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How should an Objectivist legal system deal with abandoned property?

Posted by  $  CBJ 1 month, 2 weeks ago to Philosophy
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At present, governments have various means of disposing of unclaimed property such as bank accounts, cars and occasionally land. Such property can be abandoned for many reasons, such as the death of an owner who leaves no heirs, or deliberate abandonment because the property no longer has significant value. In many instances (no surprise) the government itself will take it. How should an Objectivist society treat such property?


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  • Posted by hvance 1 month, 1 week ago
    It should be put up for auction. No money, cars, property or anything else should be taken by the government. Private auction companies should handle it.
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    • Posted by  $  puzzlelady 1 month, 1 week ago
      Finders keepers?
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      • Posted by  $  Radio_Randy 1 month, 1 week ago
        I like it. If I found $100 laying on the ground and there was nobody around...well? What would be the difference?
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        • Posted by  $  puzzlelady 1 month, 1 week ago
          Or found a quarter lying in a parking lot... No problem. I think the question has to do with larger abandoned property, not accidental losses. In a society where everything is privately owned, or by partnerships or large numbers of participants, it is unlikely that someone leaves a car by the curb or out in a field forever. Things to be discarded would be recycled or sold for scrap or consigned to dealers. Where private property is so important, one's possessions would always be designated for a future owner.
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          • Posted by bassboat 1 month, 1 week ago
            We are talking about abandoned property for the most part such as a person dying with no will or relatives. Lost quarters or $100 bills are not part of the article in MHO.
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            • Posted by  $  puzzlelady 1 month, 1 week ago
              In a fully Objectivist society, people would responsibly protect their property and have wills or designated powers of attorney. There should be no such thing as estate taxes and government appropriation.
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              • Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 1 month, 1 week ago
                I appreciate the intention, but an "Objectivist society" is not a society of Objectivists. I mean, like the Renaissance or Classical Greece, the broader culture can have an implicit philosophy of lowercase-o objectivism, without everyone being a Rand Fan. In this case, I point out that you can not care one whit what happens to your "stuff" when you die. In The Fountainhead Henry Cameron ordered Roark to destroy everything in his office. (In fact, Cameron's inner conflict there is touching: on the way to the hospital, he says that he does not want to leave anything behind, but points proudly to a skyscraper: "I built that." ) You are under no obligation to have an attorney or a testament.

                I agree that estate taxes are ridiculous: the taxes were paid on them already.
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  • Posted by  $  Thoritsu 1 month, 1 week ago
    Should be just like a tree in a forest of unclaimed land.

    Maritime law is rich in rules for this.
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    • Posted by  $  Temlakos 1 month, 1 week ago
      Does maritime law distinguish between titled and untitled property? Cargo from a wrecked ship, washed ashore or fished out of the water, seems different from the ship itself, to which someone holds a clear title.
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      • Posted by  $  Thoritsu 1 month, 1 week ago
        Yes. A vessel is different than cargo. I am not an lawyer or real expert on the subject, but read about salvage and salvage law in my Marine Propulsion and other professional magazines. The laws that govern this are Admiralty Law and Marine Salvage.

        I find it interesting how specific, deep and broadly accepted these laws are. However, even a titled, large vessel, once it meets the criteria of "abandoned" is simply claimable by a salvage agent (real innovative, aggressive, risk-taking cowboys). I do not know the criteria for the salvage team maintaining claim, or eventually abandoning claim, but there are rules. Once the salvage team has claim, the original owner is out, unless teh owner hired the salvage agent under a specific contract to recover what is possible.
        Those cowboys can really be something. Sometimes they recover the entire ship, and it may be refurbished. Sometimes they strip it in place an sink it. One clear issue is if the "abandoned" vessel impedes a waterway. This must be rectified quickly, and changes the calculus.
        Cargo, is categorized (stolen from Wikipedia):
        Flotsam is floating wreckage of a ship or its cargo.
        Jetsam is part of a ship, its equipment, or its cargo that is purposely cast overboard or jettisoned to lighten the load in time of distress and is washed ashore.
        Lagan (also called ligan) is goods or wreckage that is lying on the bottom of the ocean, sometimes marked by a buoy, which can be reclaimed.
        Derelict is cargo that is also on the bottom of the ocean, but which no one has any hope of reclaiming (in other maritime contexts, derelict may also refer to a drifting abandoned ship).

