The "intellectual property" misnomer

Ben Finney bignose-hates-spam at
Sat Jul 12 08:09:16 CEST 2003

On 12 Jul 2003 00:27:49 -0500, Ian Bicking wrote:
> Functionally, though, I think the term intellectual property here
> works.

Only by accepting the fallacy that there is a meaning to the term
"intellectual property".  There is no such thing -- not in law, not in

"Intellectual property law" has some meaning, to lawyers.  But it is a
grave mistake to conclude from that there is such a concept as
"intellectual property" -- when no law recognises such a thing.

Copyright law recognises some legal privileges for copyright holders.
Patent law recognises some totally different legal privileges for patent
holders.  Trademark law recognises still more different legal privileges
to trademark holders.  And so on.

These are all separate, and the privileges granted by one are almost
completely unrelated to the privileges granted by the others.  To bundle
them together as "intellectual property rights" implies that they are
much the same, only different in application.  *That* is the "layman's
understanding", and it is *wrong*.

To imply that they all derive from some undefined "intellectual
property" is false, confusing, and harmful in that it encourages a
notion that intellectual objects are thought of as "property" when they
are not -- not in law, and not in the way we use them.

What the term *does* do is justify the actions of those who would
restrict what we can do with intellectual works, by analogy with
physical property rights.  This is a direct harm, very difficult to
undo -- and made much more difficult if we propagate the notion of
"intellectual property".

Please avoid the use of the term "intellectual property".

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