L. Neil Smith on Anti-IP “Thieves”

As a followup to various posts (The L. Neil Smith – FreeTalkLive Copyright Dispute; Russell Madden’s “The Death Throes of Pro-IP Libertarianism”; Replies to Neil Schulman and Neil Smith re IP), I see Smith has posted another article, “The Medium and the Message,” that touches on IP.

In this piece, he again states that IP is valid but without offering any justification. He explicitly compares IP abolitionists to those who want to tax and regulate and censor the Internet: after describing these nefarious types, he turns to IP opponents, describing us as an “equally deadly threat to freedom of expression”. Yes, he literally said that. We are simply envy-filled socialists: “Like the socialists they are, most of them appear to envy and hate the creators of intellectual property, and relish a future they imagine in which it’s impossible to earn a living by writing.”  We are not libertarians; we are thieves: “Opponents of intellectual property rights are nothing more than thieves, and, no matter what they may claim, neither are they libertarians.”

But he provides no argument at all for the proposition that IP is a legitimate type of property. He just calls it theft. And he says, “There can be, of course, no moral distinction between physical and intellectual property …..” The “of course” apparently is supposed to do all the work here.

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  • What’s sad is that the opponents of IP would really welcome some strong arguments against their position. I know that I look very hard to find good arguments as to why the state needs to intervene to restrict the flow of non-scarce goods. I would really like to know. For that matter, I would like to know how or why it is immoral to learn from every form of information available. I would like to know how the push to destroy the internet’s capabilities of giving flight to all non-scarce goods is really a libertarian initiative. Seriously, this is not sarcasm. We desperately need robust arguments. We are interested in thinking more and more about this subject. We need ideas to chew on, not just hysterical attacks and assertions.

    • Sorry for incorrect formatting — I’m not familiar with html and hoped for a preview.

    • Ms. Smith, no one can accuse me of not engaging with critics. If anything I waste too much time on blogs and comment threads. I have dealt in detail with all the “arguments” you bring up, repeatedly. In fact, to be honest, you and Neil have yet to even attempt to put forward even a coherent argument for IP, much less a sound one. You both keep assuming it’s legitimate by your loaded terms like “theft,” and you keep resorting to utilitarian and incentive type reasoning rather than basing your comments on libertarian property rights principles. I honestly see nothing else of substance to reply to in your various comments.

  • The comparison to animals is interesting because, so far as I can think through this issue, animals are largely incapable of uses non-scarce goods like information, knowledge, images, and text to build civilization and progress — these are tendencies that requiring learning from each other, cumulating information instead of keeping it bound up in one being’s experience and restricting its impact to one generation. Only humans with reasoning power seem able to gather information from all sources and use that information in the development of civilization, prosperity, and the like. In other words, it is precisely the impulse to restrict information to one discreet living thing that represents the animal instinct. Only reasoning human beings have the capacity to learn from the experiences and knowledge of others and make something of their lives across many people, many times, many generations. The rough analogy here is the same as with capitalism, drawing on the capital investments and achievements of the past to build a future. Given this, why would anyone use the state in an attempt to make us more like animals?

    • And, oh, by the way, did you read any of the pieces referenced?

    • it is precisely the impulse to restrict information to one discreet living thing that represents the animal instinct.

      Jeffrey, it seems to me you are uninformed here; animals do a great deal of sharing of information. Think of ants and bees, and other social mammals from dogs to elephants. Rather, what is more typical of animals is that they have far less ability than humans do to HIDE information from each other.

      Only reasoning human beings have the capacity to learn from the experiences and knowledge of others and make something of their lives across many people, many times, many generations.

      This is also incorrect, though it may be a fair generalization. Other intelligent animals learn from each other, parents try to educate their young, and different social groups of the same species develop different cultures.

  • Come on, you guys.

    You do this time and time again. Why is it that you systematically misrepresent what IRP defenders have to say, while to my knowledge, none of us have ever misrepresented or misunderstood the acts of piracy you are attempting to justify. (And furthermore, it’s you and yours who keep bringing up the state — not the aggrieved parties.) Are you really so dense that you can’t comprehend the difference between information and the use that individuals make of that information? Is it really that hard. Funny, I’ve yet to meet a working class individual who can’t grasp the difference.

    This is the same idiocy as Kinsella’s argument about the house. Anyone who can imagine “house” is welcome to build one. However, Housebuilder (or whatever Kinsella called him) is under no circumstances obligated to share the plans to his house — even after he’s built it — and no matter what you insist.

    I don’t care in the slightest, and in fact, I care less every passing day, what you do with your information and knowledge. It’s my unique use of information that is the issue here. Do whatever you want — but do it with your OWN mind, not mine.

    • This is the same idiocy as Kinsella’s argument about the house.


      Did you read the comments policy for this website? Keep it civil or your comments may be deleted or marked as spam.

      • Sorry for using the “i” word.

  • ummm, if you don’t want anyone to be inspired by your house, you will have to build some pretty high walls. To be on the safe side, to make sure that no one ever “steals” your house plans, the safest bet is never to build at all.

  • Cathy Smith says, “Let’s Play Nice,” and concludes with what I consider to be thoughtful remarks””:

    More important, I believe, to the evolution of a stateless society is a fundamental cultural shift—one that is made much more challenging by the “faceless” aspect of the Internet and our instantaneous communication (you don’t get the benefit of that half day it takes for the post to be picked up, to bite your tongue or find a less inflammatory phrase). A prerequisite of that stateless society will be a deeply-held and widely-recognized respect for other individuals. I believe we can start today, and I propose the following paradigm: if you wouldn’t say (or do) what you propose while looking the object of your actions (verbal or otherwise) in the eye, then don’t do it.

    I expressed some very similar thoughts here: Libertarians and IP: Shall we replace the state with “principled” thoughtlessness?

    and here: Charitable discussions of IP?

    I think this conversation would be much more productive if Stephan and others (1) displayed a little more sensitivity for the position of Neil and Cathy Smith, for whom a believe that copyright is property has been a deep and natural part of their environment and (2) spent a little more time discussing (and working towards) alternatives to copyright.

    In one post, Stephan brought up the idea of implementing a “Creator Endorsed”mark:; “Fogel’s and Paley’s intellectual innovation here should be strongly considered by those seeking a moral way to profit off of creative content.” (emphasis added).

    Well, in a principled society, we must consider not simply the morality of an author trying to profit from his work, but also of those who seek to use such work without the author’s freely given consent.