        The remote, hazardous marine environment made these rules necessary a long time ago when capitalism and ruled. Seems like a good place to start by analogy for the benign environment of whiny land lubbers.
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  • Posted by  $  blarman 1 month, 1 week ago
    Great question, CBJ. In general societies in the past have created laws dealing with the way such are to be disposed that usually begin with default rights falling to government to then dole out according to Probate courts. I don't have a problem with the government being charged with the duty to find and resolve any claims upon the land and even an auction of the land in question.
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  • Posted by DoctorObvious 1 month, 1 week ago
    Look a little harder for the true owner before confiscating. I don't know.
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    • Posted by  $  Temlakos 1 month, 1 week ago
      That depends on the circumstances of the "abandonment." If the owner has died intestate, and left no issue, then (as I said to MikeMarotta in another thread) the probate court must hire an ancestry tracer to find the next of kin--however remote a cousin, or however many times removed the cousin is, from the owner.

      Now if the owner walked away from the property because he could not satisfy an obligation to it, then the property title passes to whoever laid the obligation on him. Here we deal not with abandonment by death but with foreclosure.

      Thus if an owned thing has a title, some person has a claim on it.

      Now if it doesn't have a title, then finders keepers, losers weepers. True, or false?
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  • Posted by dbhalling 1 month, 1 week ago
    First of all there is no such thing as property. You have property rights in things. When we say something is property we are using short hand. For instance, you have property rights in land, but land is not property.

    With that in mind we need to rephrase your question. If an object that was formerly owned by someone and that person loses or abandons the object who owns it? You obtain property rights in things by making them useful. As a guiding principle it would be the next person that found the object and made it useful. So if the object has not be made useful by someone the answer would be no one. However under the law we often make rules for practical reasons such as recording deeds makes evidence of ownership more clear and avoids disputes. One place where we can see this is in estates law. When a person dies they abandon their property – a dead person cannot have property rights. Under a pure philosophical response we would say the next person to make, for instance, the land the person who died had property rights in, would be the owner. However, this would be chaotic and lead to fights. As a result, we decide that when a person dies he can say who has the first shot at acquiring property rights in the dead person’s object or we have a statute that does the same thing.
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    • Posted by lrshultis 1 month, 1 week ago
      As Rand pointed out, a right is a moral principle which sanctions and defines one's freedom of action in a social context. Not sure that was an exact quote, so left off the quotation marks.
      One need not make something useful to have a right in its use. A property right would be a freedom to act with respect to certain existents without obtaining permission from others. Usefulness is not a defining term for property, only an individuals opinion as to some of his property. I would sure hate to have you come to my property and decide whether each bit of it is useful by your standards. I have about 1500 books, with more than half of them not having been useful in several decades. Should they be removed from my house so that someone else could find usefulness in them? By your standards, the extra car that was licensed, insured, and runnable, which I lost because I had not used it for a couple of months, so was declared a junk vehicle, and required to be junked, was justly taken from me due to it not having some proper usage at the time? Should one be free to keep property without demonstrating the usefulness of it to others?
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      • Posted by Kittyhawk 1 month, 1 week ago
        Salta explained this above: "Once [property] is owned it does not have to be "used" at all. The productive use requirement applies only to making the first claim on unowned [property], for example when homesteading the frontier."
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      • Posted by dbhalling 1 month, 1 week ago
        Please use the term property rights. There is no such thing as property.

        If something is unowned, you can only properly obtain property rights in something by making it useful. It may only be useful to you, but unless you do this you do not have property rights in the object and other can take it.

