*Update- In light of Lew Rockwell’s recent post and Robert Wenzel’s article, I will address new concerns soon in another piece. I also thank Wenzel for his response as libertarianism is a political theory that, like other theories, needs discussed and debated.
In what has to be one of the most puzzling lawsuits in recent history, former Congressman Ron Paul is disputing the ownership of the websites RonPaul.com and RonPaul.org. By filing complaint with the World Intellectual Property Organization of the United Nations, Paul is attempting to expropriate both sites from the current owners. The complaint argues that because Paul is owner of the â€œRon Paul U.S. trademark,â€ he is also entitled to â€œdomain names <RonPauL.com> and <RonPaul.org>â€ as they are â€œidentical to the RON PAUL mark.â€ According to the owners of RonPaul.com and RonPaul.org, they launched the website on May 1, 2008. Prior to, the domains were registered back in the years 1999 and 2000 respectively. There is no evidence the current owners acquired the sites through any wrongdoing.
For a champion of libertarianism like Ron Paul to launch this lawsuit is extremely disappointing. Normally a man of peace, the three-time presidential candidate is attempting to use state force to reclaim what he believes is his property. Economist Robert Wenzel recently came to Paulâ€™s defense by writing that the former Congressman is in the right because the use of his likeness is misleading. In the same post, he declares there are no natural rights, and therefore the internet should be governed differently.
Wenzelâ€™s defense, while spirited, is mistaken. The owners of RonPaul.com and RonPaul.org came into possession of the domain sites through homesteading. Before being acquired, the sites had no owner- they were effectively unowned property.
Murray Rothbard describes the homesteading principle as
“the way that unowned property gets into private ownership is by the principle that this property justly belongs to the person who finds, occupies, and transforms it by his labor. “
Homesteading assumes that man owns himself before he can justifiably mix his labor with unowned property. If he does not rationally come to the conclusion that it is within human nature for men to own themselves, then there is no basis for his ownership of other parts of the natural world. Because man derives from reason that he must own himself, no other person can exert ownership of him. The ideals of communal or government ownership of scarce goods imply that property is still able to be owned but by certain groups of people or society as a whole. But if individuals are to be denied single ownership, that would mean groups such as the state, which are made up of individuals, are not allowed ownership either. The same applies to a community as well. Either man is able to own property, including himself, or he is not. Reason dictates the former over the latter.
This is the basis for natural law from which natural rights come from. By using reason, men can discover a systematic order to life and ethics in the natural world. Instead of acting instinctively like animals, humanity is unique in that it can perceive between what is morally good and bad. With free will, ends can be found that conform to what is right. Since man owns himself and any unowned property he mixes his labor with, he has a right to do with that property what he will as long as he refrains from interfering with others. As James Sadowsky writes,
When we say that one has the right to do certain things we mean this and only this, that it would be immoral for another, alone or in combination, to stop him from doing this by the use of physical force or the threat thereof.
It follows that the owners of RonPaul.com and RonPaul.org are indeed the rightful possessors as they, in effect, homesteaded the domain sites. To enlist the violent force of the state to take it away would be just as wrong as reaching into someoneâ€™s wallet and snatching a handful of dollars. Perhaps more egregious is that a man such as Ron Paul is lobbying a governmental entity to do his bidding. Paul’s congressional career was highlighted by his refusal to engage in political corruption. His understanding of the cretinous disposition of the state is what made him a voice for liberty among the criminal class. Appealing to the World Intellectual Property Organization is the same kind of shameful maneuver that Paul honorably spoke out against for decades. It is a violation of the libertarian principles of peace, cooperation, and respect for property.
In his blog post defending Paul, Robert Weznel argues that rights are not natural but are rather â€œdesigned.â€ He states that “You can argue about who should design rights, how they should be designed, but they are nevertheless designed rights.” Immediately, Wenzel’s proposition leaves the possibility open to full-blown totalitarianism since government can become a designer of rights. Being a proponent of a private property society, Wenzel would likely not be in favor of such a destructive predicament. On numerous occasions, he has endorsed the non-aggression principle and rightfully called it the ethic of the civilized person. I can’t say for sure why Wenzel chose libertarianism as a preferred political philosophy but it’s clear he sees it as correct. In other words, he is using his reason to discover a law that is fitting of mankind. The non-aggression principle is based on the truth that humans own themselves and their property. It isn’t designed but is discovered by inquisition into the nature of man.
Wenzel’s antagonism toward the owners of RonPaul.com and RonPaul.org also stems from the names. Because the sites are named after the good Doctor, he views it as “misleading.”Â But the owners of both website claim they never portrayed themselves as running anything but fan pages. And with no assertion of official capacity, no fraud was committed. In the realm of the internet, there is no way to guard against visitors differentiating an authentic landing page from one run by supporters. Attempting to do so would devolve into draconian thought police.
Try as his supporters might, there is no sensible defense for Ron Paulâ€™s attempt to take the websites bearing his name by force. The owners of RonPaul.com and RonPaul.org have already attempted to sell the domains to Paul, including their mailing list of 170,000 addresses, for $250,000. Working out a deal through voluntary means would be the moral course for rectifying the dispute. Instead, the guns of the United Nations are being employed.
No man is perfect, especially a politician. But manâ€™s eternal imperfection does not justify violence toward the innocent. Ron Paul knows better; just as he understands the rights of those he is attempting to coerce. If he succeeds in reclaiming the site, it will be tainted with the blood of broken principles.