Alexander Baker uses his idea of intellectual space to defend a version of copyright (but not patent). Why is he so modest? Why not also use it to explain statism?

Baker claims that when someone writes a song, the writer homesteads a location in intellectual space. Anyone who listens to the song, or plays it, or copies it, or covers it, or mashes it up, or samples it, etc. without permission, trespasses on the author’s intellectual property. Although my possession of a copy of the song does not prevent the author or anyone else from doing anything, Baker insists that the productive aspect of the song object in intellectual space is rivalrous, and therefore property. The author should be allowed to control the use of the creation, limiting access to it to create scarcity from abundance. The artificial nature of the scarcity of this good and the imaginary nature of the intellectual space matter not, according to Baker.

If we accept Baker’s idea, we can easily take it further. Think of the prohibition on marijuana. The legislature has claimed the right to command us not to possess, use, sell, or distribute this substance, and they claim we are obligated to obey. They have hired agents that will kidnap us and hold us prisoner if we disobey. Haven’t they created a property in intellectual space? And pot smokers have trespassed on that property, earning their just punishment. Any and every malum prohibitum law can be viewed as a property claim in intellectual space. So Baker’s model nicely explains and justifies arbitrary state authority.

Why should we accept Baker’s idea? What is the alternative? In a previous post about copyright I suggested that it makes sense to own physical objects, but not information. Can we use property to describe morality when we make this distinction between physical property in the physical world and “communism” in the realm of ideas?

The idea that we should not artificially restrict intellectual goods, does not mean that we should not show gratitude to creators of ideas. Some obligations must be enforced by physical force, others may be enforced by social means. The enforcement mechanism, like the punishment, should be appropriate to the crime.

Note that the moral prohibition against murder does not require any intellectual space exploration to support it. Murder involves depriving actual persons of their lives, of harming their physical bodies. Malum in se laws apply to physical property, they stay on the physical side of the conceptual/physical divide (actual or threatened damage to physical objects).

As I wrote in my previous post, I prefer to think of everything having physical and informational aspects. No pure idea exists without a mind to think it, and every physical object could be described as a list of molecules plus information about how they are arranged. Own the molecules, share the arrangement. Copy the object and the owner of the molecules owns the copy. The molecules are difficult to share or copy, the arrangement is easy to copy and share. We homestead thoughts by thinking them, and we possess them exclusively by keeping them secret. Using your mind should not be considered a punishable offense.

The state created the metaphor of intellectual property, and it has been repeated so often that the dead metaphor has become an example of the fallacy of reification. When someone writes a song, something happens in their brain and mind. They can share it or not, get paid for it or not, as they wish. Intellectual space metaphors don’t help.

Maybe it would be simpler to just think of the government claiming to own all marijuana, and part of my income, and to think of Baker as claiming to own any physical object storing a copy of his song. Intellectual space is just an excuse for arbitrary power. Ownership of some metaphysical substance outside the physical universe should provide privileges only to inhabitants of such imaginary worlds, not to real human beings.