Information Is Not Property

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Information Is Not Property

Post by Rev Scare on Fri Jun 10, 2011 2:48 am

I have contemplated this notion for some time now and have arrived at the conclusion that information cannot truly be considered property of any sort, nor can profit from intellectual monopolization be justified. This is an important aspect of property as a construct and ownership as a relation to realize, as it fundamentally undermines the notion of "intellectual property" and the role it plays in social repression.

Unlike property in the form of physical goods or intangible, yet socially objective, assets (such as stocks and bonds), information is truly nothing more than data which is impossible to extract once it is exposed to the human mind. I will address the possible objection arising from the hypothetical scenario of mental extraction through some form of neurologically manipulative technology by stating that my consideration of information as non-property is in reference to information as an abstract, not to any particular manifestation. Information, unlike real property, is only meaningful once it is interpreted by a sentient being, and as such, it cannot be exclusive in the sense that real property can. Once information is exposed, it is immediately available for interpretation, and its subsequent utilization in the process of production can only be prohibited by arbitration, which is, by its very nature, arbitrary.

Unlike physical property, information can be replicated indefinitely and at virtually no cost: this is another fundamental distinction between information and what is commonly understood to embody property. Therefore, any profit gained from the mere distribution of information (no matter what its ideal form takes in the material world) is immediately in violation of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's notion of "possession" (i.e., that one can only own that which he uses or occupies), as information is at all times (in the abstract, at least) "possessed" by all individuals with access to it. Ideas are not something that one can "own" for him or herself, because ideas, once transferred to another mind, are immediately "possessed" by that mind.

At this point, one may be inclined to object with the notion of "self-ownership" through some appeal to natural rights: that an individual is entitled to the products of his or her body and labor, and that because information is the product of the mind, it, too, is a valid form of property. This was the position of the lovable Ayn Rand.[1] She distinguished between two types of intellectual "creations": discoveries and inventions. Discoveries, in her view, are "merely" discovered truths, whereas "inventions" are "original" (therefore patentable) creations of the mind serving a practical application. The problem with this stance surfaces immediately: how does one differentiate between what is "discovered" and what is truly "invented." Is there a difference? Do we not all simply arrange matter in accordance with our thoughts? If that is the case, then nobody truly creates anything, since nobody creates nature or natural laws: they simply rearrange them. Why should there exist an arbitrary distinction between theoretical truths (i.e., those which are mathematical, scientific, and philosophical) and practical inventions (i.e., artistic and technological innovations)? From a philosophical perspective, such a distinction truly is frivolous.

From the perspective of capitalist social relations, this approach is perfectly rational: those who can acquire such benefits bestowed them by intellectual property rights will profit immensely at the expense of their competitors (and indirectly, society as a whole). Clearly, this is possible for only practical inventions, as theoretical patents would almost unquestionably result in the utter collapse of the economy, as every new and past discovery, being the sole property of its original creator (or whomever was the patent bearer), would be inaccessible to the rest of society. It is the arbitrary manner in which distinctions are drawn that make the natural rights approach highly problematic.

In the case that such arbitrary distinctions were to be circumvented by claiming that property rights stemming from self-ownership were infinite (as some have advocated; the most radical proponent that I know of being Andrew Joseph Galambos), the justifications become preposterous, since the adoption of such a philosophical outlook would effectively phase out all forms of human expression; in essence, this argument collapses due to reductio ad absurdum.

The notion of social stagnation as a result of "ownership" of information provides us with an interesting revelation: that all inventions are the result of the application of previously discovered or newly integrated information. This understanding profoundly undermines the legitimacy of intellectual property, as it questions the arbitrary distinction between what aspects of an invention may be considered the "property" of a putative "owner." What aspects of a creation founded upon innumerable other creations are truly "original" and legitimate ownership? If we are to remain logically consistent, then the answer can only be: none.

If I have managed to convince the open-minded reader that information is non-property, it has now been established that any profit gained from information itself is untenable. Furthermore, it should become clear that information as property is exploitative. It is exploitative because he who profits solely from the control of information rather than participation in production is not productive; he does not contribute labor. Patents, copyrights, trade secrets, and other forms of what are considered "intellectual property" are therefore fundamentally exploitative. The beneficiary of such grants is in essence a capitalist, who merely "provides," but does not contribute; who merely coordinates, but does not create. The information acts as all other exploitative private property, but it is not property at all.

