Would we buy this argument for other products? Say that lots of people are shoplifting from a store, to the point that others are starting to think that it’s OK to steal from stores. We could tell the store owner: “Don’t whine to us about that, or demand government intervention to protect your supposed property rights; choose another business model that isn’t harmed by shoplifting! Start carrying only promotional goods with lots of logos, which some advertisers will pay you to carry. Or just rely on the voluntary contributions of paying customers. In any case, come up with something, don’t demand government help in the form of police or courts.”It’s true, of course, that IP has important features not shared by traditional property (non-rivalry in consumption, most notably). But as Eugene correctly points out, that’s distinct from the “always another business model” argument.
I don’t think we would... Rather, we’d think that the store owner should be protected by the government — by having the legal system enforce property law — from consumer infringement of its property rights.
A related anti-IP argument is the claim that “protection of intellectual property diverts investment from ideas that aren’t legally protected to those that are.” For instance, if technological production techniques are protected but managerial techniques are not, then firms will find it more worthwhile (than it would be otherwise) to invest in the former than the latter. But a variant of Eugene’s question applies here as well: Would we buy this argument for other types of investment, such as those in traditional property assets? Currently, land ownership is relatively well protected, but ocean ownership is not. As a result, people will be more likely to make improvements in their land (draining swamps, removing pests, fertilizing the soil, etc.) than to make improvements in the oceans (encouraging growth of fish stocks, cleaning up pollutants, etc.). Is this an argument against private property in land? Or is it an argument for finding ways to create private property in the oceans, if possible? I think the latter.
So I’m not understood, I’m not necessarily advocating the extension of IP to any particular category where it doesn’t already apply. Just as it might prove impossible or prohibitively costly to privatize the ocean, it might be impossible or prohibitively costly to extend IP to some new categories of ideas. It’s also possible that, given changing technology that increases enforcement costs, it could be sensible to strip IP protection from some areas previously covered. My point is that the efficient choice will depend on the costs and benefits of such protection.