Copyright, censorship and freedom of speech

Property rights are an essential parts of our civil liberties because in a very real sense, property rights are an extension – and confirmation – of the principle of self-ownership.

How can I be in favour of protecting property rights, but at the same time oppose the copyright industry?

It may seem like a contradiction, but a deeper look will reveal that copyright and property rights – though related – are not exactly one and the same thing.

Property is physical and material:  it can only be possessed by one owner at a time.  If I steal your DVD of a movie, you no longer have the ability to enjoy possessing it.  By stealing, I have deprived you of possessing something.  It is possible to justify a law that does not permit me to deprive you of some object against your will .

Ideas do not work in the same way.  If I begin using your idea, I have not deprived you of the use of the idea:  it’s still available for you to do with it what you please.  But, is it reasonable to forbid me to think your idea and incorporate it into my own thoughts to produce a new idea or product?

Is that not a little too close to criminalizing thought?


3 Responses to “Copyright, censorship and freedom of speech”

  1. derek Says:

    these intellectual properties lack one thing, as you said, that physical/tangible properties have. that is scarcity.

    the problem with people being able to copyright words for example, is that you’d always have to imagine the possibility of a very wealthy man being able to pay large sum of money to basically own words to himself, and no one else could use them for commerce. as if they were the government’s to sell. as with ideas such as films/music, people would be able to buy thoughts and hoard them from everyone else.

    though i hope you support copyrights for inventions though.

    i really don’t think it is fair if a person works many years to come up with a good invention, only for someone else to take it and profit off of it.

    Xanthippa says:
    The topic of copyright for inventions is even more complex.

    It used to be simple: the reason a person would copyright an invention was to protect the bit of innovation they did. In exchange for that protection (and this ‘exchange’ bit is the key), everyone got to see the blueprints of how what that innovation actually was.

    This both gave the inventor protection and promoted further innovation, because as clever people saw the new idea, it caused them to think of other new ideas, perhaps even better ones.

    So, it was an exchange. I can respect that, though I would put a time limit on the protection that would be owned by that person (not a corporation) and be non-transferable.

    That is not what is happening today. The greatest obstacle to innovation today is copyright. That includes medical research.

    This is a big problem. Therefore, in its current form, I cannot support the copyright system in place for ‘inventions’.

  2. CodeSlinger Says:


    The picture is even worse than you paint it.

    The problem is that the protection granted to the inventor is utterly vacuous. The small inventor has no hope of bringing his invention to market and competing with a huge global corporation.

    In the time it takes the inventor to attract investment and begin manufacturing, the conglomerate has modified the invention just enough to get their own patent on a competing product.

    Even if their modification is not an improvement, the economies of scale of their existing factories and the worldwide reach of their entrenched distributors will drive the inventor out of very market he created.

    This is another example of how public and private sector consolidation and globalization have perverted everything that was once good and useful about our social structure and legal system.

    The problem is not business, government, religion or labour.

    The problem is big business, big government, big religion and big labour.

    It is the bigness of these entities, and their incestuous relationship with each other, that transforms the very legal structures meant to protect the little guy into instruments of oppression and extortion.

    Xanthippa says:


    So, how do we fix this?

    I realize this would not be a complete solution, but, here are a few things I’d start with:

    1. Only grant patents/copyright to actual living persons, not non-human legal entities.
    2. All patents/copyright would expire in 5 years (or less) OR at the death of the patent/copyright holder, whichever comes first.
    3. Patents/copyrights would be non-renewable and non-transferable.

    This might just give the little inventor/creative artist sufficient protection to make a living but not make it lucrative enough for the ‘bigs’ to continue in their current ways.


  3. CodeSlinger Says:


    Those are very good suggestions!

    It’s high time we put some serious thought into the rightful limits of the legal fiction which treats a corporation as though it were a person.

    In some ways, this is a necessary fiction. But corporations are abstract entities, and not real ones. Ignoring this fact makes a travesty of corporate law and infringes the rights of real people.

    It’s also high time we started vigorously enforcing anti-trust laws. Companies which are “too big to fail” should not be allowed to exist.

    If no company could legally have more than, say, a 0.1% share of any major market (directly or indirectly), then not only would we have true free-market capitalism for the first time in history, but the laws meant to protect the little guy would actually do just that.

    Including patent law.

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