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Intellectual Property as Socialistic “Human Rights”

I’ve noted before that the term “human rights” and, in particular, its usage in international law, has acquired a leftist, anti-property tinge1 –incompatible with the Rothbardian-libertarian conception of human rights as property rights.2

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights [sic] is a veritable socialistic manifesto, providing for “rights” to social security (Art. 22); to protection against unemployment, equal pay for equal work, and to unionize (Art. 23); to vacation time (Art. 24); to food, housing, and medical care (Art. 25); and to an education (Art. 26). The International Covenants on Human Rights include the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which provides for similar welfare rights. They also make it clear that property rights and other rights are subject to the state’s pleasure: Art. 17 (“Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others … No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property”); Art. 29(2) (“In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society”).

So it should be no surprise that according to article 27(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.” Internationalist socialists think IP is a right. Damned by faint praise!

  1. See Kinsella, Book Review of Patrick Burke, No Harm: Ethical Principles for a Free Market (1994), Reason Papers No. 20 (Fall 1995), at n. 13 and accompanying text. []
  2. See Murray N. Rothbard, “Human Rights” As Property Rights, in The Ethics of Liberty. []
{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Crosbie Fitch October 26, 2010, 5:25 am

    What is it about “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.” that makes you think copyright and patent cannot be abolished?

    But anyway, yes, rights that are recognised as rights only in so far as the law deigns to recognise them are not rights in the natural, self-evident, inalienable sense. It is the individual’s rights that come first, and the law that recognises them (woe betide any failure) that comes second.

    So any ‘convention on human rights’ that inveigles rights as legislative favours or forbearances has the ulterior intent of establishing privileges as equivalent to rights.

    You are wise in pointing out all the subtle legal qualifiers that render human rights secondary to the state and the laws it may decide should derogate from them, e.g. privileges favouring the state’s less mortal citizens.

To the extent possible under law, Stephan Kinsella has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to C4SIF. This work is published from: United States. In the event the CC0 license is unenforceable a  Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License is hereby granted.