Property and Theft [Jacobin]
The state’s current approach to intellectual property has come under scrutiny of late, as its disconnect from anything that might have once legitimated it has become more and more obvious. The activities of rent-seeking patent trolls, who accumulate patents solely for the purpose of filing lawsuits, have been highlighted by National Public Radio’s “Planet Money” program. And the absurdities of strict copyright enforcement are apparent in the life-destroying legal judgments leveled against small-time downloaders — $220,000 against Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe employee Jammie Thomas-Rasset for twenty-four songs, $675,000 against college student Joel Tenenbaum for thirty.
Faced with these outrages, it’s tempting to demand the immediate destruction of the entire edifice of patent and copyright protection. All the more since intellectual property compounds the general socialist discomfort with private property, because the right it encodes is such an expansive one. No longer just the right to control a particular physical space or object, it abstracts the property form into the control of patterns and processes, wherever and whenever they appear. Instead of owning a book or a factory, the intellectually propertied class controls all copies of the book, and all implementations of the production process within the factory.