"Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce." (Source: WIPO)
This assertion is itself propaganda for a property view of these works or marks. While widely accepted in Western culture, it is hotly disputed in India, China and other developing nations. Economist Lester Thurow claims that only in nations whose culture derived from practices of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all of which share a vision of man as "created in God's image", is the creative power of the individual assumed to be worthy of violent state property protection. These nations have imposed the intellectual property system and benefit from it - the United States and the United Kingdom are the only two nations who consistently receive net benefits in cash flow from IP royalties. For all others the benefits are theoretical. In some cases (as with the debate over genetically-modified foods to ease African famine), the use of IP-protected GM foods has provided no benefit, but actually put many lives at risk.
Intellectual property (IP) is the extension of the principles of physical property ownership and management to the domain of ideas and inventions, separate from their physical manifestations. A car is physical property; the blueprints and expertise required to build, and possibly operate, that car are intellectual property. Thus, the phrase is a form of doublespeak. Property can be controlled, stolen, or destroyed, but information cannot, and yet those who flock to the banner of IP restrictions continue to employ the phrase.
The related debate on intellectual capital has similar characteristics, with some claiming that intellect itself (individuals and the instructions that they generate, improve, refine or refute) can be considered as equivalent to more physical means of production.
Further confusion is enabled by the fact that copyright, generally intended to protect creative works and expressions, patent, generally intended to protect more instructional works that describe how to produce an invention or carry out a process, and trademark, intended to protect reputation, are all lumped together by this term. The three types of instruments have different histories, different intent, and protect (in the modern analysis that grants capital status to individual creativity, instructions, and social repute) three different kind of capital. Even if asserting that any of the three is property is acceptable, asserting that all three deserve it for the same reasons is not.
Unlimited abuse is possible, and extant, due to this confusion alone. But there appears also to be willingness by large corporate owners of IP to use the confusion and propaganda to gain effective control over artists and inventors, exactly the people whom IP legislation was intended to protect in the first place. Such controls have been expertly employed by industry associations such as the MPAA and the RIAA. The latter exemplifies the powers and the dangers of IP legislation; Courtney Love explains the breakdown of the system designed to protect the "rights of artists" to profit from their very own intellectual property.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a piece of U.S. legislation designed to strongly enforce intellectual property rights, has been widely regarded as a tool to chill free speech. Given that free speech and uncensored discourse is the antithesis of propaganda and disinformation, the effects of controlling access to intellectual property begin to resemble more and more closely the idea of thoughtcrime. While the Orwellian sense of "thoughtcrime" refers to totalitarian control of the masses by the state, the DMCA and its ilk provide a means to enforce limitations on speech or actions that interfere with the commercial ambitions of corporations and other producers of intellectual property. In effect, propaganda itself becomes intellectual property, with all the attendant protections and privileges, so that it cannot be easily quoted, satirized, mocked, mimicked or distributed to those who would be able to make such comment, or attach it to the work(s).
The most marked impact of this has been the claiming of generic terms as trademark and the related claiming of domain names as property, worldwide, making it for instance easy to purchase and protect a domain like "cheapcars.com" and selling cars that are anything but cheap, immune to criticism. While this was in effect what ".com" was intended for, this name-for-sale system has now spread to ".org", ".net", and the country-code domains that were intended to actually portray those nations accurately.
Conversely, the entry of trademarks into the vernacular, such as "Xerox", have been vigorously opposed by trademark holders, who refer to it as 'genericide', to the point where lawyers contacted an online lexicon to remove the term "google". In cases where a domain name was also a trademark, the ICANN arbitration process has consistently favored trademark holders over the "first come, first served" domain registrants, many of whom registered their domain names in good faith, and/or registered their domains before the trademark in question was even registered. In such cases the notion that one's registered domain name constitutes his intellectual property appears to be trumped by trademark status.
The application of intellectual property protection in an effort to conceal details of the software used in a democratic process is particularly troubling. See Voting machine for details.