Lastly, the perpetuation of intellectual property rights significantly reduces economic efficiency. Enforcement of said "rights" results in the repression of social and economic progress, bolsters monopoly power, and generates conditions of artificial scarcity.

That is my position. Any questions, comments, or criticisms?

1. Rand, Ayn. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. "Patents and Copyrights," p. 130.


Last edited by Rev Scare on Fri Jul 29, 2011 3:27 pm; edited 3 times in total

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Re: Information Is Not Property

Post by Coach on Fri Jun 10, 2011 5:28 am

Revolutionary Wolf wrote:I have contemplated this notion for some time now and have arrived at the conclusion that information cannot truly be considered property of any sort, nor can profit from intellectual monopolization be justified. This is an important aspect of property as a construct and ownership as a relation to realize, as it fundamentally undermines the notion of "intellectual property" and the role it plays in social repression.

Unlike property in the form of physical goods or intangible, yet socially objective, assets (such as stocks and bonds), information is truly nothing more than data which is impossible to extract once it is exposed to the human mind. I will address the possible objection arising from the hypothetical scenario of mental extraction through some form of neurologically manipulative technology by stating that my consideration of information as non-property is in reference to information as an abstract, not to any particular manifestation. Information, unlike real property, is only meaningful once it is interpreted by a sentient being, and as such, it cannot be exclusive in the sense that real property can. Once information is exposed, it is immediately available for interpretation, and its subsequent utilization in the process of production can only be prohibited by arbitration, which is, by its very nature, arbitrary.

Unlike physical property, information can be replicated indefinitely and at virtually no cost: this is another fundamental distinction between information and what is commonly understood as embodying property. Therefore, any profit gained from the mere distribution of information (no matter what its ideal form takes in the material world) is immediately in violation of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's notion of "possession" (i.e., that one can only own that which he uses or occupies), as information is at all times (in the abstract, at least) "possessed" by all individuals with access to it. Ideas are not something that one can "own" for him or herself, because ideas, once transferred to another mind, are immediately "possessed" by that mind.

At this point, one may be inclined to object with the notion of "self-ownership" through some appeal to natural rights: that an individual is entitled to the products of his or her body and labor, and that because information is the product of the mind, it, too, is a valid form of property. This was the position of the lovable Ayn Rand.[1] She distinguished between two types of intellectual "creations": discoveries and inventions. Discoveries, in her view, are "merely" discovered truths, whereas "inventions" are "original" (therefore patentable) creations of the mind serving a practical application. The problem with this stance surfaces immediately: how does one differentiate between what is "discovered" and what is truly "invented." Is there a difference? Do we not all simply arrange matter in accordance with our thoughts? If that is the case, then nobody truly creates anything, since nobody creates nature or natural laws: they simply rearrange them. Why should there exist an arbitrary distinction between theoretical truths (i.e., those which are mathematical, scientific, and philosophical) and practical inventions (i.e., artistic and technological innovations)? From a philosophical perspective, such a distinction truly is frivolous.

From the perspective of capitalist social relations, this approach is perfectly rational: those who can acquire such benefits bestowed them by intellectual property rights will profit immensely at the expense of their competitors (and indirectly, society as a whole). Clearly, this is possible for only practical inventions, as theoretical patents would almost unquestionably result in the utter collapse of the economy, as every new and past discovery, being the sole property of its original creator (or whomever was the patent bearer), would be inaccessible to the rest of society. It is the arbitrary manner in which distinctions are drawn that make the natural rights approach highly problematic.

In the case that such arbitrary distinctions were to be circumvented by claiming that property rights stemming from self-ownership were infinite (as some have advocated; the most radical proponent that I know of being Andrew Joseph Galambos), the justifications become preposterous, since the adoption of such a philosophical outlook would effectively phase out all forms of human expression; in essence, this argument collapses due to reductio ad absurdum.

The notion of social stagnation as a result of "ownership" of information provides us with an interesting revelation: that all inventions are the result of the application of previously discovered or newly integrated information. This understanding profoundly undermines the legitimacy of intellectual property, as it questions the arbitrary distinction between what aspects of an invention may be considered the "property" of a putative "owner." What aspects of a creation founded upon innumerable other creations are truly "original" and legitimates ownership? If we are to remain logically consistent, then the answer can only be: none.

