Laws of Creation: Property Rights in the World of Ideas

“What can be said about copyright that doesn’t anger somebody somewhere?”

“Not very much,” I said in answer to my own rhetorical question at the beginning of a December book forum on Copyright Unbalanced: From Incentive to Excess (Mercatus Center, 2012).

Copyright and other intellectual property laws are controversial: Some libertarians regard inventions of the mind as the rightful property of their creators. The Framers, they point out, empowered Congress to secure these rights to authors and inventors. Others lament these laws as information regulations that conflict with natural rights.

The latest turn in the copyright controversy is the Librarian of Congress’s decision no longer to exempt the unlocking of (newly purchased) mobile phones from the proscriptions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In other words, consumers can no longer use their phones on a different network without the original carrier’s permission, even after their contracts have expired.

Derek Khanna, the former Republican Study Committee staffer fired after penning a memorandum strongly critical of current copyright law, called it in The Atlantic the “Most Ridiculous Law of 2013 (So Far),” and a petition asking the president to reverse the Librarian’s ruling has more than 87,000 of the 100,000 it requires to get the White House’s response.

We won’t necessarily get into that particular issue on March 20th when we hear from Ronald Cass and Keith N. Hylton, authors of the book Laws of Creation: Property Rights in the World of Ideas. But Cass and Hilton argue against the notion that changing technology undermines the case for intellectual property rights. Indeed, they argue that technological advances only strengthen the case for intellectual property rights. 

In the view of Cass and Hylton, the easier it becomes to copy innovations, the harder to detect copies and to stop copying, the greater the disincentive to invest time and money in inventions and creative works. Intellectual property laws are needed as much as ever.

Register now for this March 20 noon-time event. It’s the latest in a long series of Cato events examining copyright and intellectual property, subjects on which libertarians often find themselves divided.