Although the legal principles governing the concept of intellectual property (IP) have existed for centuries, it was the wake of the 19th Century that brought about the term “intellectual property” and only in the 20th Century did it become a more common issue. Nowadays, it is difficult to find a single intangible asset, whether it be an artistic, literary or musical work; an invention or a discovery or merely a symbol, design, word, phrase or piece of software, that is not protected by IP Law. IP deals with different types of creations of the mind for which property rights are attached. Some common forms of IP include copyrights, patents, trademarks and industrial design rights; the first of which will be our focus in this article.
The overarching concept of IP is premised on the notion of “a man’s right to the product of his mind” which came from Ayn Rand, the famous Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter. This basically means that if you (whether you are male or female) come up with an idea or creation, you are entitled to some ownership rights in that idea or creation. When described as such, the concept would seem to be appealing to virtually anyone; it seems fair and just. Why, then, is there something called “anti-copyright”?
Defining the word ‘copyright’ is probably a good first step. It refers to the set of exclusive rights granted to the creator or author of an original work, embracing the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work. For example, software copyright deals with the rights attached to machine-readable software, often used by companies attempting to prevent the unauthorised copying of the software it personally created. Anti-copyright is thus, the absolute or partial opposition to copyright laws. But then one might ask: why would anyone be against the protection of a person’s individual creation or idea? The fundamental anti-copyright argument runs directly counter to the classic copyright argument stipulating that, awarding developers temporary monopolies over a source of income from their works promotes creativity and development. Anti-copyright advocates maintain that copyright rarely benefits the society as a whole but rather serves to enrich a few at the expense of creativity. Furthermore, they point to flaws on both economic and cultural grounds that the concept of copyright has.
The economic arguments are founded on the notion that copyright produces an intellectual monopoly. The right of the creator to sell copies of his/her products or creations is not the controversial matter. It is the right to control how other people use their copies after sale which, is contentious according to anti-copyright proponents,as it creates a monopoly enforceable by law. Furthermore, proponents suggest that copyright laws increase the cost of creation and thus consequently decrease the incentive to create.
The French group Association des audionautes, although not completely anti-copyright, believe in moving towards the legalisation of peer to peer file-sharing where the artists can be compensated through a surcharge on internet service provider fees. Other groups such as Hipatia and Hacktivismo base their anti-copyright arguments on the concept of “freedom of knowledge”, the idea that knowledge should be “shared in solidarity” and the contention that copyright law is hindering human progress.
Do any of these arguments have any merit? To an extent, they clearly do, however the more important question we should be asking is: do they have any merit when balanced against an individual’s right to benefit from an idea he/she independently created? Why should the hard work of one simply be distributed to and benefited from by others with no cost to them at all? Shouldn’t an individual’s hard work, effort and time be recognised and consequently awarded? The simple answer is yes; a creator is entitled to have his/her work protected and recognised and a creator is entitled to control what is done with his/her creation. But clearly this view is not shared by the leagues of anti-copyright advocates.