Once an idea leaves your head, it is no longer scarce; once an idea is no longer secret, it ceases to become an economic good. There is no purpose in having a property right in an object that is superabundant. Property rights depend on a world of scarce resources, where interpersonal conflict can occur because there is competition for these scarce resources. If goods are infinite, everyone can be satisfied to their fullest desire without any need for conflict. Intelligent property is man-made law; it cannot be reasoned from any natural laws. Scarce resources are a given in the equation that determines the need for property rights just as gravity is a given in a physics equation.
The grossest aspect of intellectual property “rights” is that because you have invented a new way to arrange matter, whether it be creating a new type of vacuum cleaner or writing an original story, you now become part owner in every tangible physical object on the planet. IP asserts that by coming up with an intangible idea, you may now tell the rightful owners of any physical good, “you may not use your object in this particular way; you may not take that printing press and paper you own and print words on the paper in the same way I have,” etc.
For property rights to mean anything, it must mean the ability of the owner to use his property in whatever way he sees fit, provided it doesn’t infringe some other individual’s property rights. Property rights mean little if we are prevented from using our property in whatever manner we deem acceptable. How can you truly say you own a piece of paper if you cannot write certain things on it? How can you say you own a piece of metal if you cannot shape it certain ways?
The person who comes up with a new way to shape metal does not have his “property” rights violated when someone takes their own rightfully owned tools and shapes his rightfully owned metal in the same way. The inventor still has possession of all his original property and may still use it to his own pleasure; there has been no theft. Ideas cannot be stolen, they can only be replicated.
The first occupier homesteading rule, stating that the first individuals to occupy a given object or piece of land becomes owner of that property, cannot apply to ideas; once an individual shares an idea he cannot claim exclusive title to the idea any longer, provided he did not contract with the individual he told to tell no one. An idea can only be exclusively occupied so long as it remains in your head. In reality, there can be no conflict over the idea sitting in your head; no one can possibly compromise the integrity of the idea in your head, or steal the idea from your head, since it is not a physical object. There is no way anyone can ‘take’ that idea unless you freely share it. Even if there was a way to read minds, and obtain information from individuals heads, I still don’t think there would be a need for a property right to the idea because you would still have that information and still be capable of using that information. Your own thoughts would still be your own (assuming they didn’t violate you physically in the process, although then the violation would be against the individual’s body).
Some would argue that intellectual property came about through the courts, as opposed to government granted monopoly, in recognition that man has a property rights in ideas and are entitled to the fruits of their labor. They assert that labor is the test to determine homesteading of property, but that is wrong in the first place. In Against Intellectual Property, Stephan Kinsella argues that mixing your labor with something is simply a way to tell that an object has been occupied. He quotes Tom Palmer, writing “Occupancy, not labor, is the act by which external things become property.” Since labor is not the determination of homesteading, we can’t apply it to intellectual property and assert that by mixing labor with our idea and creating a new invention we now have a property right in that idea, restricting others’ use of their own physical property. By mixing one’s labor with other materials to create an invention, one can only have a property right to that specific object that was transformed. As Kinsella would say, it is not because you mixed labor with some materials that you became the owner of that new object, it is because you rightfully owned the original materials in the first place that you own the new object.