In his book, Against Intellectual Property, Kinsella outlines the problems with so-called intellectual property (IP). The term “intellectual property” is a misnomer because a person cannot have a property title to an idea. It is actually just a government-granted monopoly in the marketplace for a period of time. Kinsella argues that all monopolies stifle innovation, and a monopoly on an idea is no different.
Imagine if ideas like the invention of fire, the wheel, or other useful ideas were patented, limiting their use. This would stifle innovation and make us all poorer. Innovation comes from the mixing of ideas. When we allow ideas to be mixed and remixed, we become richer.
What would the world look like without IP?
Kinsella says that we already have examples of industries without IP. Fashion, food, and fragrances do not have IP, and are thriving marketplaces of innovation. If you want to download pirated movies or music, you can easily do that now, yet the marketplace for movies and music still exists.
Content creators would likely need to find new and innovative ways to make a living. For example, without IP, an author might need to have more live book events in order to make a living. But Kinsella argues that this should not be the main concern. The main concern for Kinsell is that IP is confused and wrong. When abolitionists were arguing that slavery was wrong and should be abolished, the slave owners were quick to ask, “But who would pick the cotton?”. In the same manner, if IP is corrupt, we should abolish it and not ask, “But how will X creator make a living”.
His ideas offer much food for thought.
For the majority of authors, musicians, and creators, losing out on money shouldn’t be the main concern. The real problem is that most creators languish in obscurity. Most authors don’t sell any books, and most musicians don’t have listeners. For many creators, a better strategy would be to give away stuff for free and build an audience who may pay you later for live events, courses, or swag.
I’ve opted to put my books online for free. What I lose in money, I gain in reputation from people who read them who otherwise wouldn’t have.