Subject: Philosophical Diversion... Intellectual vs. Physical Property
From: Braddock Gaskill <>
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2000 18:49:38 -0500

Eric MBA Wrote:
> Programmers should get royalties if they've helped to create a
> finished piece of software, shouldn't they? [...] if
> edison puts a year of his time into creating a lightbulb, isn't he
> entitled to a degree of protection for his investment?

I wanted to try to explain my [and may others'] philosophical position
on IP, as a complete aside.

Physical Property and Intellectual Property are entirely different

Physical Property MUST be controlled by SOMEONE, whether that be an
individual, a corporation, the state, whatever.  The fact is, a piece
of physical property or physical resource can only be used for a
single purpose (generally).  A lot of land can only be used for either
a house or a parking lot.  A barrel of oil can only be burned once,
and someone has to make the decision what it should be burned for.

[We] capitalists believe that in general the control of physical
property and resources is best handled by individuals, and governed
primarily by economic principles.  This is as opposed to state or
communal governance of physical property.

Western society further tends to believe that an essential individual
Freedom comes from giving an individual the Right to make decisions,
such as the ability to decide the use of a piece of physical
property.  Since there is a finite amount of physical property, this
Freedom is best given to the people by distributing the control
[ownership] of physical property.

"Intellectual Property", on the other hand, is a far more abstract
concept.  It is not true that a piece of Intellectual Property can
only be used for one purpose.  It is not true that a piece of
Intellectual Property needs to be "controlled" or "allocated".  Any
private Intellectual Property rights are simply a restriction placed
on the ability of other people to make decisions or to use that
knowledge freely.  

With Private Physical Property, Control and Responsibility that would
otherwise be allocated to the State is distributed to individuals,
enhancing their Freedom of choice.  With Intellectual Property, the
use of knowledge, techniques, or expression that could be used by
anyone and everyone as a part of their endeavors is instead
restricted, generally decreasing the Freedom of choice available to the
individuals in society.

This doesn't mean that all Physical Property should be allocated to
individuals, and that all Intellectual Property should be in the
public domain.  The proper functioning of society requires moderation
and compromise in all things.  Freedoms and Rights don't do anyone a
whole lot of good if the populace is starving.  The mechanisms of
economics must be respected for a functioning capitalistic society to
be successful.  Thus we concede some of our Physical Property Rights
to the State, and similarly concede some of our Rights of Intellectual

In brief, except where it is essential to the proper functioning of
our [capitalistic] society, individuals (not the State or other
collectives such as Corporations) should hold all Physical Property,
and there is no inalienable Right to Intellectual Property.  This is
the ideal, assuming everyone is fed well.  

In the real world, the State needs to regulate the free economic
process, the State needs control over a large amount of physical
property, and *SHORT TERM* intellectual property (NOT as it is
currently implemented by International Law) may help to spur research
and development.  But the approach taken to these practical compromises needs
to be grounded in what IS and what ISN'T an individual's inalienable
Right; Intellectual Property is NOT in any way an inalienable Right,
and it's only purpose is to spur development.

	-Braddock Gaskill