Stephan Kinsella On Intellectual Property, Part III?

Jan 17, 04 | 12:41 am by John T. Kennedy

Today a reader drew my attention to David Irving’s Action Report On-line. The main page of the site currently bears the message:

We apologise for the interruption to website service today Thursday, January 15, 2004: this was caused by legal interference from LewRockwell.com

I was not familiar with David Irving; he appears to be a crank. I found no explanation for the nature of the claimed interference so I did a search of the domain. I found this page which comments by Irving on the right and this text in the left column:

The item on which this column commented, a short article by Lew Rockwell, has been removed from the website at the insistence of Kinsella, Rockwell’s attorney.

Stephan Kinsella? I don’t know that Stephan Kinsella is Rockwell’s attorney but he is certainly an attorney who writes for Rockwell.

Here is an archived version of the page with the original LRC material. What the current page characterizes as a short article by Lew Rockwell is this blog entry by Lew Rockwell. In his comments I see nothing from Irving about Rockwell’s piece, he apparently used the Rockwell piece as a jumping off point.

So what happened here? It sounds like Action Report On-line was briefly taken down as a result of legal action taken or threatened by LRC via Stephan Kinsella. It sounds like Rockwell didn’t like seeing his blog entry on a crackpot site and sought to legally exercise his intellectual property rights to the material.

I certainly understand why Rockwell would take such action. His piece was framed on ARO in a manner that could easily lead a visitor to believe that Rockwell contributed an article to the site. I recognize that Rockwell has a right to his work which entails a right to prevent it from being used on ARO in that manner.

But does Rockwell have a principled leg to stand on in making such a claim? He routinely publishes, promotes and praises articles arguing against intellectual property rights in principle. He has characterized intellectual property rights as “coercive monopolies for particular producers in rich countries”. If that’s so than wouldn’t invoking IP rights himself amount to enforcing a monopoly of a particular producer?

It’s clear that Stephan Kinsella would have to abandon his philosophical principles to pursue such a claim. I’ve written about this problem for Kinsella here and here. Kinsella has been quite explicit on the matter of intellectual property:

One thing that is striking about advocating intellectual property rights–rights in non-scarce things–is that one is inevitably bound up in a self-contradictory position. For although they want to say that non-scarce things (like ideas, inventions, etc.) are “just as much property” as are scarce things like physical resources, they always, when it comes down to it, want to enforce IP rights against scarce resources.

If Kinsella is correct that intellectual property rights do no exist then he would do wrong to invoke force to secure such fictions.

Kinsella attempted to harmonize his position on intellectual property with his actions before:

Surely it is not inconsistent to drive on public roads, avail oneself of public military, police & fire department services, use public libraries, attend public schools, fly on a publicly-inspected airplane, eat publicly-inspected food, and so on, by virtue of opposing such public functions. If so, what is the argument that it is is “inconsistent” to oppose IP but to recognize the legal terrain we actually have to cope with?

Again, here’s the difference: In the absence of government interference it would be perfectly moral to procure any of these goods or services in a free market. By his own moral theory intellectual property rights are a fiction and Kinsella could have no exclusive right to any intellectual product in a free market.

7 Responses to “Stephan Kinsella On Intellectual Property, Part III?”

  1. Mike Schneider Says:

    Dvd rvng s (n n)fms hlcst-dnr nd nt-smt.

  2. John T. Kennedy Says:

    I assume you’re right, I can’t be bothered to read much of the nonsense I found there.

    But if Rockwell and Kinsella don’t recognize IP then they don’t recognize a moral justification for compelling Irving to take an LRC article off his site, however repugnant the site is.

  3. Mike Schneider Says:

    > ssm y’r rght, cn’t b bthrd t
    >rd mch f th nnsns fnd thr.

    N nd t; thrw “Dvd rvng” nt Ggl nd tk t frm thr. H’s pl-Nz ssctd wth th “nsttt fr Hstrcl Rvw”. (’m srprsd y dn’t rmmbr Crl Vlntn gng psht bt “dnl f fr spch” nd ll tht whn rvng lst dfmtn lwst n rp.)

  4. John T. Kennedy Says:

    Mike,

    There’s certain material that causes my eyes to glaze over. I find it almost impossible to read.

  5. David Heinrich Says:

    Maybe it would be fair to ask Kinsella and Rockwell for their side of the story? These guys have done a lot for libertarians, both intellectually and in practice, and I think we owe them the benefit of the doubt. Certainly, a brief paragraph from Kinsella can hardly fairly represent him. Also, consider, that in a free market, contracts could partially replace copyrights and patents. Assuming this is true, I can understand why Rockwell wouldn’t want his blogs copied and posted by a nutcase holocaust denier.

  6. Brian Macker Says:

    I don’t see on what other grounds than IP this publication could be denied. It’s not plagiarism if Lew Rockwell is credited with writing the article. Even if it were, the anti-IPers claim plagiarism is fraud against the consumer and that the writer is not harmed in any way. Thus Lew has no grounds to sue.

    It’s not against libel laws. The article appearing on the site certainly does make it appear that Lew gives his approval, thus damaging his reputation. But this is only vague conclusion jumped to by the reader. It doesn’t show any malice on Irving’s part. After all he believes it commendable to hold views such as his own. In his view he is helping Lew improve his rep. Without IP and with libel laws I still don’t think a case could be made to remove the content and the implication that Lew is a holocaust denier.

    As you might guess I’m a pro-IP pro-Libel law libertarian.

    I don’t think the grounds for libel rest on your ownership of what other people think about you. So don’t try that argument with me please.

  7. John T. Kennedy Says:

    David,

    Back when I wrote this post I emailed Kinsella (with whom I’d exchanged emails from time to time in the past) about this matter, but received no reply. I’m also sure he saw the topic raised in forum at anti-state.com, but he chose not to address the matter.

    As for Rockwell, I raised the matter in a comment to his post today on the Mises blog. I have not claimed I know for sure what happened in this case, I’m asking.

    But nobody has yet disputed David Irving’s account.

    I can understand why Rockwell wouldn’t want his blogs copied and posted by a nutcase. I can also understand why the RIAA wouldn’t want the IP of the producers it represents copied freely. What’s the difference in principle?

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