Should we abolish Intellectual Property?

As to the policy issues—what the law should be—it is clear that patent and copyright should be abolished immediately and completely (and so should other forms of IP, such as trademark, trade secret, and defamation law, but let’s leave those to the side for now). There are a number of reasons for this conclusion. First, most advocates of IP admit that IP rights are temporary monopoly privileges, that such laws are deviations from the free market. But they argue that the harm done by these statutes is somehow outweighed by innovation gains. That is, they argue that, without IP, we would have less artistic creation and less innovation, that with these laws we have far more innovation and creativity than we would otherwise (in a purely free market), and that the value of this extra innovation is far greater than the costs of these laws.


However, these claims are completely unfounded, and in fact are counterintuitive and implausible; IP proponents do not provide serious arguments or evidence for their pro-IP position. Most of the proponents are special-interest lobbyists—the pharmaceutical industry, Hollywood, or the music industry—who don’t really care whether IP is a good idea in a free market; they are simply out for their own interests. They then lobby Congress, who in turn enacts laws that benefit these special interests. Then the guy on the street repeats, fairly mindlessly, the propaganda he’s heard filtered down from the special interests, lobbyists, and legislators in groundless pro-IP slogans.


For example, the typical person has an assumption that IP is part of a free market and private property system, that it incentivizes artists and inventors, that it protects the small guy innovating in his basement. This is contrary to reality, but the average person does not always have time to examine these common arguments and assumptions, and so the propagandists succeed. Again, we see this in the very term intellectual property, a misleading label that serves the purposes of the IP lobby.


The empirical evidence we do have suggests strongly that patent and copyright heavily distort the creative and innovative fields and lower the total amount of innovation in society. IP imposes huge costs on society and the economy: probably hundreds of billions of dollars a year, if not more.


But the main reason I oppose IP—especially and primarily patent and copyright—is that not only does it impose unnecessary costs on society, slow down progress, impede freedom, and distort culture, research, and development: but it is a blatant infringement of property rights.

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