits of today. It is also the rational nature of man to improve his situation of tomorrow as compared with today. For both these reasons entrepreneurs continually try to improve on the cost of their production processes and on the value of their product offerings. It is up to them to find ways of recovering the cost of information intensive products voluntarily in the market, without resorting to the forceful hand of government power to threaten people who are doing nothing but offer consumers a product using information and techniques that were made discoverable voluntarily in society.


I have dedicated a subreddit to this idea: http://www.reddit.com/r/noip/

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Libertarian documentaries


Hearts and Minds (1974)

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Indie Game: The Movie (2012)

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Fat Head (2009)

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Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? (2008)

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Libertarian movies


12 Angry Men (1957)

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A Bug’s Life (1998)

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Antz (1998)

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Brazil (1985)

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Chicken Run (2000)

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Daddy Day Care (2003)

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District 9 (2009)

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Dr. Strangelove (1964)

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Equilibrium (2002)

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Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

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How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

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Ikiru (1952)

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Interstate 60 (2002)

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Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

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Logan’s Run (1976)

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Megamind (2010)

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Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

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My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic — Episode: Over a Barrel (2011)

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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

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ParaNorman (2012)

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Pleasantville (1998)

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Porco Rosso (1992)

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Serenity (2005)

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Sophie Scholl — The Final Days (2005)

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The 400 Blows (1959)

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The Castle (1997)

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The Iron Giant (1999)

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The Island (2005)

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The Lego Movie (2014)

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The Lives of Others (2006)

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The Matrix (1999)

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The Mouse That Roared (1959)

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The Truman Show (1998)

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Whisper of the Heart (1995)

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What happens to the losers in a free market?


Providing value through entrepreneurship

In a free market there are people who are competing to provide value to consumers: entrepreneurs. These individuals attempt to achieve profits by buying goods and transforming them into goods for sale. If you can sell for more than you bought, then you make a profit. This means the society at large values higher what an entrepreneur made than the input factors in their prior state.

It’s always possible for someone to fail at this exercise, as they find out reality worked out differently than how they anticipated and end up with losses. Losses and bankruptcy can also come after a long period of profits. These losers in a free market go back to the rank of worker. They can work for an entrepreneur who is still profitable; meaning who is still organizing and transforming goods in a socially beneficial way.

Entrepreneurship is not easy. It requires a vision, dedication, good timing, and much more. So through this mechanism, there is a socially beneficial process of selecting for good entrepreneurs.

People can also go from being a worker to an entrepreneur by creating savings, and taking those savings and risking them (by yourself or with others) in entrepreneurship. In a free market anyone is free to make this attempt.

Partaking in production through labor

Is everybody able to be a worker? The division of labor provides a surplus for all participating in it. This means if I produce something and my neighbor produces something else, and then we trade, we will both be better off than if we both had to produce both things by ourselves. This surplus is also true if one of the two exchange partners is able to produce more or in a higher quality than the other. As long as they focus most of their energy at that which they are best at relative to each other, they stand to gain. In conclusion, every able bodied person, if he specializes enough to overcome the cost of trading, can be included in the division of labor; either as an entrepreneur or as a worker.

Expanding employment possibilities

There are also lesser-abled bodies, who have a certain physical impediment that makes them less productive. As a glasses-wearer I am such a person. I cannot see sharply very far without eye-correction, and I would be in big trouble in a hunter-gatherer society. In an advanced society glasses can help me overcome this problem, which allows me to be fully productive; except for a handful of professions where glasses are a problem. Through the productivity of a society, by way of the division of labor, savings and investment, and competitive markets that go through continual evolution, low costs and a wide variety of goods are brought about, so that more and more people can be included in the division of labor and contribute to the well-being of others; instead of having to rely on others to be given resources.

Sources of unemployment

So what of the people who are unemployed in today’s society? The first thing Austrian economists look for are impediments to this configuration of social production. Are there situations where there are people who believe they can benefit from production and then trade with each other, but are not allowed to do so? Examples of impediments are minimum wage laws, trade barriers between countries, non-market based licensing requirements, intellectual property, and so on.

Long-term effects of intervention

When resources are taken away from the productive members of society, then the society is made less productive; meaning higher prices and less products available. This means that some people then are no longer able to sustain themselves, because their costs have gone up while their productivity has not. Low prices are necessary for a society to generate savings. Savings are necessary for capital investment to have low prices in the future. Economies are complex interrelated systems and interventions will have medium and long term consequences.

Long-term effects of free markets

The free-er a market is, the easier it is to save for retirement or sickness. If you didn't have to pay for foreign adventures by the military nor for all kinds of government services which are not offered in a competitive environment, then your cost of living would be drastically lowered, which would make it easier to save and to take care of yourself. This means there would be a smaller amount of people who had no choice but to rely on others. And if people were generally richer, then it would be easier for them to take care of a person who was truly unable to be productive.

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Libertarianism is not ‘no gun in the room’


Stefan Molyneux has written:

“One of the most difficult — and essential — challenges faced by libertarians is the constant need to point out ‘the gun in the room.’ In political debates, it can be very hard to cut through the endless windy abstractions that are used to cover up the basic fact that the government uses guns to force people to do what they do not want to do, or prevent them from doing what they do want to do. … It is a wearying but essential task to keep reminding people that the state is nothing but an agency of violence. When someone talks about ‘the welfare state helping the poor,’ we must point out the gun in the room. When someone opposes the decriminalization of marijuana, we must point out the gun in the room. When someone supports the reduction of taxes, we must point out the gun in the room — even if one bullet has been taken out.”

It can be useful to point out the power structure that exists around people. Governmental laws and government social programs are indeed ultimately backed up by physical force, which is not always visible to many people.

The thing is though that all political systems (including all variants of libertarianism) are ultimately backed up by physical force. This means that the problem of political philosophy is not suddenly solved after finding out that governments have men with guns. Anarcho-capitalism, just like a modern democracy, functions through the majority using their power to institute a set of rules on those who do not agree with them. The difference between political systems is the kinds of rules that are supported; not the fact that there are rules, and that they are enforced.

Words like aggression, violence, and force have underlying to them ideas about property and social rules. When people have different beliefs about those underlying ideas, then the words themselves are not readily usable between those people, nor can invoking them be used to solve the argument. In other words, you need to go deeper.

What I try to do, as Ludwig von Mises did, is to show people how a different property system can benefit them. This requires explanations about economics, the Austrian version of which most people are not yet familiar with.

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