Intellectual Property : Monopoly


Is Intellectual Property a Monopoly

A common assertion of Abolish-IP advocates is:

"Intellectual property is a monopoly."

Equivocation / Intellectual Property a Property

The primary mistake, or misleading aspect is the equivocation between:

  • (a) Monopoly defined as exclusive control over some entity.
  • (b) Monopoly defined as exclusive possession or control of the supply or trade in a commodity or service.

The first definition is simply ownership that is exclusive, which we'll label as "exclusive ownership." The second definition is a broader categorical monopoly on a market, which we'll label as "market monopoly."

Using the "exclusive ownership" definition, it would be circular and unusual to write an entire book which argues "Intellectual property exclusive control is property exclusive control" as an argument against IP.

Problematic Monopolies

Given one intends to imply "IP is a monopoly, therefore problematic" one must recognize that only problematic monopolies have any relevance1. Otherwise this discussion appears "meaningfulness" or no relevance to ethics, values, or norms. Given "exclusive control" is an insufficient condition, lets consider other characteristics of this problematic monopoly, or "market monopoly."

Given the argument is "Intellectual Property is a (problematic) Monopoly" implies that IP itself is the monopoly2, lets focus on the examples of an unique song, where the song itself is the "property" or "monopoly" in question.

If the song and only the song is "property" of the author, no case may be made that it is a market monopoly. Clearly the author has exclusive control, but "over what?" The exclusive control and ownership is over the song itself, and perhaps it's subsequent productive capacity. Given that persons are unhindered in their ability to produce (using their own resources) and sell competing products, including competing songs in the same genre which fill a similar need, it is difficult to say there is any restriction on free market entry. Lastly, it is difficult to see how any abuse may occur as a result of this exclusive ownership over an unique work. Beyond being "exclusive" in ownership, this IP norm fails all other conditions if a problematic monopoly.

IP as a Market Monopoly

Alternatively, lets consider what a "market monopoly" in IP might actually look like. Consider if instead the musician was granted "ownership" over the entire genera, and was able to prevent or block the production of other unique words including those which make no use of his property, that would classify as a categorical or market monopoly. This author would generally agree that such a so-called IP norm would qualify under the "market monopoly" definition, and would be a destructive form of IP norms. This problematic nature, however, only applies to those versions of IP which are categorical or market monopolies, and not IP itself.


Calling all I.P. a monopoly is either a sloppy equivocation, or intentionally misleading.

Related Works & Information

Abolish-IP Perspective

todo: Physical Property as Monopoly

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