Friday, August 28, 2015
In the years ahead, intellectual property and related legal and policy questions will become even more important than they already are. The Catholic Church has had things in the past about intellectual property rights and common good; and the Church and other Christian bodies will need to say more in the future. Following up on my previous work in this vein, I've posted "Agape, Gift, and Intellectual Property" on SSRN. The abstract:
The scope of protection of intellectual property (IP) has become a social justice as well as a legal and business issue, especially in the international arena, where disputes continue over whether expanded IP rights help or harm people in developing nations. Scholars writing in the Christian tradition have begun to respond to these questions, analyzing IP-related issues in the light of Christian theological themes such as creation, stewardship, and solidarity with the poor.
This paper, written for a Pepperdine Law School symposium on love and justice, explores potential implications for IP of another central Christian theme, agape: the form of love, independent of particularistic loyalties, that is most distinctive of Christian ethics. Agape in turns connects with the idea of “gift”: that creativity, among other human attributes, is a gift that humans receive (from a divine giver, Christians and other religious believers say). In Christian thought the sense of gift, and gratitude for the gift, connects to love of God and neighbor: the response of gratitude to God is to use the gift to benefit others. I connect these themes to those critics of IP rights, such as Lewis Hyde, who appeal to the virtues of a “gift economy” in which knowledge is shared rather than commoditized. Economies based on gift, and gratitude to the giver, have been thought to have a dark side: they can reinforce personal indebtedness and social hierarchies. But, following on the work of other Christian thinkers, I argue that the gift-giving economy can be universalized, and made more egalitarian, if we maintain, or recover, the sense that the human talents that produce goods are themselves gifts from a universal source (in Christian and other religious thought, from the God who gives all gifts in the first place).
Creativity is thus a fundamental gift we receive, and IP law should encourage the response of gratitude: dissemination of that gift to others to benefit them, and empowerment of others to realize their own creative gifts. The paper concludes with suggested general implications for IP law and policy.