Related to this question on libertarianism on monopolies, how do libertarians in the USA, as represented by the Libertarian Party, view copyright and patent protections?

  • What would be interesting follow-up after we see answers is how the topic of patenting things found in nature, or patenting things not originally invented (but used for specific purpose) fall into that. Ex - Polaroid's successful patent infringement lawsuit against Kodak - Kodak argued that rollers have been around since the caveman, Polaroid argued that they haven't been used to spit a photo out of a camera, so they have a patent on rollers for that purpose. They won, and Kodak changed policy to become the #1 patent application submitter for years after that. May 26, 2017 at 14:51
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    Wikipedia seems to have a decent article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… May 26, 2017 at 15:40
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    I think its is probably too broad to tackle in a single question. IP has been intentionally broadened by IP lawyers and corporations that want to protect their interests. It should probably be broken up into patents, licencing, and creative works (like art and literature) May 26, 2017 at 16:17
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    This may fall into the bucket answer of "The government is incapable of efficiently tackling this complicated issue and should therefore stay out of it" that many libertarians default to.
    – discodane
    Jun 27, 2017 at 18:59
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    As a would-be libertarian (presumably), why do you need - let alone want - someone to decide this for you? Make up your own mind on the topic yourself. Oct 31, 2017 at 21:16

1 Answer 1


Many libertarians consider intellectual property to be artificial rights granted by the state[1,2,3]. They are essentially a state enforced monopoly on the allowable use of an idea or creative work.

A useful litmus test on whether a right is natural or artificial is to consider the right in the absence of a state. Would a society recognize that right if there were no state compelling them to? Could that right be practically enforced in the absence of a state?

With commonly accepted natural rights such as the right to life and the right to property the answers to both these questions is an unqualified "yes". Even before the development of private property (land) around 12000 BC-10000 BC there is a consensus among historians and anthropologists that humans recognized personal property. With intellectual property this is far less likely. To this day a large percentage of the population routinely ignores intellectual property law whenever the opportunity arises.

Without a state could an inventor or content creator insist intellectual property rights be included in contractual arrangements with distributors and retailers of his product? Sure. The question is what incentive would those parties have to engage in such a contract if there are other creative persons who make no such demands?

Of course to have the same reach of the state, any such contract would need to be viral in nature. By which I mean it would need to bind consumers beyond the first sale in perpetuity. Otherwise, even if distributors and retailers agreed to the contract, the consumer, as a third party, would be under no obligation to abide by it.

Contrast this with private property, which has both widespread acceptance and requires little more than a willingness to use force to defend it against trespass.

As for whether the tenets of libertarianism support intellectual property one need only compare intellectual property with those tenets.


Intellectual property assumes the inventor/creator has the right to control the use of his idea by others. This is at odds with the notion of self-ownership. If individuals are self-owners then the individual has a sole and exclusive right to his own mind and body and by extension, his own actions unless those actions violate the equal rights of other individuals. To claim that the act of copying and/or improving upon someone else's ideas is a violation of that person's rights you would first need to establish that their original creative act resulted in a natural right to prevent others from doing so. This is a tenuous argument at best.

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    I'd like it better with a source.
    – user9389
    Oct 31, 2017 at 20:38