Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The FBI and IP Enforcement

Efrem Zimbalist Jr
As I follow up to my post, The Case for Releasing Violent Drug "Criminals", Eric M. emails:
Hi Robert:

My wife and I always cringe through the FBI propaganda at the beginning of a DVD declaring “Piracy is not a victimless crime.”  I know libertarians (including you) go back-and-forth on IP, but we should all agree that there should be no FBI enforcing that.

Finally, last night, it finally dawned on me:  that statement at the beginning of a DVD essentially admits the government understands it enforced numerous “victimless” crimes!

I agree with your post right now about many drug offenders rightfully protecting their property.  Very important to bring that up.

RW response:

I am not sure what you mean by IP theft being a victimless crime.

If I create something, a poem, a song, an essay and want it distributed only based on specific terms, and it is distributed beyond those terms (especially when I notify someone of the terms as in the DVD warnings) then I do consider it a property crime.

As for calling the FBI in, I have made it perfectly clear that in a Private Property Society there would be no need for government police but we do not live in a PPS. So there are many times the only alternative is what the government provides from sidewalks to roads and planes that are directed by government air traffic controllers and government police.

If the FBI is the only alternative for protecting IP, given that we don't live in a PPS, then I see no problem with someone using the FBI for IP protection.

This is much different than a situation where a government police agency is enforcing a government edict that has nothing to do with protecting against NAP violations.



  1. Why should an IP violation---which is essentially a breach of contract, i.e. a civil law matter---be a criminal matter and cause to involve the police? Leave it to the Civil Courts or private dispute-resolution mediations to resolve. If I fail to pay my mortgagee the rest of the money I owe on my house, the FBI doesn't swoop in and arrest me. Rather, the bank files a foreclosure action in court, and the matter gets adjudicated. If I paint RW's house and he breaches our contract by failing to pay me the $2,000 we agreed upon, I don't call the FBI or other police agency, because it's a breach in the realm of contract law, not criminal law.
    So why is copying someone's book or DVD, or other IP violation, a matter for the police?

    1. If you rent a car from Hertz and you steal the car, Hertz calls the police--- and that is assuming there is a contract in the first place.

    2. But if I loan that car for someone else to use, contrary to the terms of the rental contract, Hertz doesn't call the police on me. Even if that person smashes it up, and I failed to purchase the extra insurance coverage.

    3. Oh please, don't make stufff up:

    4. We're talking about different things. And your citing of an anomalous snafu involving a Hertz computer glitch or procedure, doesn't have a bearing on this topic.

  2. If the purpose of having a system of private-property rights is to minimize conflict over rivalrous resources, then I don't see how "IP theft" could, per se, be a NAP violation. The NAP only says that it is wrong to initiate force against someone's body or other private property. But only physical things are rivalrous, and thus there cannot be private-property rights in intangibles, such as songs or ideas.

    If you come up with an idea and tell me about it, and I use it for my own purposes, then where is the rivalrousness or theft? You still have the idea even after I have used it, and my using it doesn't preclude your concurrent use of it. In fact, your idea could be used by millions of people at once, and you'd still have use of the idea. This is to be distinguished from the piece of paper on which you write down your idea, which IS your private property, and if I took it without your consent, then that would be theft.

  3. IP laws are socialism. Pay for your own damn security and protect your own damn secrets.

  4. The key to RW's argument is that he assumes IP is valid (property) and that therefore what he wants by way of its distribution is relevant. However, the idea that being the first to do something bestows the right to violently prevent imitators is a very, very debatable idea which itself results in a violation of property rights.

    There is a question that pro IP debaters do not have a good answer to: if I "steal" (imitate) your idea, what property is it that you no longer have that you did have before the theft took place? If we are going to speak of "property" and "theft", that question requires a good answer, but there is none.