Jeffrey Tucker: I write a book and publish 1,000 copies. They are all mine. When I sell one, I now have 999 remaining.

The authors make a very important point with regard to ideas or information. If you have an idea, it is yours. You can do with it what you want. If you share it (sing, speak, broadcast, let others see the products of your ideas) or if you sell it, others then have copies of it. They are entitled to do with their copies of the idea precisely what you can do with your copy. They can use it how they want provided they don’t prevent others from doing with it what they want. This is a simple application of the nonaggression principle that governs a free society. Whether it is fashion, language, know-how, or whatever, people are free to copy once they have purchased it or it has been shared.

Ideas, then, are what Mises calls “free goods”: copies are potentially limitless. They “do not need to be economized.”

Intellectual property is the completely wrongheaded idea that, in the words of the authors, someone has the right “to monopolize an idea by telling other people how they may, or more often may not, use the copies they own.” This strikes at the heart of progress, because it means not improving what exists but rather prohibiting others from using and improving it.

Let’s say I write a book and publish 1,000 copies. They are all mine. When I sell one, I now have 999 remaining, and the new owner of the one book, in a free society, is free to do with his copy what he wants: use it as a placemat, throw it away, deface it, photocopy, and even republish it. You can even rerepublish it under your own name, though that would amount to the socially repudiated vice of plagiarism (vice, not crime). The new copies, which always involve some cost, compete with old copies.

  • Jeffrey Tucker

Ideas, Free and Unfree: A Book Commentary