        You are confusing cause and effect.
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        • Posted by lrshultis 1 month, 1 week ago
          By distinguishing a sub-category of rights as that of property, there is an inference that there exists something known as property. You cannot just act freely, a right, with respect to reality without acting with respect to something. In the case of property rights, that something is property. In the case of your usual dear intellectual property, it is not just some brain patterns, thought, that is the property but the actual writings or useful objects that are the property.
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          • Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 1 month, 1 week ago
            Thanks. I tried to write a single sentence referring to "property rights" without the precondition of "property" and it was hard to do. I agree with dbhalling's obvious assertion that you can have a "bundle" of separable rights in something, but, as you note, the existence of the "something" is a precondition.

            Rand pointed out that in the case of copyright, the law properly protects the expression (print, performance), but not the ideas. You cannot prevent someone from knowing what they know. That is the "brainwaves" you refer to: they are not separable property, but in and of your person -- at least for the present...

            There was a libertarian theorist, Andrew J. Galambos (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_... who gave lectures for which he demanded and got people to sign non-disclosure agreements. He prevented them from repeating his ideas, apparently, but, of course, could not prevent them from applying them to their own lives -- which was the purpose of the lectures.
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            • Posted by lrshultis 1 month, 1 week ago
              If one does not want someone to use its (if you prefer sexism or gender reference, his/her ) idea, do not disclose it in speech or writing.

              Do you know whether Rand actually tried to stop the Libertarian Party from using the non-agression principle because she thought of it and wrote it somewhere and copyrighted it and the party did not get permission to use her property ? I would suspect that by writing it somewhere it became freely usable for any mind to use it philosophically as in the platform for the Libertarian party?
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              • Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 1 month, 1 week ago
                AFAIK, Ayn Rand took no actions against the LP. As she pointed out, objectively, she had no way to prevent them from knowing what they knew. They could not reprint Atlas, of course, but they could use the ideas any way they wished.
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          • Posted by dbhalling 1 month, 1 week ago
            No all rights start from property rights.
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            • Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 1 month, 1 week ago
              We have a pun with "OWN" in Germanic languages. The root is "one." To say that you OWN your OWN self is poetic truth, but confuses the concepts. As Irshultis pointed out, someone has to have these rights. A bundle of separable rights in property can only be held by a person. Personhood is antecedent.

              The root meaning of "property" is also lost. I have a coin from Cato the Younger. The obverse says PRO PER. He struck them from his own silver on his own authority to buy the (temporary) loyalty of the people of Utica. (There's a lot of PRO words and PER words in Latin, both rooted in PR="first"). We accept it as "for himself" but it just meant "for during" i.e., for the exigent circumstances.

              My point is that we build concepts that are represented by somewhat arbitrary sounds. It is something of an accident that we call stuff "property." We could call it "vork." But it is not entirely an accident. The word "property" was invented from PRO PER (as in "right and proper") for a reason, otherwise, it would not have been understood by the people of the Middle Ages. The Romans understood "propertus" only as "haste." The underlying idea, though, is that ownership in property is fleeting, not eternal.

              That may be a false idea. The seemingly obnoxious Digital Millennium Copyright Act might correctly identify the fact that intellectual property - Mickey Mouse in particular - never passes to the public domain, but must always belong to someone.
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              • Posted by dbhalling 1 month, 1 week ago
                Everything is starts with the property rights in one self
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                • Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 1 month, 1 week ago
                  So, as I read your posts on this and related topics, a person is not property but is a bundle of severable rights in personhood. That bundle must also change and grow and diminish as the person goes from embryonic near-nothingness to senility. A newborn cannot drive a car; and you can get the court to take away Grandpa's license.

                  All of that is arbitrary and arguable specifically because, as Irshultis pointed out, you are ignoring the object (person, land, musical composition, etc.) in which these rights are considered.

                  By your logic, selling my rights to a musical composition is not essentially different from selling myself into slavery, only in degree, not kind. Moreover, your argument - supportable, perhaps from Roman Law - is that a slave still has some rights. I think that most people here would disagree with that.
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  • Posted by  $  floreo 1 month, 1 week ago
    Private property rights are the most trampled of all in our society. Owners of property are out numbered by the masses for whom the elected strive to get all they can to keep up with the outrageous entitlements and giveaways.
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  • Posted by  $  Temlakos 1 month, 1 week ago
    Probate law should extend to finding absolutely any "nearest of kin," no matter how remote, to any deed holder of record who dies without making a will or putting the property into a trust.

