Intellectual Property and Mind Control

September 17th, 2013   Submitted by Foo Quuxman


“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate.” — Inception

Much has been said about the problems of intellectual property here and elsewhere which I won’t go into today, however there is one implication of IP that I have not noticed in any of the writings of the anti-IP thinkers

Property is defined as the exclusive right to possess and control a given object or resource, which some argue logically extends to property in ideas. However if person B comes into possession of person A’s idea (the method is irrelevant) then person A no longer has exclusive possession or control of the idea, or rather the Platonic ideal of the idea.

The usual method of dealing with this problem is for the state to forbid person B from using the idea in any way, or in any way that can produce profit (profiteering would be extra evil you know). This would effectively require person B to lie to himself, to pretend that he does not know something which he does know, and to constantly audit his own thoughts for secondhand ideas before he can legitimately act upon ideas of his own.

But that is just a kludge over the real problem. Let us now “peel the lid off Hell” and look deeper.

Due to the way the mind works, person B cannot possibly respect the intellectual property rights of person A, even if the state was not involved. As long as the idea is in his mind it will subtly change the way person B thinks forever, possibly illuminating chains of thought that person B would have never followed otherwise. Who owns the idea that person B comes up with that he *thinks* is his but would never have occurred to him if he had not known about person A’s different idea?

Worse, how does person A know it’s his idea in the first place? Maybe he overheard a conversation that now lies in his subconscious in a distorted form that he can’t identify? Maybe he saw a bird fly by and that sparked the chain of thought that lead to the idea? This makes the Butterfly Effect look like a summer breeze.

So, this leaves some form of memory erasure as the only way to actually respect or enforce intellectual property rights, but we don’t *have* that technology yet.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that a device existed that could identify the exact sources of any given idea or idea cluster in a person and then erase it if necessary. Suppose that person B’s memory was erased clean of all previously owned ideas, dropped on an island, and came up with a new idea. Where did that idea come from? Did it simply pop into existence out of nowhere (which plays merry hell with causality)? Or did person B think about the stuff on the island? Suppose person B arrived at the same idea person A had previously, but with no causal link between them? Now who owns it?

I will leave staring into a philosophical abyss as an exercise for the reader.

Once you can see the whole picture of how ideas come into existence individual minds begin to look more like a pot of chili: random stuff thrown in and mixed around possibly producing something great.

So if person A has a pot of chili and person B has their own pot of chili, and person A spills a bit into person B’s pot, in what sense does person A get to suddenly claim the whole pot? How exactly does the mind have a claim on all copies of an idea again?

There is no logical way for person A to do so without invoking a Platonic World of Ideas, even then person A has to explain why inventing a copy of the Ideal idea gives him ownership of the Ideal idea. The history of mathematics should give ample warning to anyone thinking that Platonism will work.

The average person’s critique of intellectual property follows a pattern: first dissatisfaction with the implementation of patents and copyrights, followed by questioning their very justification. Then the person realizes that there is no justification. Now we have a third step. Realizing that it is not only unjustifiable, but actually impossible.



21 Responses to “Intellectual Property and Mind Control”

  1. MaikUNo Gravatar says:

    Good article. Not that I didn’t know this already, but a great summary of it.

  2. ScottNo Gravatar says:

    INDEED! Very well stated. Kudos to you and all the chili you’ve ever eaten. – Scott

  3. Michael HendricksNo Gravatar says:

    Been aware that ideas aren’t scarce for a good while.

  4. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    Humans never invent anything; they merely discover.

  5. SimonJesterNo Gravatar says:

    While I can certainly follow your argument with regard to a raw “What if we put something round underneath and pushed it” sort of idea, where I begin to doubt is with regard to a refined, finished product based on the idea. A couple of examples:

    1) I write a novel. Like most (all?) novels, there is no single unique and original idea in mine. A wise man once said, there are a finite number of human stories, and we just write variations on them. Let us suppose mine is a boy meets girl while coming of age amidst the backdrop of an an-cap L4 space-station story. No single idea in it is new or original, and it is certainly influenced by every story I’ve ever read, from Romeo and Juliet to Fallen Angels… but the specific story I’ve told is MINE, and it is as unique as a fingerprint. Am I not entitled to a modest profit for my hard work? I wouldn’t sue if you were inspired to write your own story with some of the same elements, but if you photocopy my book and sell it, is that not theft?

