I often see engineers and artists defend intellectual property (IP) for the same reason, “But, but, I created it first therefore I should have control over whoever wants to use it.” As a voluntaryist, I do not support IP for moral reasons. And, as it so happens, the removal of IP leads to innovation and generally benefits society.
IP is not property at all, and copying is not theft. Many people can have the same idea at the same time without diminishing that idea in any way. Most of the time, in fact, it gets strengthened and improved upon if multiple people are involved. Multiple people cannot own the same camera and use it at the exact same time for their own purposes; this is what makes the camera property while the idea is not.
Instead, such things that are protected by IP should be considered services, rather than property. The thing that a chef sells is his services; anyone can use the same recipe, but we hire a chef to do the cooking for us. The same thing applies to art and engineering; those in these fields are hired for their services. If an engineer designs a new product, and releases those designs (or even the product) to the public, multiple people can build that product without harming the original idea. They might even improve on it – this is how we get innovation in the marketplace. But that engineer has no right to prevent anybody from using their own property to build whatever product they want to; he has no prior claim on the physical property of others, and as such he has no control over what those others chose to build with it. Traditional art is just as straightforward – the artist has no prior claim to another man’s art supplies and that other man can do with those supplies whatever he pleases, include recreating the artists piece. We see this all the time with the classic paintings – art students recreate them for practice and sometimes they are resold as just that, an artist recreation.
When we enter the digital world, things become a bit trickier. Now, recreations are easier and quicker and more accurate. Anyone can hit Ctrl+C and copy code, or a graphic, or really, anything, and have a copy of it. But this is really just a variation of the above situations. The artist or programmer, or whomever, put something online and it is available to the public. The public then, are each individually in control of their own computers, their own keyboards, and their own fingers when they copy something off the web. The original person who posted online has no prior claim or property right to the copier’s computer, keyboard, or fingers and therefore has no control over what the copier decides to do with them. The digital world has only changed the method of copying, and it does not grant new property rights.
I have no problems with Non-Disclosure Agreements, and if I have signed such a contract, I will honor it. I believe in contract law, and this is fairly straightforward. If I voluntarily agree to do (or not do) something in exchange for something else, this is a private contract and has no relation to IP. I have no problems with Coca-Cola keeping their soda formula secret because everyone who has access to that recipe has voluntarily agreed to not share it.
I have put this site in the Creative Commons By License. In the United States you automatically retain copyright unless voluntarily relinquished, and I am doing so. Feel free to use and innovate any ideas you see on this site in any way you see fit.