    If the deed holder is a company, and not an individual or sole proprietor, the property should pass to the shareholders of record.

    There are ways to establish ownership of property that might appear unclaimed. A government that just takes it is, to say the least, lazy, and to say the most, deliberately stealing.
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    • Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 1 month, 1 week ago
      Why should genetics ("bloodline") be important in passing ownership? By putting "nearest of kin" in quotes are you suggesting that the probate court find any "deserving" person and pass the property on to them?

      The Objectivist theory of unclaimed property (as I understand Ayn Rand's brief comments on this) does not allow the government to take the actual property for its own use. The government is only the keeper of title to the property.
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      • Posted by  $  Temlakos 1 month, 1 week ago
        Bloodline has by tradition been the method for determining how title to property passes when its owner dies intestate. By default, the property passes to the next-of-kin. Now by listing a property as "unclaimed" after death, the original poster projects a situation in which the person has no living relatives any nearer than a ridiculously high-number degree. In which case the probate court has no choice other than to turn to an expert in ancestry tracing to find, if necessary, a tenth cousin once or twice removed to inherit.

        How else would you have property title pass by default if the owner dies intestate?
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        • Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 1 month, 1 week ago
          Hold an auction. Government surplus already has been auctioned off as the normal means of redistributing to private ownership that which was in the public trust.

          That was one proper way that the airwaves have been privatized (although the government wrongfully continues to "manage" or "oversee" their use). See "The Property Status of the Airwaves" in Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal. In fact, the Nash Equilibrium auctions brought spectrum rights to new owners at less cost to the individuals, but with greater return to the government.

          A simple random number drawing (lottery) would also work, and that also been done.

          As a philosophy of reality and reason, Objectivism seeks answers that are based on absolute truths. From that rational-empiricism (the "scientific method"; small-o objectivism), the goal is to find truths that do not depend on tradition, intuition, or revelation.

          "Bloodline" might seem obvious to you, but my wife's family has been in America so long that they do not know who the first immigrant was. My four grandparents all came from different places in Europe. My wife and I have this amusing argument about who is "really" a relative. In your case, would you exclude "affines" (what we call "in-laws")? You cannot prove that one way or the other. It is not objective.
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          • Posted by  $  Temlakos 1 month, 1 week ago
            OK. But I'm not talking about property that was ever in the public trust. I'm talking about property that belonged to someone, now deceased. We seem to differ only in the degrees of kinship the probate court ought to trace. I plump for unlimited tracing. You don't. Obviously you would set the limit at some degree of blood relations, or marriage. Where would you set that limit?
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            • Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 1 month, 1 week ago
              I reject "bloodline" entirely, as being non-objective. Different cultures have different ways to define who is related to whom and how closely. And I not talking about New Guinea or New Caledonia, but right here in our own country. It is non-objective, based in mystical and mythical traditions. Your call for "unlimited tacing" has too many problems. That is why I pointed to auctions, and suggested at least a lottery.

              At the American Numismatic Association, they went through some minor pain when they wanted to put all 125+ years of The Numismatist online as a benefit to membership. Shirttail relatives of dead authors demanded copyright royalties for the re-publication of the work. It was nonsense.
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              • Posted by  $  Temlakos 1 month, 1 week ago
                Hold on. Intellectual property rights are one of the cardinal principles of Objectivist theory and practice. Recall that Rand objected strongly to the Fair Use Doctrine in the 1973 Copyright Act. She would likely be the first to advocate for those "shirttail relatives."
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            • Posted by  $  1 month, 1 week ago
              I would tend to favor bloodline as a starting point, but if there are no known close relatives then the problems of time and expense crop up. A modest estate could easily be eaten up by search costs, and when the potential relatives become sufficiently distant there is an increased likelihood that a closer relative will be missed. In my case my father was an orphan, so I can't trace back to any of his relatives, living or dead, except indirectly by DNA. Perhaps the search for relatives should stop after a uniform designated time has elapsed or a uniform percentage of the estate has been depleted in the search.
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  • Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 1 month, 1 week ago
    As I understand Rand's brief comments on that, she spoke about the organization of the frontier into territories and then states by registering the ownership of farms to those who worked the land.