If I have managed to convince the open-minded reader that information is non-property, it has now been established that any profit gained from information itself is untenable. Furthermore, it should become clear that information as property is exploitative. It is exploitative because he who profits solely from the distribution of information rather than participation in production is not productive; he does not contribute labor. This information could be distributed with or without legally enforced "rights" to intellectual property. Patents, copyrights, trade secrets, and other forms of what is considered "intellectual property" are therefore fundamentally exploitative. The beneficiary of such grants is in essence a capitalist, who merely "provides," but does not contribute; who merely coordinates, but does not create. The information acts as all other exploitative private property, but it is not property at all.

Lastly, the perpetuation of intellectual property rights significantly reduces economic efficiency. Enforcement of said "rights" results in the repression of social and economic progress, bolsters monopoly power, and generates conditions of artificial scarcity.

That is my position. Any questions, comments, or criticisms?

[1] Rand, Ayn. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. "Patents and Copyrights," p. 130.

Excellent argument, and I agree 100% with this position!

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Re: Information Is Not Property

Post by Celtiberian on Fri Jun 10, 2011 7:41 am

Absolutely brilliant post on intellectual property, comrade. I think it accurately expounds upon Peter Kropotkin's observation concerning innovation and invention, that "every invention is a synthesis, the resultant of innumerable inventions which have preceded it." I propose your essay be added to the RSF's article section as soon as possible.

Regarding the 'self-ownership' argument utilized by reactionaries to justify exploitative property (patents included), I believe G. A. Cohen decimated that line of defense throughout his academic career. For example, when critiquing Robert Nozick's use of self-ownership to justify the bourgeois conception of property acquisition, Cohen argued:

Even now not everything around us is privately owned, and most people would think that what remains privately unowned, such as the air we breathe and the sidewalks we tread, should not be available for privatisation. But most of what we need to live by is, by now, private property. Why was its original privatisation not a theft of what rightly should be held in common?

Notice that the question applies not only to raw resources, but in fact to all private property in external things. For since people create nothing ex nihilo, all external private property either is, or was made of, something that was once no one's private property, either in fact or morally (or was made of something that was made of something that was once not private property, or was made of something that was made of something that was made of something that was once not private property, and so on). In the prehistory of anything that is now private property there was at least one moment at which something privately unowned was taken into private ownership. If, then, someone claims a Nozick-like right to something he legally owns, we may ask, apart from how he in particular came to own it, with what right it came to be anyone's private property in the first place.

. . . A majority of humankind [is] born into the world substantially propertyless and who therefore depend for their survival on someone wanting to buy their labour power. What would Nozick say about them? He would say, of those propertyless persons who do manage to sell their labour power, that they will get at least as much and probably more in exchange for it than they could have hoped to get by applying it in an unregulated state of nature; and of those propertyless persons whose labour power is not worth buying that, though, in Nozick's nonwelfare state, they might therefore die, they would have died in the state of nature anyway.

But we can now make two replies to that tough and complacent talk about the lot of the dispossessed. The first is that, even if we concede that the world is originally, morally speaking, unowned, the fact that those now without worldly resources would have been no better off had the world remained unowned and not been privately appropriated in the particular way it was does not legitimate their condition, since it might be true that they would have been better off still if those private appropriations had not occurred. And the second reply is to withdraw the concession offered in the first one, by objecting that Nozick has not shown that the world's initial normative state is one of not being owned by anyone. What prevents us from regarding it as jointly owned to begin with, even if we also regard each of its inhabitants as a sovereign self-owner?

I conclude that we may dispatch Nozick's inegalitarianism without raising any challenge against the thesis of self-ownership.

. . . Nozick's contention [is] that honouring people's self-ownership requires extending to them a freedom to live their own lives that is incompatible with the equality of condition prized by socialists. Our response to that contention [is] that self-ownership is, contrary to what Nozick says, compatible with equality of condition, since the inequality that Nozick defends depends on adjoining to self-ownership an inegalitarian principle of resource distribution, which need not be accepted. When, instead, self-ownership is combined with joint ownership of the world, its tendency to generate inequality is removed.
Cohen, G. A. "Are Freedom and Equality Compatible?" Alternatives to Capitalism. Ed. Elster and Moene, pp. 117, 121, 124.


