Intellectual Property : Are Intangibles Scarce?

Are intangible goods Scarce?

"Intangibles are non-scarce, therefore not property."

The assertion that "Intangibles are non-scarce, therefore not property," is frequently made by the abolish-IP libertarians. Setting the second part of the argument ("therefore not property") this article will examine the relationship between intangibles and scarcity.


Type Scarce Analysis Rivalrous Analysis
Authorship/Production Authorship and production is highly scarce, and must be actively pursued. Production of new intangibles is heavily also reliant scarce inputs, including capital, labor, investments, and time. Unique intangibles authorship is rivalrous, as it only comes into being as a result of the original author. Any subsequent persons cannot be classified as "authors" but rather merely possess a copy of the authored work. Authorship of non-unique intangibles1, may have several unique instances of authorship2.
Non-existent The greatest scarcity of intangibles is those which have yet to be produced. In instance of non-scarce intangibles it is illogical to pursue production. Applying the concept of rivalry results to that which doesn't exist and cannot be used results in an illogical statement.
Distribution & Sale Simply the existence, production, or discovery of a specific intangible is insufficient to eliminating scarcity of a specific-intangible. The intangible's distribution relies on scarce resources, such as marketing and delivery-media. Distribution and sale of intangibles including non-uniques is highly rivalrous. Similar to counterfeit and inflated currencies, each additional instance distributed or sold is rivalrous and lessens the ability to sell or distribute more instances.
One Instance The first instance of an intangible is highly scarce; if destroyed, an intangible may be lost forever. A single instance of an intangible generally may only be used by a single person. Typically an intangible must be broadcast, copied, or otherwise spread. If a person chooses to delete an intangible, that intangible may quickly become highly rivalrous.3
Replication Replication or duplication of (many) creative works are relatively non-scarce, and as such, this act of replication of intangibles is often not treated as a valuable economic activity. Replication is generally non rivalrous, which coincidentally may suggest it may inconsequential in the context of ownership as a result.


Even if scarcity/rivalry were the ultimate-test4, this would not successfully preclude the ownership of intangibles as property.

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