In my various publications and speeches about intellectual property (IP), I’ve approached it from a variety of angles. In this article, I consider the role of information and learning, and the role of property rights, in human action. I use a praxeological analysis to show that human action employs scarce resources or means, but that action is guided by non-scarce ideas and knowledge. Property rights are recognized in means because they are scarce; but ideas are not scarce things: they are infinitely reproducible. The growing body of knowledge is a boon to mankind. Property rights are needed for scarce means so that they can be peacefully and productively used in action; property rights in ideas restrict, impair, and imped learning and the use of information to guide one’s actions. Copying information and ideas is not stealing. Learning is not stealing. Using information is not trespass. In this article, I urge young libertarians to stay on the vanguard of intellectual freedom, and to fight the shackles of patent and copyright.
This article is based on my speech of Nov. 6, 2010, at the 2010 Students for Liberty Texas Regional Conference, University of Texas, Austin (audio and video versions may be found here). A previous version was published today under the same title in Economic Notes No. 113 (Libertarian Alliance, 2011).
(Incidentally, my 6-week Mises Academy course “Libertarian Legal Theory: Property, Conflict, and Society” starts at the end of this month (Jan. 31-Mar. 11, 2011). I describe it in my article “Introduction to Libertarian Legal Theory,” Mises Daily (Jan. 3, 2011).)
Afterwards, discuss it below.