ayn rand’s ridiculous intellectual property ideas

Ayn Rand was generally pro-freedom. That would be freedom from coercion by the state. But one of her biggest economics failings was her adherence to copyright law. From Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal:

Patents and copyrights are the legal implementation of the base of all property rights: a man’s right to the product of his mind.

Ayn Rand defined copyright as a protection of the property of someone’s mind. Her definition, although stated boldly, is actually incredibly vague. For example: Steven Colbert coined the word “truthiness“. Is this then his property? Does anyone using this word now owe him money? Does Colbert now own exclusive rights to this invention? But importantly, from a Randian position: Does the government now have a right to use guns to force others to use that word in a manner Colbert thinks is fit? The counterexamples to Rand are only limited by the imagination.

Compare to Rand’s copyright stance to her statement on compulsory education:

Should the government be permitted to remove children forcibly from their homes, with or without the parents’ consent, and subject the children to educational training and procedures of which the parents may or may not approve? Should citizens have their wealth expropriated to support an educational system which they may or may not sanction, and to pay for the education of children who are not their own? To anyone who understands and is consistently committed to the principle of individual rights, the answer is clearly: No!

To rephrase against Rand on copyright:

Should the government be permitted to remove people forcibly from their homes and subject them to jail or fines based on what they speak, write, or create? Should citizens have their wealth expropriated to support this government action of suppressing what free people do with their own hands, eyes, or mind? To anyone who understands and is consistently committed to the principle of individual rights, the answer is clearly: No!

The reason copyright law is anti-property is precisely because it is a law that prohibits people from arranging their data bits how they see fit on their own electronic media. It is a law that prohibits people from writing words in a pattern that they see fit on their own paper with their own ink. It is a law that prohibits creation of physical items using someone’s own time and resources. You cannot enforce intellectual property laws without violating actual property laws. Intellectual property is anti-property rights.

Rand continues:

Every type of productive work involves a combination of mental and physical effort: of thought and of physical action to translate that thought into a material form. The proportion of these two elements varies in different types of work. At the lowest end of the scale, the mental effort required to perform unskilled manual labor is minimal. At the other end, what the patent and copyright laws acknowledge is the paramount role of mental effort in the production of material values; these laws protect the mind’s contribution in its purest form: the origination of an idea. The subject of patents and copyrights is intellectual property.

To Rand, the invention was the work of the mind. In her philosophy, the mind was held as absolute. But even in her devotion to “the mind”, Rand displays an “anti-mind” mentality. Her philosophy was inherently vague, contradictory, and absurd. For example, she claims that two individuals, working on opposite sides of the world (having never met), can come to the same idea, yet the one who was first gains ownership of the idea. One person gains control over the thoughts and actions of all other humans in the universe for thinking an idea. The state would enforce this, in Rand’s mind.

Rand tries to remedy a straw-man version of this scenario:

As an objection to the patent laws, some people cite the fact that two inventors may work independently for years on the same invention, but one will beat the other to the patent office by an hour or a day and will acquire an exclusive monopoly, while the loser’s work will then be totally wasted. This type of objection is based on the error of equating the potential with the actual. The fact that a man might have been first, does not alter the fact that he wasn’t. Since the issue is one of commercial rights, the loser in a case of that kind has to accept the fact that in seeking to trade with others he must face the possibility of a competitor winning the race, which is true of all types of competition.

There is no reason that the race cannot have two winners. The “loser’s” use of the idea in no way prevents the “winner” from also using the idea. In other words, both people can use the idea and neither would be any worse for it. What Rand wants is a government enforced and operated monopoly, to give money artificially to the “winner” at the expense of the loser and every consumer on Earth.

Why does Rand adopt a stance on intellectual property that is counter to much of her other economics? I think the reason is very simple. Rand was amazingly prideful and engaged in unrivaled hubris. Rothbard wrote one fictional work in his life, it was a play based on Ayn Rand (Mozart was a Red). Rand fans should be aware that Rand was absolutely ridiculous as a human being, surrounding herself with sycophants and lavishing praise on herself.

Rand thought that she had a superior mind to just about every other human being on Earth. As such, she was unwilling to share credit or even allow any hint that her works were not exclusively her own. Copyright was her way to do this. If Rand did not embrace copyright, she would have to admit that she was not part of the superhuman race, creating value. Rand’s philosophy and novels were based on this idea that there were superhumans. These intellectual giants spawned all that is good, whereas the regular people only consume. It is a ridiculous view of the world. All inventions and ideas are built on a complex web of other people’s thoughts and ideas. Inventions happen gradually and not suddenly. Inventions compound on previous inventions and do not spring from nowhere.

In all, Rand held to a ill defined, arbitrary and contradictory view on intellectual property. Rand’s memory should include the fact that she let her hubris override her common sense and intellectual integrity.

See also:

The Christian Case Against Copyright
The Absurdity of Intellectual Property
Is Music Piracy Communism?

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
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4 Responses to ayn rand’s ridiculous intellectual property ideas

  1. Oudeicrat Annachrista says:

    Mozart Was a Red was written by Rothbard, not Mises

  2. Guarach says:

    Your critique, like so many others of hers is wildly biased and inexplicably off base to what she actually says and means. I would venture to say you have never read any of her books at length and only taken excerpts out of context like you do in this article.

    For example you write in a paragraph,

    “One person gains control over the thoughts and actions of all other humans in the universe for thinking an idea.” And that this is her idea.

    If you knew anything about her philosophy you would realize that mind control is never propagated, because one person thinks an idea before another. One action prohibits another from doing the same. It is the natural law of the world. A lion cannot eat the same zebra that the other lion already ate.

    • In intellectual property, there is no lion and there is no zebra. They are fictions. I’ve read plenty of Rand. The most she could produce in her lifetime was ideas, so perhaps her support of copyright was self interested. Using the state to secure a monopoly.

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