    2) If I expend four years and four billion dollars developing a laser which can efficiently launch shuttles into orbit with twice the payload at half the cost of my competitors, am I not entitled to collect a profit from my risk and innovation? Admittedly, lasers existed before, and even the idea of launching lasers is old news and has been discussed by many, but shouldn’t the guy who actually brings it into existence make a profit? He has, at great risk and personal sacrifice, advanced the entire human race.

    One thing we can all see, in either our present framework or an an-cap system, is that financial incentives WORK. If we remove those financial incentives for creativity and innovation, it won’t eliminate them completely, because some humans simply can’t HELP being inventors or artists, but I believe we will greatly restrict it.

    If nothing else, I may have a brilliant design for a launching laser, but without the prospect of a massive profit, it will be much harder for me to find financial backing to actually BUILD the damned thing. Columbus may have been a syphilitic visionary on a massive scale, but without Queen Isobella being willing to pawn her jewels, we would never have heard of him.

    • Foo QuuxmanNo Gravatar says:

      SimonJester, Hello

      First off I should note that I am not against a “cultural IP” such as is practiced among chefs or in the open source movement, what I have a problem with is the state creating artificial scarcity where there is no justification for it.

      Also I am a fairly new convert to anti-IP so my arguments probably aren’t the best ever, I recommend Against Intellectual Monopoly for a thorough look at the subject.

      1) It is interesting to note that this has happened before, when The Lord Of The Rings came to America it was not under copyright, sometime after that Tolkien published an authorized edition through Ballantine Books with a message on the back cover that this was the only edition he authorized. It Worked.

      “but if you photocopy my book and sell it, is that not theft?”

      What have I deprived you of? Profit? I do that every time I don’t buy someone’s product, every time that I bring a new product to market I am cutting someone else’s profit. You still had your first mover advantage. I will still shame and ridicule anyone who claims that they wrote the story, that is a separate issue.

      2) The First Mover *always* has an advantage, even if your competitors have the data they can’t immediately jump into business, the delay between your startup and the copycat’s startup is your time to push farther ahead. If you don’t do so your company will die anyway. The Soviet Union used to steal computer designs at great expense, by the time they understood them and could build them they were just as far behind as they were when they started.

      “am I not entitled to collect a profit from my risk and innovation?”

      No. You are entitled to collect the price the people you are selling to are willing to pay. No more, No less. If you invent shit at great cost you will be payed for shit, not what you think you are entitled to, this is how the market avoids the waste of scarce resources.

      — Foo Quuxman

  6. VanmindNo Gravatar says:

    Great stuff, Foo, thanks. IP stands for Imaginary Property (I stole that from someone).

  7. RagnarNo Gravatar says:

    “What have I deprived you of? Profit? I do that every time I don’t buy someone’s product…”

    You don’t see a moral distinction between choosing not to see a movie and sneaking in the back door of the theater to watch without paying? Or, for that matter, smuggling in a camcorder in violation of the rules of that private business establishment? If you don’t want to buy my novel from me, fine. Don’t read it. But nobody but me has the right to sell it, unless they’ve contracted with me to do so. I’m not disputing that we’ve gone too far with it. Having to pay $2k to sing happy birthday on camera is insane. Their comes a point when IP is moot. But that point is not “as soon as you can bribe one of my employees to violate his contract with me and sell you my proprietary information”.

    It’s interesting to me that you say “the Soviet Union used to steal computer designs at great expense” the word I find interesting is “steal”. There is a clear implication in that word choice that what they obtained was property, and that they had no right to it, despite the fact that they were not subject to U.S. law.

    • Don DuncanNo Gravatar says:

      You said: “I’m not disputing that we’ve gone too far with it.” (Meaning IP law)

      How far is too far? Without a principle to guide us we have no way to know. But no one has come up with a principle, only subjective patch work law, based on a hunch that it “seems” fair.

      Ideas are fundamentally different from physical property. They are infinitely dispersible without dilution. They benefit from dispersion, expanding and inspiring improvements without limit, sometimes coming back to the originator better and inspiring more improvement, on and on forever. This is beneficial to all. Damage should not be assumed to be automatic, but must be proven by the originator, e.g., the exact nature and extent. If compensation is warranted, it must be proven.

  8. RagnarNo Gravatar says:

    “No. You are entitled to collect the price the people you are selling to are willing to pay. No more, No less. If you invent shit at great cost you will be payed for shit, not what you think you are entitled to, this is how the market avoids the waste of scarce resources.”

