All libertarians believe in individual rights and property rights, but there is no clear consensus on intellectual property rights (IPR). Many libertarians argue that IPR laws, such as copyrights and patents, restrict the free flow of ideas and interfere with the rights of individuals to use and modify their own property. They believe that individuals should have the right to freely create, use, and exchange intellectual property without government intervention.

Other libertarians, however, argue that IPR laws are necessary to protect the fruits of one’s labor and promote innovation. They believe that without such laws, individuals and companies would not have sufficient incentives to invest time and resources into developing new ideas and products.

I want to take the example of two types of libertarians: 1. Anarcho-capitalists like Murray Rothbard and 2. Geo-libertarians like Henry George. Both of these have diametrically opposite views on land but have converging views on IPR (though motivated by different philosophies).

Murray Rothbard, a prominent libertarian philosopher and economist, was critical of intellectual property rights (IPR) and believed that they were incompatible with libertarian principles. Rothbard argued that IPR laws were government-granted monopolies that violated the right of individuals to control and use their own property.

Rothbard believed that ideas and knowledge should be treated as “public domain” resources, freely accessible to all. He argued that IPR laws restricted the free flow of ideas and hindered innovation by limiting the ability of others to build upon existing knowledge and ideas.

Rothbard also believed that IPR laws were often used by large corporations to stifle competition and maintain their market dominance. He argued that such laws were a form of government intervention in the market that distorted incentives and undermined the free market system.

Overall, Rothbard saw IPR laws as a form of government interference that violated individual property rights and hindered economic growth and innovation. Although Rothbard was against Government enforces IPR, he concluded that copyright can be stablished through freely entered contracts.

Henry George, an American economist and social philosopher, believed in the principle of “natural rights,” which held that all individuals had a right to the natural resources of the earth, including land. He believed that this right was inalienable and could not be restricted by governments or other entities.

In the context of IPR, George argued that individuals had a right to create and distribute their ideas and works freely, but that this right was limited by the natural rights of others. For example, a person may have the right to create a new invention or write a book, but they could not claim exclusive ownership over the ideas and knowledge contained within their creation. Others would have a natural right to build upon and use that knowledge for their own purposes.

Henry George, also comes to same conclusion as that of Rothbard that IPR will restrict freedom of others. According to Henry George, copyright is a valid right as the product being protected under copyright comes purely because of labour of the producer.

Even though there is no consensus on IPR amongst libertarians, as a Geo-libertarian I believe that IPR, especially patents, are not compatible with individual freedom and hinder progress. I’m in Henry George’s camp and fundamentally question the pure libertarian interpretation of Lockean Proviso. I think anything that comes from nature belongs to the whole mankind. Thus all inventions coming out of scientific process (which is just a way of understanding nature) belong to whole of humanity. Rights on creative endeavors like writing a book or composing a piece of music can be restricted through contract law.

We have looked at IPR from a philosophical stand point, this post looks at it from utilitarian point of view: How IPR Can Stifle Innovation.