Dakota Hensley an individualist anarchist and Christian anarchist from Southeast Kentucky. Follow him at @DakotaAHensley.
Suppose that I left a dollar on the sidewalk. I left it unattended for an hour. Do I have any right to complain when I come back to find it missing? I never informed anyone that the dollar was mine. I never left a little note telling passersby that that dollar was my dollar. To them, it had been abandoned and, thus, free for the taking.
Now, suppose I left a dollar on the sidewalk with a sticky note that read, “This dollar belongs to Dakota Hensley.” I come back an hour later and find it missing. The difference here is that by leaving a note I informed passersby that that dollar was my personal property. I have every right to have the thief found and pay me compensation.
Imagine our scenario but, instead of a dollar, it’s an acre of land with a house, a lake, various crops, solar panels, and a rainwater collector. The ideal house, basically. One day, I go to my job as sole proprietor of a candle shop. While gone, a homeless woman finds my house and, not seeing any signs of ownership, assumes it has been abandoned and takes possession of it. I have no right to complain. I never left a sign to tell others that this was my property nor did I have my property insured.
If I lived in an individualist anarchist society, I could’ve called the private defense agency I’m subscribed to to take the thief away. She has stolen my property and, thus, will be taken to the local community-owned courthouse to be given a heavy fine to be paid to me. To prevent further theft, I would erect a sign to notify all passersby that this property is mine. Even if I didn’t put up a sign, my property would still be protected. The sign just warns those who accidentally commit a crime.
This applies to intellectual property too. A patent or trademark, much like the sign I mentioned, warns others that this idea is your idea and anyone stealing it will be prosecuted. That does suggest one question, however. Can intellectual property be abandoned? Yes.
If you’re dead, if the idea you created doesn’t make money anymore, or if the idea hasn’t been used in some time, it’s been abandoned. Therefore, I have every right to make a cartoon featuring Mickey Mouse or Peter Pan or Felix the Cat. While I do think IP has been abused, an artist’s ideas are their ideas. As a writer, I would not like it if someone stole one of my ideas.
I should also add that I have pirated things before. I don’t consider piracy a violation of intellectual property. Piracy is not theft. Piracy is copying. The violation of intellectual property that I am talking about is taking someone’s original idea and making money off of it. Piracy doesn’t involve stealing and selling something as your own. It’s giving away copies of something for free.
Property in an individualist anarchist society would operate on occupancy and use. It would operate on the idea that individuals have the right to use abandoned property to suit their needs. If that property is being occupied then it is the occupiers to use. Such a society is fair and maximizes individual liberty.