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On J. Neil Schulman's Logorights

July 2, 2009

On GMO patent infestation, Kent Hastings comments on my IP views and those of J. Neil Schulman. Schulman responded:

My article "Informational Property: Logorights" begins by specifically disclaiming any state grants of monopoly. The concept stands or falls on its natural-property-rights arguments. Neither Samuel Edward Konkin III or Stephan Kinsella or anyone else has ever successfully answered the challenge I raised in my article, that without the identity of a thing being real enough to make it claimable as property, there would be nothing identifiable existing to be copied in the first place.

This is not arcane. It's just being pointedly ignored -- and Kinsella's attempts to change the subject don't make me forget what I wrote.

My response is as follows [my other comments on Schulman's logorights idea may be found in Thoughts on Intellectual Property, Scarcity, Labor-ownership, Metaphors, and Lockean Homesteading; Renaming Intellectual Property; and pp. 16, 26 et pass. of my Against Intellectual Property]:

Neil, I said your term "logorights" is somewhat arcane, not your theory, and there was no disrespect implied.

I think you are just wrong to assume that "having an identity" is a sufficient condition for being subject to property rights.

Consider: one has no property right the value of one's property, as Hoppe and Rothbard have argued (see Sheldon Richman on Intellectual Property versus Liberty); and likewise, one has no property right in the "identity" of one's property.

The reason is that owning value, patterns, identify gives you an ownership right in others' already-owned property. Saying you own the "identity" of a thing you own is another way of saying you own the pattern by which it is arranged-which is a disguised way of saying you have ownership rights in things everyone else owns. The standard Lockean account of property accepted by most libertarians says that the person who appropriates a previously unowned scarce resource becomes its owner. The IP advocate, of which you are one, says that if A thinks of a unique way to use his property or a unique pattern to impose on his own property, this act of intellectual innovation magically gives him partial ownership rights in property already owned by others. It lets you tell B how he can use his own property, even though B is the appropriator and by Lockean principles only B should be the owner. Granting A an IP right just means some of B's rights of control are transferred to A-it's a transfer of wealth or property, and it's incompatible with libertarian property rights.

The mistake Rand made was thinking "anything you create" is property, without first asking if the thing created is the type of thing that is subject to property in the first place. In fact, creation is neither necessary nor sufficient since if you create some new pattern using others' property you are not its owner; and if you impose a new pattern on property you own, then you own the transformed thing since you already owned the stuff of which it's made. A focus on creation as a source of ownership is the mistake made here. Creation is a source of wealth, sure, but not of ownership, since you can only create using things you already own.

Tibor Machan makes a similar mistake to your "identify" view when he assumes that many "ontological" types of things can be property-the mistake is in assuming that the way we conceptually and terminologically understand the world has some metaphysical basis that translates into property rights. By this view any concept we come up with to "identify" things that is successful, has magically created a new class of property. I find the concept "poem" useful-it is conceptually valid.. poems "have" "identity"-voila, they must be property!

I don't agree with this way of making rights depend on what concepts we have or how we identify and understand things in the world. Just because we can call something by a word, or call it a "thing," does not mean it is ownable. In fact, all ownership rights are enforced in physical terms against scarce resources; which means that granting rights in anything else has to undermine and dilute real rights in real things.

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