Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wenzel vs. Kinsella Debate on IP

The Robert Wenzel vs. Stephan Kinsella debate is set to air on Monday, April 1st (2013) on both gentlemen's podcasts (found here and here)..  This is sure to be an interesting April Fools Day.  But, who will be made out to be the fool: Wenzel or Kinsella?

To this question, my money is, sadly, on Robert Wenzel (whom I do follow and regard as a great liberty advocate).  Kinsella has reason, logic, and justice on his side and has responded at length about all of the possible objections and arguments for IP and he has continued to demolish them.

I have thought long and hard about the case for and against Intellectual Property (Copyright, Patents, and Trademarks).  As a software developer, I used to be in the pro-IP camp since much of my compensation comes from directly from my ability to turn ideas, patterns, and algorithms into lines of code that create software solutions.

But, the entire explosion of prosperity, products, and competition in the software industry as well as the legal battles between conglomerates like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and other software/hardware makers has made me rethink everything about IP.

I've followed the whole Robert Wenzel versus Kinsella/Tucker debate for sometime (dating back to 2009).  I think the basic precursor to this entire debate revolves around 2 fundamental questions?

1) Why do we even need property rights?
2) What do we mean by the term property?

Hoppe (which both Kinsella and Tucker rely on as the basis of their argument against IP) wrote about the precondition for property in his classic "A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism" starting in Chapter 2.  Anyone who wants to debate IP must read Hoppe's brilliant discussion on property.  The basic point comes down to the fact that in a world of scarcity and rivalrous goods, a demarcation of ownership is needed to prevent conflict.

As Hoppe points out, in the Garden of Eden, property rights for goods would not be needed or even possible since everything would be super abundant and manifest itself in whatever manner imaginable.  However, everyone would still have a property right in their own person since everyone would not be able to occupy the same space (Hoppe explains this better than I can).

The fundamental fact is that ideas are non-rivalrous and there is no conflict since no one can exclusively "control" or "own" an idea, theorem, algorithm, etc.  Why?  Because there is no reason why two or more people (living completely independently who live on opposite ends of the globe) cannot come up with the same idea or mental construct at a given point in time.

Also, there is no way to really "homestead" an idea in the Lockean way and exclusively "own" or "control" it (for the reasons I've given above).  Now, one may "possess" an idea, but it is impossible to exclusively control it given that the basic law of  humanity is that we have the ability to reason given we all possess a supercomputer atop our shoulders.

Lastly, a primary issue to the IP debate concerns two concepts: stealing versus copying.  A comment by Ted Sonnier in an EPJ post back in January eloquently describes how ideas (even genuinely original ones) cannot be "stolen" as well as the difference between control/possession and ownership.  He gives a great example of how there is no such thing as theft when it comes to ideas.  Ideas can by copied and/or built upon but they cannot be stolen unless there is an act of battery where someone is brainwashed or hypnotized (which obviously is a form of injustice).  The IP advocates try to equate copying with stealing and pose this act as a form of violence when no such violence has taken place.