Intellectual Property : Marginal Theft Fallacy

"Theft means to take away. Reproducing I.P. takes nothing from the owner"
- Abolish-IP assertions

In order to detach ourselves from semantic arguments over theft as piracy, this article will primarily examine the concept of "taking way" or more specifically the concept: "Producing one additional copy does not diminish the resources of the original owner, therefore no wrong has been committed."

The important subtext is the concept of Marginal Cost; the cost of producing one additional unit. The marginal cost of reproducing an additional copy of (digital) I.P. is approximately zero.

Marginal Cost Theft

Expanding this concept to other forms of property, so long as your violation of property rights doesn't exceed this marginal cost, no theft has occurred. Therefore, a person may take any property at will, so long as the Marginal Cost is paid. Stealing a shirt with a $40 price tag is legitimate, so long as a person pays the $5 required to produce another shirt, no theft has occurred. Alternatively, if one claims the owner must suffer a financial loss in order for theft to occur, then one should be able to steal food items that an owner would have been unable to sell.

If "taking away" is a requirement for harm, then any trespass into a venue or live performance so long as the venue is not full, so long as you don't interfere. Physical property is rivalrous only in a moment, but not over time. One should be able to 'borrow-without-consent' any tools, cars, computers, lawnmowers, and any other property so long as the owner isn't presently using it, and it is returned in the same condition.

If taken to the logical extreme, the rivalrous requirement undermines the vast majority of property rights.

Blind Spot

What "theft is only taking away" ignores is why these goods and services are produced. A store does not stock shelves as an act of altruism, nor does the owner care about the item on the shelf, but rather out of the desire for profit. A live performance is conducted, and a venue is maintained, factories are built and run, food is grown, and intellectual property is produced…. none of which is done for the direct benefit of the owner, but rather is provided in exchange for something valuable in return.

Modern Intellectual Property takes vast investments to produce, and as a luxury to the consumer, a $100m movie or video game is delivered in full for the customers enjoyment at a price below $50. What is being stolen is a fraction of the time, capital, and labor invested into the production of value that the pirate seeks to use for his own benefit. Just as physical property is the manifestation of a personal investment of oneself, so is intellectual property, and theft of that is equivalent other destructive acts like violence, as it is theft of a portion of one's life.

Perhaps one day, the vast majority of the necessities of life will be reduced to the point of having only a tiny Marginal Cost, allowing a person to purchase the most amazing penthouse squire for a mere $100. To get to that point, however, is likely going to take a lot of time, research, and capital to accomplish. Should the property rights of the persons who make that investment be undermined under some collectivist "for the good of the people?"

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