One of my pet peeves is when, in an attempt to help convey to others the seriousness of respecting copyrights, patents, and trademarks, somebody says, "Intellectual property is property!" This is often followed by an emotional appeal that just as you would hesitate before breaking into somebody's house and stealing their TV, you should also hesitate before passing on a digital file.
Often, people then respond, "but if I take the TV, you don't have it any more. If I copy a digital file, you still have the digital file!"
I have very rarely, if ever, seen a considered counter to that response. Most often, what I see are expressions of disgust, lamentations that "kids these days" don't respect how much work and creativity goes into making the copied work in the first place, reminders that while the copy may be free, the original production was not, etc.
But the fact is, this response makes it very clear that physical property (like a TV) and intellectual property (like a recording of a song) are not exactly the same thing. Any argument based on the equivalence of the two is either going to lead to thoughtless jingoism (which I so often see on the side of the copyright maximalists) or thoughtful dismissal.
If you sit back and think about real property, there are other forms of property that aren't like a TV. Consider land. A TV you can sell, and take away and give somewhere else. You can, with effort, materials, and time, make a copy of TV. Land is a finite resource, however. You can't make a copy of land. You also can't take land somewhere else. Your use of your land affects your neighbors in ways that your use of your TV does not, which is why we have zoning laws and homeowners' association regulations for land whereas other than noise pollution ordnances, there aren't similar laws for the use of a TV.
Neither of these are like intellectual property. With both a TV and with land, only one person (or group) can own it. Another person cannot take it without depriving the first person of it.
Here's a third example: a herd of cattle. On the face of it, this is like a TV. You take my cows, I don't have my cows any more. But, there's a difference. I can use my cows to make more cows. When my cows breed and I have new cows, I'm now the owner of new cows. In some ways, this is like "intellectual property"— if you view copyright as a form of ownership, then if you own a work, you also own the copies of that work. Sort of.
But it's still not the same. Cows cannot be identically copied. It takes far more resources to make a new cow than it does to make a copy of a digital music file. If I give away 1, or 100,000, or more, copies of a single music file, I still have a copy that works just as well; I can't do anything like that with the cow, given that cows don't have litters of hundreds of thousands.
So saying "intellectual property is property" falls down upon examination. There are a lot of ways in which those things called intellectual property are very different from everything else we think of as property. As such, I find the exhortation "intellectual property is property" to be worse than useless. It obfuscates the issues, but does so in such a way that seems to shut out intelligent debate about what's going on. Indeed, the very term "intellectual property" seems to presume a number of foregone conclusions about how we should be treating copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Especially in the USA, where we believe (or, if I may presume to say so, understand) that some level private property rights are essential to maintaining a free society, tacking the term "property" on to copyrights and the like will tend to bias people towards wanting to make them stronger.
I will offer further thoughts on this issue soon. Next: the key recognition that copyright is fundamentally at odds with an even more basic pillar of a free society....