    By extension, in a "libertarian" society, in which the dominant implicit philosophy is Objectivism, several options are moral. It depends on the actual property in question.

    An abandoned lot of land can be occupied and worked and the deed be registered.

    An abandoned intellectual property would just advance to the commons. Anyone and everyone could use it. Unlike land, intellectual property is non-rival and non-exclusive. Title comes entirely from the government. It has no "natural" foundation. So, there is no practical means of securing it without a primary owner. If the owner dies intestate, then it has no new owner.

    The question of movable property might be closed off by considering that everything on Earth is literally on the Earth. If you find an unowned property with an automobile on it, the automobile is "chattels" on the land, and part of its ownership.

    However, it is possible that an objective (or "Objectivist") legal system could delineate moveable property ("chattels" - originally "cattles") from the land itself and allow primary ownership of the land separate from other stuff on it. And a case in point would be an automobile abandoned on a public street. ... or a forklift in an abandoned factory.
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    • Posted by  $  WilliamShipley 1 month, 1 week ago
      I am struggling with Rand's "productive use" argument for acquiring land. There are large areas of land that someone currently owns but are not putting into productive use. Does this mean that anyone can come in and put it to productive use? How much productivity do you have to get from your property before no one is allowed to simply take it over?
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      • Posted by salta 1 month, 1 week ago
        Once land is owned it does not have to be "used" at all. The productive use requirement applies only to making the first claim on unowned land, for example when homesteading the frontier.
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    • Posted by  $  1 month, 1 week ago
      I’m not sure what, exactly, constitutes “abandonment” of intellectual property. Atlas Shrugged brought up a scenario that touched upon this issue but didn’t fully resolve it. Dagny asked John Galt why he left the prototype of the motor he invented to the Starnes heirs, and he replied, “It was their father’s property. He paid me for it. It was made on his time.” This being the case, did the Starnes heirs eventually cease to have intellectual property rights in the motor, empowering John Galt with the right to re-create it? I haven’t come up with a good answer to this question.
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      • Posted by salta 1 month, 1 week ago
        If an invention is created by employees of a business, the invention is owned by the business, as is the prototype (it was made by the business). Galt cannot legally re-make onother one outside the business and use it to compete with it. But in the Gulch he is not competing within the economy.
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        • Posted by  $  jbrenner 1 month, 1 week ago
          The Twentieth Century Motor Company ceased to exist, AND the Starnes heirs neither wanted to, nor knew how to, take advantage of the intellectual property that Galt created in the form of the motor. This question is an important one and is one I am going to start a new discussion on:

