Tim Lee makes his case over at TechLiberation.Com for banishing the phrase “intellectual property.”
He gets off on the wrong foot with a bit about the current obsession, especially on the left, with the way in which issues are “framed,”
The words we use to describe the policies we advocate have a profound effect on how we think about them. Our choice of language has powerful effects in framing how we think about a subject.
The leading proponent of this idea is lefty George Lakoff and it is frankly nonsense. Certainly words may influence the debate at the margins, or where totalitarian governments are able to dictate what language is used (such as Nazi Germany’s “framing” of anti-Semitism), but even in the most extreme examples, the effects “framing” is vastly over-rated.
Typically when you find someone citing “framing” as a serious issue, you’ve found someone who is on the losing side of an issue. See, it isn’t that people have rejected your pet cause, but rather that your side just didn’t get “framed” properly. Once the “frame” is shifted, of course you’ll prevail.
What Lee dislikes is that the phrase intellectual property “suggests a misleading analogy to traditional property law,” but the major difference seems to be Lee’s view that traditional property law involves the state recognizing pre-existing property rights arrangements (which is a vastly oversimplified accounting of the rise of property rights), whereas intellectual property rights were created ex nihilo by governments.
Personally, I think “intellectual property” is very useful precisely because it is analogous with traditional property law. It accurately conveys exactly what contemporary copyrights and trademarks convey to holders of those monopolies — ownership of the work or mark in question, specifically the legal right to exclude others from using the copyrighted work or mark without permission.
As Cato’s Jim Harper puts it in the comments to Lee’s piece,
“Property” is a way of saying “thing.” The addition of the word “real” to make the phrase “real property” helps distinguish between movable things and immovable things. There’s no reason why we couldn’t adapt it to things that are products of cognition and volition and call them “intellectual property.” They have further distinct ‘properties’ that we should explore and discuss.
. . .
I think it’s better to take people on a long journey through all the conceptual and intellectual steps, using the most natural language possible, than to shortcut the process by banishing certain useful terms.