Last edited by Celtiberian on Thu Jul 28, 2011 5:07 am; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Information Is Not Property

Post by Celtiberian on Sun Jun 12, 2011 6:03 am

You might find the following arguments against intellectual property, made by the mutualist philosopher, Benjamin Tucker (who, incidentally, was the man who first translated Proudhon's What is Property? into English), interesting and in agreement with the thesis of your essay:

There is no more justification for the claim of the discoverer of an idea to exclusive use of it than there would have been for a claim on the part of the man who first 'struck oil' to ownership of the entire oil region or petroleum product . . . The central injustice of copyright and patent law is that it compels the race to pay an individual through a long term of years a monopoly price for knowledge that he has discovered today, although some other man or men might, and in many cases very probably would, have discovered it tomorrow.
Tucker, Benjamin. Liberty, no. 173, p. 4

[The bourgeois state protects inventors] against competition for a period long enough to enable them to extort from the people a reward enormously in excess of the labour measure of their services—in other words, giving certain people a right of property for a term of years in laws and facts of Nature, and the power to extract tribute from others for the use of this natural wealth, which should be open to all.
Benjamin Tucker quoted in Frank H. Brooks's The Individualist Anarchists, p. 86


Last edited by Celtiberian on Fri Jul 29, 2011 2:51 pm; edited 3 times in total

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Re: Information Is Not Property

Post by Rev Scare on Sun Jun 12, 2011 6:36 am

Celtiberian wrote:You might find the following arguments against intellectual property, made by the mutualist philosopher, Benjamin Tucker (who, incidentally, was the man who first translated Proudhon's What is Property? into English), interesting and in agreement with the thesis of your essay:

"There is no more justification for the claim of the discoverer of an idea to exclusive use of it than there would have been for a claim on the part of the man who first 'struck oil' to ownership of the entire oil region or petroleum product . . . The central injustice of copyright and patent law is that it compels the race to pay an individual through a long term of years a monopoly price for knowledge that he has discovered today, although some other man or men might, and in many cases very probably would, have discovered it tomorrow." 
Tucker, Benjamin. Liberty, no. 173, p. 4.

"[The bourgeois state protects inventors] against competition for a period long enough to enable them to extort from the people a reward enormously in excess of the labour measure of their services—in other words, giving certain people a right of property for a term of years in laws and facts of Nature, and the power to extract tribute from others for the use of this natural wealth, which should be open to all." 
Bejamin Tucker quoted in Frank H. Brooks's The Individualist Anarchists, p. 86.

Indeed. The perpetual (at least, excessively distended) rewards engendered by such protective laws are also cause for opposition. Furthermore, if you attempt to set a limit for the receiving of such rewards, as is often the case, you are faced with the same problem that haunts all appeals to "natural rights" to intellectual property: the arbitrary nature of demarcation. How much time should one be permitted hegemonic control of a particular set of information? Patents, for example, are issued for a term of twenty years, but is it possible to provide a rational basis for this? Of course not. It would be as valid to claim the patent for twenty-one years or nineteen. The business logic, however, is quite transparent: maximize profit ergo maximize time.

Ironically, Ayn Rand found perpetual rights unjustified. One wonders why she lacked the clarity of mind to see that monopolizing information (especially considering its interwoven nature) is unjustified in the same manner.

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Re: Information Is Not Property

Post by Coach on Sun Jul 24, 2011 5:51 pm


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Re: Information Is Not Property

Post by Molov on Sun Jul 24, 2011 8:21 pm

Coach wrote:Excellent argument, and I agree 100% with this position!

I second this, this was excellent. More and more it shows that this forum and its users are really a step above than the trash usually found on other leftist/White Nationalist sites.

I encourage any opponents to find a writing of this quality, they will be found wanting.

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Re: Information Is Not Property

Post by rockstar1488 on Fri Jul 29, 2011 1:56 pm

interesting, a few things though. first, I do agree that patents have gotten way out of hand, thats for sure. but I must point out that these patents are necessary, because in fact they protect the small bussiness owner more than the giant mega-corporation. because think about it, if a guy who lets say owns a deli, has a great idea for an invention, but he does not have the financial resources at the moment to physically create his invention, he would be utterly crushed by the corporation, because the corporation would simply just make it first and a better version of it, as well as a greater number of it. second, profiting from intellectual property is not exploitation. why do you only value physical labour? intellect is just as important as muscle, niether can exist without the other. an idea has the power to change the entire world. third and last, in my opinion an idea should qualify as a product of one's own labour, it can qualify as property in the same sense a house can. your house was built from trees, stones, and other materials found in nature. so then according to your logic, your house is not your property either. but ofcourse a house or car is considered "property", so then why not ideas? just think about it, take this thread you started as an example, if i were to copy and paste it, and then repost it on another forum, and say that i thought of it, would you not feel robbed in a way? would you not feel mad? i think you would. ofcourse the current form of capitalist monopolization over information is wrong and needs to be changed to a more reasonable system of protecting inventions and patents. but i do think that a person's ideas qualify as products of his own labour.

