By Arnold Kling
N. Stephan Kinsella argues against the concept of intellectual property. On the utilitarian argument for intellectual property, he says,
It is debatable whether copyrights and patents really are necessary to encourage the production of creative works and inventions, or that the incremental gains in innovation outweigh the immense costs of an IP system.
On the philosophical argument for intellectual property, he says,
the fundamental social and ethical function of property rights is to prevent interpersonal conflict over scarce resources…ideas are not scarce.
If I invent a technique for harvesting cotton, your harvesting cotton
in this way would not take away the technique from me.
Kinsella makes a point that is very relevant to the debate about music and the Internet.
a system of property rights in “ideal objects” necessarily requires violation of other individual property rights, e.g., to use one’s own tangible property as one sees fit.
Eugene Volokh argues that intellectual property is a valid concept.
Even for the nonrivalrous good, destroying the right to exclude has taken away much of the incentive to invest. It hasn’t taken away all the incentive; even destroying all property wouldn’t take away all the incentive to invest effort. But it has taken away a lot, likely enough to make society on balance considerably worse off.
In terms of Kinsella’s example, the technique to harvest cotton is not a scarce resource, but the effort expended to develop that technique is a scarce resource.
Commenting on Volokh’s argument, Daniel Drezner writes,
Before a concept comes into existence, the incentive created by intellectual property rights is very strong. After a concept is invented, critics are correct in saying that society would be better off if those rights were revoked…
Dynamically, society is better off protecting such rights, because that helps to ensure a constant stream of innovation. However, in times of crisis, when the future is heavily discounted, it’s very tempting to revoke this commitment.
I think that the best way to think about policy on intellectual property is to think about the appropriate way to reward research effort. My instinct is that the answer will be different for different fields. My instinct is that music copyrights create a huge distortion relative to benefits, while drug patents create a smaller distortion relative to benefits. I still struggle with the many metaphors of intellectual property.
UPDATE. More discussion from Larry Solum. He talks about “club goods.” I did not realize such a term existed, although I have long advocated the use of clubs for things like music or software.
For Discussion. In what ways are patents and copyrights inefficient tools for rewarding research effort?