    No argument, perhaps I phrased it badly. If my launcher detonates on the pad, killing twelve, I’m the guy who will take the blame. If it revolutionizes travel, though, I should be rewarded. I think most would agree that you don’t have the right to break into my office through a locked door to steal it. Is it morally different to hack through the firewall on my computer? Or bribe one of my engineers to violate his contract? I see all three actions as morally identical. Eventually, of course, you’ll figure it out. Knowing something is possible puts you halfway to achieving it, just look at the A-bomb. But you shouldn’t be able to literally steal the design from me. Take the idea and run with it, sure, but design your own, and be prepared to take the blame if yours detonates.

  9. ShawnNo Gravatar says:

    Ragnar: most of what you’re talking about are criminal (or at least, civil) violations in and of themselves, and hence, there’s no need for IP laws to deal with them. For instance, if you are a film maker, and you have concerns about piracy vis a vis people sneaking in camcorders, then by all means, contract only with those theaters that have strict rules about not sneaking in recording devices. These rules can be posted publicly by the theater, and inform patrons that, if they are caught recording, not only might they be banned from that theater, but their recording can be taken from them. (In reality, those kinds of “bootleg” copies are usually horrible in quality, and most people don’t want them). Moving on…hacking into your computer, breaking into your offices, etc, are criminal acts and you can pursue whatever action you think is warranted in whatever justice system exists. As for bribing one of your workers…well, the onus is on you to find and retain the most trustworthy workers you can, and you would also want to make sure they sign non-disclosure agreements so, again, you have recourse if they give up your secrets.

    No one is arguing that it’s perfectly ok for your competitors to gain access to your materials by whatever means necessary, and there are plenty of ways to mitigate the risk of that, if you are cautious. But once your (using your example) laser launcher is out, I can purchase it and begin the task of reverse engineering it so I can create my own version and sell it. In that case, I’ve committed no crime, only examined an existing design and worked with it. Keep in mind: you’re the first mover, and will be the one making the sales until I can complete the difficult task of reverse engineering, then tool up a factory and start producing. Moreover, if you’re product is good – and you continue to improve it, as well as introduce other products – you’re going to gain brand recognition that puts you ahead of competitors who do nothing but make cheap copies of your stuff. This can be said about virtually anything that can be created and sold … books, movies, music, art, etc.

    You use “should” a lot. I don’t think coming up with an idea or even doing the labor of making something entitiles anyone to anything. If others find your creation to be of value, they will pay you for it. If others copy it and sell it, it’s up to YOU to find the best way to attract customers to YOU. IP laws use the state to accomplish this, and the result has been disasterous. I don’t know if you consider yourself an anarchist or a minarchist, but I, for one, am an anarchist, and in the absence of the state, there can be no IP laws. Humans will have to endeavor to find the best ways possible to bring new products to market and maximize their profits without the use of force.

  10. Revolting PlebNo Gravatar says:

    I think Foo Quuxman and Sima Qian are the same person. Their writing style is certainly a match. In the best possible way. Care to comment, author(s)?

    • Foo QuuxmanNo Gravatar says:

      Heh, sorry to disappoint but no, we are not the same person. Although what Shawn said is much the same answer that I would have given

      — Foo Quuxman

  11. Jim KleinNo Gravatar says:

    “Am I not entitled to a modest profit for my hard work?”


    “…am I not entitled to collect a profit from my risk and innovation?”

    Wrong questions. The relevant question is, “What shall I (or my agents) do about it, if I conclude that I am?”

    Either “a conclusion of entitlement” is a valid rationalization for violation of the NAP, or it isn’t. If it is, then hardly anything has to change since there are already a myriad of mechanisms for enforcement of such conclusions.

    If it isn’t, then every individual involved has to accept that, regardless of their personal conclusions about entitlement. Period. And redefining various instances of “entitlement” to “self-defense” doesn’t change a thing either; we’ve already got that too. Self-defense is self-defense.

  12. RagnarNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful answers, guys. Forgive me if my questions are poorly worded, I’m fairly new to talking about this stuff with others, though not new to thinking about it, and may express myself poorly at times.

    • Foo QuuxmanNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks for the questions, no they weren’t badly worded. I am sorry if I was too terse / rude in my response.

