Random Acts of Government

by S.M. Oliva
Mises Economics Blog
Jul. 01, 2010

Yesterday I posted the press release from the alliance of government agencies and Hollywood studios now patrolling the Internet to thwart savage, non-Johnny Depp acts of “piracy.” Led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Copyright Cartel -- I can’t think of a more clever name -- vowed to “get the illegal choices out of the marketplace,” according to Hollywood lobbyist Mike Robinson, who thanked the Cartel for making the protection of intellectual property a “priority.” Because government values nothing more then the protection of property rights. And who can argue with that?

Still, I’m confused. Because on the same day the Copyright Cartel vowed to protect IP by eliminating “illegal choices” from the market, the Federal Trade Commission announced an order that violates the property rights of Pilot Corporation, a firm that operates travel centers catering to long-haul truckers. The FTC seized 26 travel centers from Pilot and gave them to one of Pilot’s competitors, whom the FTC said had “aggressive expansion plans,” which apparently required the FTC’s help to succeed. (Officially, the FTC justified its use of eminent domain by claiming Pilot’s recent acquisition of another rival illegally reduced the number of competing travel centers that customers were entitled to, thus requiring corrective action.) In this case, preserving competition took precedence over property rights -- a reversal of the Copyright Cartel’s position.

Then there’s the Justice Department’s announcement earlier this week that it successfully extracted $30 million in capital from a liquid-crystal display manufacturer -- part of a larger campaign that’s removed nearly $1 billion in capital from the entire liquid-crystal display industry -- in an effort to make that market more “competitive.” You see, several years ago a number of LCD manufacturers allegedly held discussions among themselves about prices; and even though such discussions were voluntary and involved the sale of the companies’ own property, the DOJ claims this violated the “rights” of consumers who later purchased LCD displays. The DOJ said customers were overcharged. (Of course, the DOJ won’t use any of the funds it seized from the companies to compensate “injured” consumers.)

Again, this is curious. LCD customers were supposedly overcharged for products they voluntarily purchased, while according to the Copyright Cartel, customers paid too little to view content hosted by certain websites. It seems only the government can determine the correct price for any good or service -- and “intellectual property” rights are consistently afforded greater state protection than old-fashioned tangible property rights.

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