Could there be a right to own intellectual property?

  • Wilson J
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Abstract

Intellectual property typically involves claims of ownership of types, rather than particulars. In this article I argue that this difference in ontology makes an important moral difference. In particular I argue that there cannot be an intrinsic moral right to own intellectual property. I begin by establishing a necessary condition for the justification of intrinsic moral rights claims, which I call the Rights Justification Principle. Briefly, this holds that if we want to claim that there is an intrinsic moral right to φ, we must be able to show that (a) violating this right would typically result in either a wrongful harm or other significant wrong to the holder of the right, and (b) the wrongful harm or other wrong in question is independent of the existence of the intrinsic right we are trying to justify. I then argue that merely creating a new instance of a type is not the kind of action which can wrongfully harm the creator of that type. Insofar as there do seem to be wrongs involved in copying a published poem or computer program, these wrongs presuppose the existence of an intrinsic right to own intellectual property, and so cannot be used to justify it. I conclude that there cannot be an intrinsic right to own intellectual property.

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Authors

  • James Wilson

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