Another Demonstration of the Absurdity of Intellectual Property

Even though intellectual property is going the way of the dinosaurs the state continues its attempt prevent the inevitable. This week one of the state’s many courts ruled that you can’t legally sell digital music files that you’ve purchased unless you’re given permission by the copyright holder:

A court ruling has put the kibosh on reselling digital media.

In a lawsuit between Universal Music Group’s Capitol Records and MP3 reseller ReDigi, U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan has sided with the record label and said that reselling songs bought on iTunes, Amazon, or other digital music venues is akin to copyright infringement.

“The court grants Capitol’s motion for summary judgment on its claims for ReDigi’s direct, contributory, and vicarious infringement of its distribution and reproduction rights,” Judge Sullivan wrote in a summary judgment filed Saturday. “The court also denies ReDigi’s motion in its entirety.”

This ruling brings with it some interesting ramifications. Intellectual property, if you can call it property, is unique in the way it is created. Most property, under the laws of the United States, is created when somebody labors to produce something. If you use raw metal and wood to create a hammer the resulting hammer is legally considered your property. Since it is legally recognized as your property you are able to utilize, sell, or give it. Since money, at least to a point, is considered your property you are able to trade it to another person in exchange for their property. Intellectual property doesn’t follow these guiding principles.

How is intellectual property created? Most people probably believe that intellectual property is created when an idea is created. If you create a song is that song legally your property? No. That song only becomes your property when you tell the state about it. The state has a monopoly on granting copyrights and patents, the only recognized mechanisms of creating intellectual property. If you don’t tell the state about your idea you can’t claim it as intellectual property. However, once the state recognizes your idea you gain legal control over everybody who learns about your idea. This is where the ultimate absurdity occurs, intellectual property requires legally recognized control over the minds of others. If you, or somebody else, tells me about your idea I cannot choose to forget it. The human brain absorbs knowledge whether we want it to or not. After learning about your idea I am not legally allowed to use that knowledge. If, after hearing the song you created, I recreated that same song you could bring a lawsuit against me for violating your intellectual property.

The above mentioned court case demonstrates this fact perfectly. Copying a digital music file is nothing more than an act of telling another about that song. Even though the knowledge of that song is forever in the listener’s head he is restricted from telling others about it. This is why the court ruling makes sense under intellectual property laws. Selling an MP3 doesn’t transfer knowledge of the song, it merely tells another person about the song. The absurdity lies in the fact that, legally, a person who hears a song is not allowed to tell another about that song unless the copyright holder gives the seller permission. In other words when you hear a copyrighted song you, without any say in the matter, are now partially owned by the copyright holder. You are no longer legally allowed to express all of your thoughts to other people, even if you took no action to acquire the copyrighted idea (you may have involuntarily heard the song while you were at a restaurant, party, or bar).

If one accepts intellectual property as legitimate they necessarily accept a legal ability for one person to own, at least in part, another person.