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Re: Information Is Not Property

Post by Celtiberian on Fri Jul 29, 2011 2:50 pm

rockstar1488 wrote:first, I do agree that patents have gotten way out of hand, thats for sure. but I must point out that these patents are necessary, because in fact they protect the small bussiness owner more than the giant mega-corporation.


You're presupposing that Rev Scare is offering a policy proposal to be implemented within the context of our current mode of production. He isn't. His essay is a philosophical analysis of the very notion of "intellectual property."

No one on this forum believes that corporations are legitimate entities in the first place, but we don't consider petit-bourgeois businesses any less exploitative or alienating. In other words, we're indifferent to the 'plight of the small business owner.'

because think about it, if a guy who lets say owns a deli, has a great idea for an invention, but he does not have the financial resources at the moment to physically create his invention, he would be utterly crushed by the corporation, because the corporation would simply just make it first and a better version of it, as well as a greater number of it.


Sure, provided the corporation in your example somehow comes to learn of whatever invention the deli owner created. But again, you're argument is predicated on the notion we're still living in a world consisting of corporations, private financial institutions, and petit-bourgeois firms.

second, profiting from intellectual property is not exploitation. why do you only value physical labour? intellect is just as important as muscle, niether can exist without the other.


No one ever suggested that physical labor is somehow superior to intellectual labor, but what you fail to notice is patents were designed with the explicit purpose of valuing intellectual labor over physical labor. Again, I'll quote Benjamin Tucker on this point:

"There is no more justification for the claim of the discoverer of an idea to exclusive use of it than there would have been for a claim on the part of the man who first 'struck oil' to ownership of the entire oil region or petroleum product . . . The central injustice of copyright and patent law is that it compels the race to pay an individual through a long term of years a monopoly price for knowledge that he has discovered today, although some other man or men might, and in many cases very probably would, have discovered it tomorrow."
Tucker, Benjamin. Liberty, no. 173, p. 4

"[The bourgeois state protects inventors] against competition for a period long enough to enable them to extort from the people a reward enormously in excess of the labour measure of their services—in other words, giving certain people a right of property for a term of years in laws and facts of Nature, and the power to extract tribute from others for the use of this natural wealth, which should be open to all."
Benjamin Tucker quoted in Frank H. Brooks's The Individualist Anarchists, p. 86

an idea has the power to change the entire world.


Undoubtedly.

third and last, in my opinion an idea should qualify as a product of one's own labour, it can qualify as property in the same sense a house can. your house was built from trees, stones, and other materials found in nature. so then according to your logic, your house is not your property either. but ofcourse a house or car is considered "property", so then why not ideas?

"Every invention is a synthesis, the resultant of innumerable inventions which have preceded it" [Kropotkin, Peter. The Conquest of Bread, p. 17]. Creative ideas don't emerge ex nihilo, there's a social basis behind every invention and innovation—i.e., if it wasn't for the education the inventor received, the food which was grown that nourished him, the roads which were paved to get him to school, etc. he most likely wouldn't have invented anything.

More importantly, as Rev Scare's essay asks, what right does an inventor have to receive a monopoly price (set for an arbitrary period of time) for "his" invention? What right does any worker have to be compensated more than his peers if he isn't exerting more effort, time, or suffering under more onerous conditions relative to them?

Capitalism degrades the very process of invention by turning human inquiry, innovation, and progress into a matter of maximizing individual profit. You may be of the opinion that without special compensation all progress would come to a grinding halt, but humans are an innately innovative species. People frequently create for the sake of fulfilling their capacities and knowing they'll receive social acclaim for doing something beneficial for society, not so they can drive a Maserati while everyone else drives a Taurus.

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Re: Information Is Not Property

Post by Altair on Thu Aug 04, 2011 3:07 am

Life is, simply put, a passing experience that we are conscious of. Thoughts are just another category of things we experience. They are no more cardinal, or personal, than sights, smells, and sound. Like any experience, they come to fruition in our awareness and are made possible by our external world. So why should they be considered our own? I am in full agreement with you.

If our external environment happens to be more conducive to high levels of productive success, our own desire to produce and thus reach a high level of "success" would also be increased. So is it fair to those who have less opportunity? It is not. The idea that our place in life directly affects our supposed "contribution" is nothing new, and it has much to do with your point.


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