Monday, March 17, 2008

The Ethics of Intellectual Property Rights - Part 1

I have been pondering the issues of Intellectual Property Rights, copyrights, piracy, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) as of late. I have come to some conclusions and have decided to share my views.

Critique #1 - Creation in a Vacuum

The concept of intellectual property rights is a continued assumption that the individual is the primary agent. That is to say the individual being is the nexus point for all action and thus reducible to the individual. This is exemplified in the mental health field with mental diagnoses being only focused on individual diagnosis. This is exemplified in the criminal court system with crimes being reduced to the individual "who does the crime." While these are two quick and broad stroking examples, such ideologies also seem to be applicable to the intellectual property rights as it questions: "who owns intellectual property?", but the question is framed in the assumed context that an individual is the answer, so we debate which individual that should be. The overt egocentric, and overly base, conception that the individual is the creator, doer, and owner of everything in its own domain is yet another perversion of Manifest Destiny.

I ask of anyone who creates, discovers*, invents, etc, the following question (I would hope this would include every living human):

Do you believe that you are the necessary and only necessary condition for your invention, creation, etc. to exist? In other words, would whatever you are supposedly the creator exist if and only if you created it AND only because you exist to create it?

I believe the above question is impossible to answer yes to. Furthermore, I would contend that intellectual property rights are based on answering that question yes and thus is a deluded sense of grandeur that the I exists, in some peculiar way, outside the socio-historic context that situates the individual. If I were to take a simple example of an artist who paints a painting. To believe that the artist is the SOLE creator of a painting she paints is interpreting creation as necessarily only teleological in nature. This is an overly reductionist interpretation. Any interpretation of creation take into consideration the socio historic context. For example, the artist has had access to a multiplicity of social resources (e.g. paint, training, time, knowledge of art, etc.) in order for the painting to come to fruition. I suggest we reject reductionist interpretations of creation and take into consideration the interactions of individuals in their community and society. If one does interpret the process of creation as inclusive to those interactions, then the creator any knowledge can not be reduced to a single individual.

NOTE: While at this point I can see my first argument being interpreted that I will claim that no one has ownership of any knowledge and thus artists create their art for the good of society with no compensation, I do not hold this view nor will I be arguing for some for of neo-Communist ideologies. At this point I am only calling into question and critiquing the accepted ideas around intellectual property rights.

Footnote: * - discover versus creation is an argument around whether or not knowledge is a priori or a posteriori. How one answers this question also will play into the legitimacy of intellectual property rights and is an issue I will investigate later.

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

Hi Justin,

I was just wondering whether you received the email I wrote to you recently ( If you need my email-adress it's
Looking forward to reading from you :-)
See you... Stephanie