I have followed the discussion of copy and patent rights in Liberty with more than usual interest, because I believe them to be of the most important subjects before the world of social science today. Long ago I came to the conclusion that the sole solution of the machinery monopoly was the total annihilation of the patent right system, but the question of copyright came to me prominently only when the printers of Washington and the East became interested in the Chase copyright bill. Without giving the subject especial thought, the problem presented itself to my mind as being in the nature of a protective tariff, and I was
agin it. A circular was read some years ago in the printers’ union of Detroit urging the printers to pass resolutions favoring the Chase bill and to notify the congressman from this district of our wishes in the matter. The circular brought out considerable discussion, and I then took occasion to make a few remarks against copyright. The union took my view of the matter and laid the circular on the table. Mr. Tucker’s criticism of Mr. George’s article in the Standard made the matter quite clear to me. I could then see no difference between a patent right and a copyright, and I can now see no difference. When Mr. Tucker was in Detroit some months ago, we had a brief talk on the subject, and the difficulty of recompense to author and to inventor was in my mind then, and it is there yet. Of one thing I am satisfied: the equitable way to recompense authors and inventors is not to give them a monopoly of their inventions. Besides my own conviction on the matter, ample reasons have been given in Liberty to make that conviction stronger still.
Suppose I am the employer of a large number of people in a given industry, and I think out a plan whereby their labor, through a system of subdividing it, is made vastly more productive, have I a right to prevent all other employers from subdividing the labor of their employees in the same manner?
If by years of careful training and hard study I become a great actor, learn and practise the voice tones and physical gestures different from any one who preceded me, so as to influence vast audiences as they were never before influenced, bringing to me wealth and fame, have I the right to prevent any one else from using the voice and making the gestures precisely as I have done?
If by many and costly experiments I learn how to breed the finest horses, where do I get the right to prevent others from taking advantage of my experiments and breeding fine horses also?
The answers to these questions, it seems to me, will be that I have no right of property in these ideas; and, if there be no right of property in these ideas, then there can be no right of property in any ideas.
The question of recompense is not necessarily involved in the denial of the right to property in ideas. This is another question, and one which I hope Mr. Tucker and his coadjutors will take up.