Musicians Have Themselves To Blame Part 2: Intellectual Property

By Stacey Blood
Aug 27, 2018

We’ll get right to the chorus.

Why do we rail against monopolies out in the world but then find it all great fun to monopolize our ideas so nobody can capitalize on them but us?  Monopolies for other companies are bad, but monopolies for ourselves are good?

Intellectual property is a sanctimonious institution available to the arts for whatever reason and, like democracy, is oh so precious that nobody dare question it’s legitimacy in any way.  But they are both inherently antithetical to their prescribed purposes when you think the principles through universally.

To substantiate the position against intellectual property, there are a few prerequisite truths to explore:  Monopolies, scarcity, and law.


First, let’s define what monopolies are not, which are the result of big fat greedy cigar chompers buying up all the competitors and charging you whatever they please.  It never happens like this.  If it is a monopoly you seek, then there is one sure place to acquire one:  The government.

Government is, itself, a monopoly.  It has monopolies on law enforcement, justice, aggression, roads and infrastructure, and seemingly more and more on charity.  The closest things to monopolies we see today were created indirectly through government legislation in the form of expensive regulations, licensing, and registrations that act as a barrier to entry for smaller businesses.

Actual monopolies, however, are created directly through government designation, such as in the case with public utilities.  Dare we forget about the government protected Ma Bell monopoly that set telecommunications back decades.

But in this entry the focus is on the universally available monopolies such as patents, trademarks, and copyrights which are simply ideas and that we call “intellectual property”.

Can An Idea Really Be Property?

How can one solely own the economic rights to an idea?  It seems obvious that if something doesn’t resemble property through usual means of qualification it warrants scrutiny as genuine property.  Things that are property have scarcity like a car or your shoes.  If you steal my car I don’t still have my car.  It is a scarce thing and I only have one.

However, if you use my idea to produce something I still have my idea and can still produce from it.

Law And Morality Are Not Linked

What’s “legal” and what’s “moral” do not go hand in hand.  What’s moral and immoral is always so, regardless of legality or illegality.

What’s “legal” and what’s “moral” do not go hand in hand.  What’s moral and immoral is always so, regardless of legality or illegality.

For instance, murder isn’t immoral just because there is a law against it.  It always is.  Inversely, stealing isn’t magically moral because politicians scribbled a law legalizing it and called it “taxation”.  Stealing is always immoral, no matter who benefits from the end result.

Therefore, simply because we have “copyright law” doesn’t make it right nor legitimate.  We can go all through history and find laws that hurt a lot of people and that were most certainly illegitimate.

Zero Sum Fallacy

Now that we have explored the underlying principles of the anti-intellectual property position we’ll see why so many promote the concept of ideas as property.

I am constantly reminded by my music friends and colleagues (harshly much of the time) that without intellectual property there simply wouldn’t be a music business.  I’ve recently been called “drunk” and “brainwashed”.  And that was by one of my best friends!  That’s how bad it is.

But this argument is weak because it stems from a zero sum outlook that doesn’t exist.  It is essentially to say that if someone produces something derived from your “idea” then you have been robbed.  But robbed of what?  Nobody has taken your ability to use your idea and be productive from it, have they?  Of course not.

Ideas are not zero sum.  Even wealth itself is not zero sum.  When it is created it isn’t taken from someone else.  That’s not how it works.

A perfect example of this dynamic is one of Ryan Adams and Taylor Swift.  In 2015 Ryan Adams recorded a cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 album.  Not just s song, but the whole album.  Did Taylor Swift experience a cut in sales of her 1989 simply because Ryan Adams put out his rendition of the album?  Absolutely not.  People who buy Taylor Swift records would not view this as a choice they must make between one of the other.

If anything, it benefited Taylor Swift through exposure to a different audience.  Why, then, must Ryan Adams pay Taylor Swift’s creators anything?  There is simply no economically just reason for it.  It’s just good old fashioned mercantilism and extorting simply because it’s possible.  Nothing more.

Jeffrey A. Tucker, one of the leading thinkers in the intellectual property debate eloquently explains these dynamics and more in his 2009 lecture The Evils Of Intellectual Property.

The Evils Of Intellectual Property

by Jeffrey A. Tucker | Auburn University, 2009

Intellectual Capital

We are entering a world of more and more abundance.  The digital era already sacked the recording industry and more industries will follow.

Physicist Michio Kaku is known for making a lot of sensational predictions about the future, but one of them is a lock because it applies to the here and now:  The emergence of intellectual capital as the commodity of the future.

We don’t know if that is the commodity of the future.  But it is your commodity.  This is a very powerful statement due to its use of the word “capital” rather than “property”.  We think of capital as property, but in this sense your ideas are not property, but they are your capital on which to build your platform, whatever that may be.

This piece isn’t to tell you to not copyright your material.  We are still living in an intellectual property world and it is often necessary to have to play the game to protect yourself from it.  This piece is merely to encourage you to look beyond intellectual property for your marketable value.

As a music artist you are lost in a thick forest of abundance and getting your ass kicked by nature.  Know that the free market provides all of the tools to pave your way through this forest, but only you can wield the axe.  The post IP world is not far off so you best start swinging.

In Part 3 we’ll see if we can set you free of some bad thinking.