The Corrosive Effects of IP

Libertarian thought has largely moved against IP in recent years, largely due to the groundbreaking work of Stephan Kinsella. Kinsella’s work is a powerful defense of genuine property rights and a thorough repudiation of government-granted monopolies. One of the overlooked implications of the rights violations inherent in intellectual property laws is the terrible effect of copyright laws and government spectrum licensing on culture.

Social conservatives have long attacked the media for promoting immoral behavior. This is often quite correct. Their statist worldview has made them ill-equipped to understand the nature of the problem, and the correct solution. With laws which establish monopolies, a number of problems naturally follow. Let me illustrate this by comparing the world of professional music today and about 200 years ago. During the days of Beethoven and Mozart, musicians earned a living from performances, patronage, and, perhaps most importantly, teaching. In a world without public schools, they taught the children of the wealthy. This required them to present themselves to those people in a way which would appeal to them. Contrast that with today. Musicians are promoted by a few major record labels, and intellectual property laws mean that they have to be paid whenever their works are played or purchased. There is a greatly diminished requirement for ongoing work and constant customer relations. The fact that a relatively few people who run the labels and own the radio and television stations, act essentially as gatekeepers to popular culture, means that a tiny cabal of entertainment executives are able to drive the culture down paths of their choosing. IP, spectrum licensing and other media regulations are largely to blame for the oft-cited decline of Western culture.


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  • Very interesting and well written article. It’s the first time I’ve heard intellectual property described (accurately) as a government sanctioned and enforced monopoly. I’m off to your website now to see what else you have to offer.

    Major William H. Howcott
    USAF Retired

  • I’ve likewise had some thoughts along these lines — how copyright is anti-conservative. It makes “newness” profitable, meaning that there is constant promotion of new works, while older works drift into obscurity. There is incentive to produce and promote music that is “catchy” — whether through repetitive melodies or suggestive/controversial lyrics… subtle and intricate beauty is not profitable in this environment. To top it off, because copyright does not have a fixed term (e.g. LIFE + 70), older works often exist in a legal limbo where its not clear if their copyright has expired, but it also isn’t clear who retains copyright.
    Of course, this is all speculative– but if we care about culture, we should think about the implications of copyright and whether we really want a system that places a priority on cultural innovation, possible at the expense of cultural conservation.
    That’s to say nothing about how it affects economic equality, or the balance between commercial (centralized) culture and a folk (or distributed) culture.

  • Stephan’s position is incompatible with freedom and individual rights.

    While on is correct to criticize today’s intellectual property laws which are indeed drafted in the form of a government grant aimed at reaching some mythical “balance of interests between creators and the public”, there is really no reason why one free individual should have a right to use something that would not have existed other than through another free individual’s creative work, against the wishes of the creator.

    Interests of the public and “culture” are completely irrelevant. They are nothing more than manifestations of collectivism, whereby interests of the public take precedence over interests of individuals.

    I explain these issues more fully in my articles: Modernization of the Inconceivable ( and Copyright and the Great Socialist Degradation (