Locke, intellectual property rights, and the information commons

Abstract
This paper examines the question whether, and to what extent, John Locke’s classic theory of property can be applied to the current debate involving intellectual property rights (IPRs) and the information commons. Organized into four main sections, Section 1 includes a brief exposition of Locke’s arguments for the just appropriation of physical objects and tangible property. In Section 2, I consider some challenges involved in extending Locke’s labor theory of property to the debate about IPRs and digital information. In Section 3, it is argued that even if the labor analogy breaks down, we should not necessarily infer that Locke’s theory has no relevance for the contemporary debate involving IPRs and the information commons. Alternatively, I argue that much of what Locke has to say about the kinds of considerations that ought to be accorded to the physical commons when appropriating objects from it – especially his proviso requiring that “enough and as good” be left for others – can also be applied to appropriations involving the information commons. Based on my reading of Locke’s proviso, I further argue that Locke would presume in favor of the information commons when competing interests (involving the rights of individual appropriators and the preservation of the commons) are at stake. In this sense, I believe that Locke offers us an adjudicative principle for evaluating the claims advanced by rival interests in the contemporary debate about IPRs and the information commons. In Section 4, I apply Locke’s proviso in my analysis of two recent copyright laws: the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA), and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). I then argue that both laws violate the spirit of Locke’s proviso because they unfairly restrict the access that ordinary individuals have previously had to resources that comprise the information commons. Noting that Locke would not altogether reject copyright protection for IPRs, I conclude that Locke’s classic property theory provides a useful mechanism for adjudicating between claims about how best to ensure that individuals will be able to continue to access information in digitized form, while at the same time also allowing for that information to enjoy some form of legal protection.
Keywords digital information  information commons  intellectual objects  intellectual property  John Locke  Lockean proviso
Categories (categorize this paper)
Options
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
 
Download options
PhilPapers Archive


Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 10,273
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Citations of this work BETA
Matthew P. Butcher (2009). At the Foundations of Information Justice. Ethics and Information Technology 11 (1):57-69.
U. Pagallo (2010). Ethics Among Peers: File Sharing on the Internet Between Openness and Precaution. Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society 8 (2):136-149.
Similar books and articles
Analytics

Monthly downloads

Added to index

2009-01-28

Total downloads

52 ( #28,953 of 1,096,329 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

3 ( #84,313 of 1,096,329 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature


Discussion
Start a new thread
Order:
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.