Patents, copyrights, trade secrets, and other forms of so called “intellectual property” are simply government granted monopolies. If others can use an idea, that you claim credit for, they should be allowed to compete with you. One does not need the state to grant himself or herself a monopoly on an idea to profit from his or her intellectual labor, they just need to use to use their intellectual labor to produce better products than their competition. Often inventions are not so much original ideas as they are applications of newly discovered scientific principles. This is why many things have been independently invented by different people simultaneously or were developed by people other than those who patented them. Examples include the Polio Vaccine, the air plane, the telephone, the jet engine and Electric Light bulb. It hardly makes since to grant a monopoly to the one who happens to get to the patent office first.
It makes even less sense to use the heavy hand of the state to impose American patents on people in foreign countries. The vast majority of patents tend to be held by a relatively small number of western individuals and companies. As such, the existing patent regime which the US government is trying to expand requires any firms from the developing world seeking to compete with established western firms to first pay the western firms tribute if they happen to use any of the patterns of information the western firms happen to control. It seems to me that the employees at the Nike Sweatshops of the developed world should be free to start their own shoe making operations using the techniques they learned in their previous position, and compete with their former employer.
I see no justification for the claim that intellectual property is a legitimate form of property in any way shape or form and thereby reject the notion that copying is theft. If I make a copy of something of yours, what have I stolen from you? Obviously, it is nothing material since you still have your copy. At best one could argue that I have stolen the money that would have been paid to you, but I never consented to pay you, and you can hardly say you have a property rights in money that no one ever consented to giving you in the first place. This not to mention that if I use my own property to duplicate your idea, then the enforcement of your patent violates my freedom to peacefully use my own property as I please. That is to say that IP rights violate legitimate property rights. Property rights that are generally accepted as legitimate in most schools of though don’t usually involve submitting applications to the government or arbitrary time limits. Such legitimate property rights are those which help address the problems of natural scarcity, rather than make what is plentiful scarce. I find trade secrets similarly problematic to other forms of intellectual property, since they make it illegal for a former employee should not be able to compete with his former employer. Forbidding him or her from doing this by definition kills competition and restricts a person from freely using his knowledge as he sees fit.
This is not to mention other problematic aspects of the copyright system, such as the common practice of small numbers of large companies pooling their patents and engaging in oligopolistic schemes at the expense of the consumer and would be competitors. There is also the even more problematic practice of buying patents only to keep the patented idea from being used. I have also previously noted the drug companies using patents to keep medications out of the reach of people in poor countries. It has also come to my attention that drug companies often find themselves spending research money (often government provided research money) to find new ways to treat conditions that we already have treatment for in the form of “me too” drugs. This is causing companies to spend resources on reinventing the wheel rather than new treatments.
I tend to find areas like music and literature to be the one area where intellectual property rights make the most sense, after all we want our authors and musicians to get paid, but copyrights do suffer from many if not all the problems suffered with other forms of intellectual property rights and they have the problem of being largely unenforceable. Downloading and sharing material over the net has become so cheap and easy that IP rights are generally becoming unenforceable, and their continued enforcement will require increasingly draconian measures from the state. I honestly doubt most of us want to see people heavily fined or imprisoned for downloading films or music.
It has also come to my attention that at least in the area of music people who engage in “pirating” actually spend 30% more on music than people who do not. This hardly surprises me since people who do not “pirate” music seem to have demonstratively less interest in music than people who do, hints the former’s willingness to be content with what they hear on the radio. It has also come to my attention that musicians like Radiohead and Death Grips have done well for themselves using a similar strategy. Radiohead’s In Rainbows commercially comparable to all their previously releases, despite the fact that it was made available for free. I have also written elsewhere about the potential of advertisement funded streaming and download oriented sites to play a role in making music distributed for free possible.