          https://www.galtsgulchonline.com/post...
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          • Posted by  $  1 month, 1 week ago
            The motor was a prototype and more likely in the "trade secret" category rather than the "patent" category. The Starnes heirs showed no interest in it, but they nevertheless owned it. So the question still is, at what point did John Galt acquire the right to build, improve on and use an invention that he had originally developed as a "work for hire"?
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            • Posted by  $  jbrenner 1 month, 1 week ago
              The question of patent vs. trade secret is an important one. Once one abandons a patent, I think that someone else pursuing intellectual property in that area is easier to accept ethically. Trade secrets on the other hand are not quite as clear. Good point. +1
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              • Posted by salta 1 month, 1 week ago
                Are there any laws around trade secrets? I thought that would be a part of an employment contract.
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                • Posted by  $  1 month, 1 week ago
                  Non-disclosure and non-compete agreements are typically enforceable in court. Unfortunately Atlas Shrugged did not address this issue or the related patent issue, except to make it clear that John Galt did not have any intellectual property rights to the motor he invented at the time he quit the company.
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        • Posted by  $  jbrenner 1 month, 1 week ago
          Are you sure? If the Starnes heirs abandon their company and don't sell it to anyone, does that mean that no one can ever again build a product (or company) based on that abandoned technology? I think in that case that you are incorrect. You have to pay government patent offices a yearly fee to maintain your patent. If you abandon it, ...
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          • Posted by salta 1 month, 1 week ago
            Sure? no. But from what I remember, the motor company went bankrupt. So maintaining any patents would be done by those administering the assets (not mentioned in the book I think). You are right, there would be a time that they would let patents lapse, just because there was nobody left smart enough to make use of the ideas.
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        • Posted by  $  1 month, 1 week ago
          According to some theories of intellectual property rights, Galt would not be entitled to make one for his own use either, regardless of whether it was intended to be used for commercial purposes.
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          • Posted by salta 1 month, 1 week ago
            True, in the real world. Gulch use of the motor might be commercial, but it is non-competing, because 20th Cent Motors did not have access to the Gulch economy. This example is fictional though, so applying real world IP laws might be difficult.
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            • Posted by  $  1 month, 1 week ago
              Since the (fictional) example of the motor invented by John Galt appears in Atlas Shrugged, it is appropriate to explore what the example of his subsequent use of the motor implies about a proper Objectivist theory of intellectual property. Here in the Gulch there are many competing views on this topic.
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      • Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 1 month, 1 week ago
        Easily enough, the composer of a song dies without leaving heirs. I am not sure of the present status, but for about 100 years, the estate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle jealously guarded their property rights, especially in the "Sherlock Holmes" stories, even maintaining staff to send out form letter replies to people who wrote to 221B Baker Street. But you can reprint any Jack London book you want to; and you can write a new dog story about King, if you want.
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  • Posted by macdbham 1 month ago
    Actually abandonment is a misnomer if you look at it from a pure property standpoint. Just because they chose to do nothing with it does not mean they have given up on it. If its in an area with depressed values then they could be biding their time till value rises then sell. As for no heirs then it should revert to the city or county that is the most local in terms of non state (literal) entities for their use but notice must be given to allow for non discovered persons that might have a claim to make themselves known. All other cases the property doss not change hands. Even in a case of no property taxes paid it would not change hsnds as a tax on property simply for existing that when unpaid leads to a seizure is saying that you only own it while you pay our extortion which is akin to organized crime protection rackets.
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  • Posted by rainbowstew 1 month ago
    In most states, these various forms of "unclaimed property" are turned over to the state, after a certain period of time, and the state maintains a list of who the former owner was. If the former owner or his/her heirs come along and can prove their ownership rights, the state will return the money (or whatever) to them. If no one claims it, the state will keep it forever. In some states, they have state employees whose job it is to try to find these people and return the money to them. They will also publish information on these things by way of newspaper legal ads, big computer printed lists (which can be several inches thick) which they will set up at state fairs, etc. This is also now done on the internet - see www.missingmoney.com - who knows, they might have something of yours! But to me, all of this is a form of respecting the property rights of the legal owners.
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  • Posted by  $  Olduglycarl 1 month, 1 week ago
    Government should NOT profit at all. Parties interested should enter a non monetary lottery. These parties cannot work for, represent or at anytime done business with any government what so ever.
    Another consideration is to allow the community to decide by vote what is to be done with said property.
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  • Posted by  $  rbroberg 1 month, 1 week ago
    Who produced the property?
    Bank accounts should go to the bank.
    Cars should go to the prior owner or manufacturer.
    Land should revert to prior owner.
    Unless this imposes a financial obligation those parties do not wish to assume. That said, property tax should be unlawful.
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    • Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 1 month, 1 week ago
      That is interesting. Thanks for that. It solves a lot of common problems. It still leaves open the cases of original property rights for creations and inventions (copyrights and patents).

      Again, above, I cited the case of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle versus Jack London. Doyle's estate jealously guarded their rights under UK law, whereas London's works passed into the public domain. As such no one owns them and anyone can use them.

      The fact is that intellectual property is non-rival and non-exclusive. So, it must be governed by different laws than land or automobiles. Indeed, cars as "chattels" are separable from the land on which they sit. So, machineries, tools, etc., objective considerations indicate that they should have different kinds of laws, not just rules derived from real estate law.
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