Are Copyrights and Patents Intellectual Privileges Not Property?

Are Copyrights and Patents Intellectual Privileges Not Property? Unknown Copyright symbol

If you’ve ever pondered the concept of intellectual property rights, you’re not alone. On The Washington Post, law professor Randy Barnett discussed a new book by law professor and author, Tom Bell, entitled “Intellectual Privilege: Copyright, Common Law, and the Common Good,” in which Bell argues copyrights and patents are “intellectual privileges.”

Barnett, a self-proclaimed intellectual property skeptic, said he doubts copyright and patents are really property at all, stating the U.S. Constitution doesn’t identify these rights as property.

Thus he said, although Congress is empowered to “secure for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries,” it has no duty to do so.

In “Copyright Unbalanced: From Incentive to Excess,” Bell said the U.S. should return to the kind of copyright the founders supported in their 1790 Copyright Act. The act provided for a copyright term of only fourteen years with the option to renew for another fourteen.

In his new book, Bell explained there are two opposing viewpoints that drive the debate over copyright policy. He said those on one side question the law’s restraint on freedoms of expression, while others argue that copyright deserve the fullest protection of the law, much like tangible property, such as land and homes.

“Both viewpoints, however, fail to perceive copyright’s most distinguishing feature: its origin as a statutory privilege distinctly different from, and less justified than, the rights Americans enjoy thanks to the common law,” Bell wrote.

Sherry Karabin is a freelance reporter and writer in New York City. Email: sherry.karabin@yahoo.com.

LOAD MORE
Practice Area(s):