Herbert Spencer, also a highly respected intellectual precursor of Tucker and the Liberty associates, developed a similar notion about intellectual property in his Principles of Ethics. Spencer argues that persons have a right to the “incorporeal property” that results from their “constructive imagination.
Tucker, who was greatly influenced by both Spooner and Spencer on other issues, initiated the debate on intellectual property in the July 7, 1 888, issue of Liberty arguing that, contrary to Spooner and Spencer, there cannot be a right to an exclusive ownership of an idea.
Tucker was joined by Walker i n advocating against intellectual property rights, and he was opposed by the Spencerian sociologist Victor Yarros who argued in favor of intellectual property rights.
Walker opposed all intellectual property law as ” another name for prohibition” since it prohibits the exercise of individual motivation and labor.
He argues that copyright and intellectual property law “are derived from a political condition in which the sovereign prohibited intellectu a l activities in general and then relaxed the prohibition in favor of certain persons.”
As an egoist, Walker had a slightly different take on the issue than either Tucker or Yarros. Walker claims no respect for any form of property rights, including those associated with intellectual property, as the absolute right of the creator, author, or inventor. However, he is ” disposed” to “allow others the possession the products of their labor if they will a llow mine to me.” Egoism encourages a contractual relationship which allows others to own the products of their labor, but also the material they work with and all material that embodies their labor. The claim to ownership of intellectual property is a different matter altogether since it pertains to ideas.
The ability of all workers to compete, survive, and prosper is limited by the nature of the materials they work with and the ease or difficulty with which their production can be transferred for sale. Intellectual property law confers privileges on authors and inventors because it prohibits competitors from embodying the product in other materials. It confers a privilege since the property is protected while the owner “awaits” transfer of the idea to new or other materials. If all authors and inventors had asserted their “rights” in copyright and patent “from the beginning of civilization,” commerce and social interaction would come to a standstill since each user woul d have to pay royalties on the wheel, the axe, the alphabet, and mathematics.
Because the production and transfer of ideas is infinite, there would be no end to the assertion of rights, prohibitions, and remuneration due for the use of human products and artifacts. Walker says that the main problem posed by intellectual rights is that they create and impose a form of monopoly that prohibits the individual from using resources to earn a living or share ideas with others. Certainly, ideas differ from other outcomes of human labor because they are intangible and because they can be “owned” in Stirner’s sense by anyone who comprehends them.
For Walker, the issue is not so much a matter of protecting property from the point of view of individual possession and use, but that it legitimates a societal invasion of individual behavior. Intellectual property rights constitute an assertion of collective or state power over the mind and intent of persons who understand and intend to use the ideas.
My thoughts are my property as the air in my lungs is my property. When I publish my ideas, they become the property of as many persons as comprehend them. If any person wishes to live by imparting his ideas in exchange for labor, I have nothing to say against his doing so and getting cooperative protection without invading the persons and property of myself and my allies. We will take care, if we can, that he and his party do not invade our homes, stop our printing presses and seize our books.
In some respects, the labor of authors and inventors is no different from other persons. If labor results in a product, the product can be sold and transferred. Authors and inventors are free to all the property they can create and protect without government, but they are not free to prevent others from using ideas as others deem prudent, convenient, and beneficial . Once ideas are transferred to some form of media, sold, and become the possessions of others, authors and inventors cannot prevent them from doing what they choose. On the other hand, authors and inventors can control the use of their products through some form of contract, cooperation, or boycott. This what is meant by “equal liberty,” the concept cherished by Spooner, Tucker, Spencer, and Yarros . Walker was critical of equal liberty, but, in this debate, he invokes it to demonstrate that it differs from “equal prohibition.”
The egoists and individualist anarchists believed in property, unlike socialists and communists . They needed to provide their own answer to the question, “what is property?” because it implies much about the nature
of the relationship between the self and other, and the individual and the stateo “Exclusive rights” and “perpetual property” legitimate the claims of authors and publishers, inventors and manufacturers who intend to use the coercive power of the state to establish a monopoly over the exchange and use of the “past labor” of authors and inventors. For Wa lker, rights and compensation associated with past labor are ludicrous claims that privileged persons can make against others in perpetuity.
These claims for ownership and compensation are tantamount to the claims that workers should be compensated for past work, or that writers should be compensated for not writing. Most significantly, the claim to intellectual property rights is a claim for the ownership of the productivity of other people who intend to make use of ideas. Unlike the products that an individual or firm produces with the intent to either use or sell to others, the intellectual property rights of authors and inventors are not a forms of property that egoists and individualist anarchists can accept if the ideas have been communicated or otherwise exchanged, and if others intend to make use of them.
The concerns of authors and inventors regarding compensation and plagiarism can be addressed through contract, but egoism rejects the assertion of right especially when it extends into the mind and intentionality of the individual.
Stirner’s discussion of economics in The Ego and Its Own is a grand narrative focused on class conflict and the critique of departures from the ideology of “free competition.” Stirner was especially critical of theories that purported to offer a break from capitalism but only created new forms of deprivation. Proudhon was one of Stirner’s primary targets .
Walker was particularly critical of finance capitalism and the privileges attendant with intellectual property rights . Although he addressed a different set of issues, Walker advanced Stirner’s critique of modern economics in the sense that he u sed ownness or egoism as the standpoint for a critique of the exploitation or dispossession of individuals. Walker ‘s primary contribution to egoist economics is that he extended Stirner’s notion that property and value are derived from the concessions that persons are able to acquire in the contracts created in the union of egoists, or the reciprocal exchange in the self-other relationship.