      — Foo Quuxman

      • SimonJesterNo Gravatar says:

        No worries, I’m not particularly thin-skinned. I think they were badly worded in that I used “should” and “entitled” in places where that wasn’t really what I meant, etc. I am absolutely an anarchist, but I think we will still need some generally accepted social and societal rules and standards, and I’m not always sure what they “should” be, by which I mean what would work best. One of the reasons I’m on this site is to firm up my understanding and bounce thoughts off of others.

  13. STLICTNo Gravatar says:

    Simple compromise regarding inventions that seems to be fairly likely in an anarcho-capitalist society; no baseline IP laws, but you can pay for insurance or join a guild(or contract with a guild; I imagine that a “Hackers Guild” if one was to be established would be useful for this even if they would by nature tend to play both sides of the fence) to protect trade secrets. You would even be able to file for damages to be paid by your insurance company in the event it failed to protect it to your satisfaction, hence satisfying any desire for restorative justice you may have*shrugs* Though if your idea of protecting your IP is “if anyone else uses my idea some guys come over to them and shoot them in the kneecaps” I would like to suggest you rethink what sort of services you wish to contract since the cost is likely to escalate… heh.

  14. BubbaspotNo Gravatar says:

    Ok, Shawn and Quuxman, what you are saying is that there should be no legal reprocusions for copying someone else’s work and distributing it for your own profit. For instance: Adobe employs thousands of programmers to design, develop, market, and distribute its software. It literally takes a year or more, expending millions of dollars to produce a viable product, which they then package and sell to consumers for a small unit profit. So it’s perfectly OK if Kevin gets himself a copy by whatever means and start selling copies of that software for ten bucks on the Internet, or street corner. His total cost is the price of Blank CDs. If this becomes the norm, then why should Adobe even bother when they will be undercut by their own product sold way below margin cost? If there is no system in place to protect their IP then they have no reason to expend that time and money to produce a product.

    • ShawnNo Gravatar says:

      I’m not sure what you mean by “whatever means,” and I pointed out earlier that any action that otherwise violates another’s property should be treated as the criminal act that it is. Putting that thought aside, yes, when Kevin buys a piece of software, it is now his to do with as he pleases, to include copying it and reselling it. Don’t a lot of these commercial enterprises use closed software and things like requiring a user to register the software with some sort of key before they can use it? Do you not believe those are sufficient for the purpose of protecting ones investment in software development?

      I don’t have the links right off hand, but I recall fairly recently reading two interesting articles that are relevant: one was that Germany once had some of the most restrictive IP laws in the world, and struggled with a moribund economy and little innovation. It was after they did away with most of those laws that they actually saw a boon in creativity and innovation. The other story ties into that: a recent study demonstrated that the of the top 100 innovations that have changed the world in the past 20 years (I think it was 20, may be more), around 90 weren’t patented or copyrighted. IP laws discourage innovation, not the other way around.

  15. Jim KleinNo Gravatar says:

    I notice most everyone’s trying to find that happy medium; personally I think that’s an error. I don’t know much about the current theories of anarcho-capitalism, but I do know this much—the purchase of immorality can’t be very different than the vote for it. Hence I wouldn’t expect much different outcomes.

    Yeah, I know…that leaves open exactly what morality is. Seems to me that the answer to that, like all things cognitive, is exclusively individual. That’s NOT some argument for moral relativism nor for subjectivism…it’s just a plain statement of fact. IOW it doesn’t address what morality “should” be, but rather what it IS, in its manifestation.

    Politics and all that is about morality alright, but it’s morality in a social context, in our interactions with others. For me, the NAP (ZAP, non-initiation, whatever) pretty well covers it. Really, I don’t see what’s missing at all, since if a person doesn’t physically coerce another, then everything else is just discussion. Persuasion…the modus operandi of a rational being.

    I mention this because if a person actually accepts the NAP as basic or fundamental in a social context, then all sorts of things which we all normally accept begin to come into question…IP being just one, and a very derivative one at that.

    The real question is how a person chooses to interact with others, and especially with whom that person chooses to interact. Most people jump right to, “What about the thief,” or “What about the thug,” and on and on and on. Well, what about them? Obviously a person has to defend his life and his property if he wishes to keep either; that’s a no-brainer in all scenarios. But beyond that, why is the assumption that everyone will be out to loot and mooch from everyone else? In my estimation, that’s the root of the scam…a scam built wholly of fear and imagination. The truth is that the vast majority of people don’t steal or act like thugs, and don’t want to.

    Maybe it’s time to devise “systems” for the benefit of those people, instead of figuring out how our communities will be organized to accommodate thieves, moochers and thug scum.