ASK A QUESTION
Is it wrong to share copyrighted songs and video over the internet?
I think the law should be changed to take away the protection of copyright. What do you think?
January 23, 2006
I'm going to comment on the question of whether copyright laws are
in fact justified, rather than the question Bernard Gert addresses,
namely, of whether it is morally wrong in general to violate laws
(though in passing I can't stop myself observing that, when it comes to
internet activities, it's not always obvious which country's laws
One possible view of copyright (and of
intellectual property generally) is that the creators of such property
have an absolute right of ownership, and that the job of the law is
simply to protect this right.
But an alternative view is that
intellectual property is a socio-legal construction (however it is with
other forms of property) and that the job of the law is (a) to allow
the public to maximally benefit from the creation, while at the same
time (b) ensuring that there are sufficient incentives to encourage the
creation in the first place.
Nearly all systems of modern law are
based on the second view, as is shown by the fact that they place a time
limit on the period for which creators can control their creations
(twenty years for patents, seventy years after publication/creator's
death for works of art, and so on).
From the perspective of
this second view, it clearly makes sense that there should be some
incentives for creators. But this leaves it open exactly how the balance
should be struck between legal protection for creators and allowing the public to
benefit. (This conflict is most obvious in the case of life-saving
treatments patented by drug corporations, but the point is general.)
practice, the legal balance is struck as a result of politic0-legal
processes in which the creators' representatives argue for greater
ownership rights, and and the consumers' representatives for more
freedom.In general, the creators' representatives invest vastly
more resources in this process than the consumers' representatives.
(Moreover, at an international level, the creators' countries generally
have vastly more power that the consumers' countries.)
this, and applying Bernard Gert's test, it is hard to believe that any
fully informed 'impartial rational' person would regard the current
laws of intellectual property as justified.
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