On the Very Idea of Owning Ideas: Philosophical Reflections on Intellectual Property

Cwik, Bryan, Philosophy - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Lomasky, Loren, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia

My dissertation examines a number of philosophical questions about intellectual property (or IP). Within the broad conversation about IP going on in multiple disciplines, a number of philosophical claims and questions are floating around, and all too often are not subjected to the proper level of analysis. I examine, in a series of discrete but related chapters, some of the central positions about IP, with the aim of deriving general ideas about it from these ground-level discussions.

Three themes run throughout the essay. The first is a general opposition to instrumentalism about IP. Instrumentalism holds that most of the significant questions about IP can be reduced to questions about whether IP is required to incentivize intellectual labor, and thus ensure an adequate supply of creative, artistic, and innovative work. The second theme is the gap between a defensible conception of IP and the institutions that we currently have. Though the essay has a definite pro-IP slant, the kinds of institutions discussed and defended here are very different from IP institutions as they currently are, and it thus presents a basis for criticism of existing IP institutions. The third theme is a criticism of framing IP policy questions as tradeoffs between the costs of IP and the goal of ensuring an adequate supply of intellectual labor.

I argue here that settling the central questions about IP involves deep normative issues, about the kind of creative and innovative work we want, and the role of government and law in regulating these endeavors. This resists a crude “cost/benefit” framework, and requires us instead to pay attention to the kinds of goods incentivized by IP institutions, the different individuals affected by IP, and the constraints (such as demands of distributive justice) these institutions must operate within. The essay aims to demonstrate how these considerations can be incorporated into IP theory and policy. Its goal is thus a broadening and deepening of the multidisciplinary conversation about IP, and the role of these institutions in shaping and regulating art, science, culture, and technology.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Intellectual Property; Property; Patent; Copyright; Incentives
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