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Intellectual Property is Common Property: Arguments for the Abolition of Private Intellectual Property Rights, by Andreas Von Gunten

Andreas Von Gunten, Intellectual Property is Common Property: Arguments for the Abolition of Private Intellectual Property Rights (Zurich: buch & netz, 2015).


Defenders of intellectual property rights argue that these rights are justified because creators and inventors deserve compensation for their labour, because their ideas and expressions are their personal property and because the total amount of creative work and innovation increases when inventors and creators have a prospect of generating high income through the exploitation of their monopoly rights. This view is not only widely accepted by the general public, but also enforced through a very effective international legal framework. And it is endorsed by most academic researchers and commentators in this field. In this essay, I will show that the classical arguments for the justification of private intellectual property rights can be contested, and that there are many good reasons to abolish intellectual property rights completely in favour of an intellectual commons where every person is allowed to use every cultural expression and invention in whatever way he wishes. I will first give a short overview of the classical arguments for the justification of intellectual property as they are usually stated. We will then discuss the question of whether the creator or inventor deserves his de jure monopoly, by using John Christman’s categories of income and control rights to analyse property rights. The aim here is to show that it does not make sense to create control rights for abstract objects, as they are not scarce, and that there is no logical connection between the surplus which may be generated through income rights and the labour which has been put into a cultural artefact or an invention, and therefore it is not justified to grant monopoly rights on the basis of Lockean natural rights arguments for self-ownership and the just appropriation of worldly resources. As it is possible to reject Christman’s property rights categories, I will then go on to show on the basis of Richard Dawkins’ postulation of the ‘meme’ and Ludwik Fleck’s theory of the ‘thought collective’ that creative processes should be interpreted as interpersonal or collective processes, and therefore it is not justified to grant intellectual property rights to individuals on the basis of the idea that the individual who has put labour into the creative work or the invention should be the one to whom the contents of the work belong exclusively. As it is still possible to postulate the utilitarian argument that intellectual property rights are just because they increase the amount of creative works and inventions, I will argue in the last chapter that, from a libertarian as well as from an egalitarian point of view, the justification of intellectual monopoly rights on utilitarian grounds cannot be maintained. Therefore it is time to abolish the current global intellectual property law regime in favour of an intellectual commons for the good of all human beings and societies.

Have not read yet, but from the abstract, this book seems like it might have some promise. Oddly, the book it nowhere cites me though at least it cites Boldrin & Levine, and Tom Palmer.

That said, it refers to IP as “common property,” which it is not; there are no property rights at all in nonscarce things like information or ideas. The issue is not whether IP “is property” or not, or what kind of property it is1 (which is exactly why IP proponents classify it as “intellectual” property—a type of property, but a unique one);2 it is whether IP laws are justified or not. They are not. There are reasons why. It remains to be seen whether the author really understands why. Stay tuned…

  1. See “What Libertarianism Is,” in Legal Foundations of a Free Society, at Appendix I; see also Legal Foundations of a Free Society, p. 421. []
  2. See Legal Foundations of a Free Society, p. 427–30 & 427 n.77; 444 at n.11.  []
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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.