“Let me say briefly why I don’t regard intellectual property as a legitimate form of property.

The objects of ownership in the case of intellectual property are supposed to be abstract objects; but what does ownership over an abstract object amount to? Ownership is supposed to solve conflicts over use, but there cannot literally be conflicts over the use of abstract objects; I don’t have to wait until you’re done thinking the Pythagorean theorem before I can start thinking it. Putative conflicts over the use of abstract objects are always really conflicts over the concrete items in which those abstract objects are embodied.

An abstract object, such as a design for a new kind of mousetrap, gets its foothold in concrete reality only by being embodied in, say, a mind that is thinking of it, or a sheet of paper that describes it, or an actual mousetrap built in accordance with it. But if those concrete objects are already owned – the mind by the person whose mind it is, the paper and the mousetrap by whoever made or bought them – then the question of who has rights over those things is already settled, and there can be no further question of who owns the design itself. If the originator of the design were to claim exclusive rights over it, he or she would thereby be claiming, in practice, the right to control someone else’s property – someone else’s individual mind or individual sheet of paper or individual mousetrap. Intellectual property is thus essentially a claim of ownership over other people and the products of other people’s labor, and so is necessarily illegitimate; in forbidding the free circulation of ideas it constitutes a form of censorship as well.”


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