IP Promotes Progress by Securing the Individual Liberty of Inventors and Creators

This is the third in a series of posts summarizing CPIP’s 2014 Fall Conference, “Common Ground: How Intellectual Property Unites Creators and Innovators.” The Conference was held at George Mason University School of Law on October 9-10, 2014. Videos of the conference panels and keynote will be available soon.

The second panel of CPIP’s 2014 Fall Conference analyzed the common moral case for copyrights and patents. The panel was moderated by Professor Chris Newman (George Mason University School of Law). Two of the panelists, Professor Mark Schultz (CPIP, and Southern Illinois University School of Law) and Professor Eric Claeys (George Mason University School of Law) explained the theoretical and normative principles underlying the moral case for intellectual property. The other two panelists, Dr. Ken Anderson (Thermaquatica) and David Lowery (musician, producer, and lecturer at the University of Georgia), then showed how those principles play out in practice.

Professor Schultz noted that the moral case for intellectual property is often overshadowed by (or outright ignored in favor of) the economic case. But in addition to being economically valuable, intellectual property serves important moral functions by enabling artists and inventors to live free and flourishing lives. Intellectual property fosters economic independence, enables the creation of a private sector, and supports political freedom. Patents and copyrights give an important set of choices to creators and inventors, enabling them not only to survive, but also to thrive. As such, intellectual property is a moral right that facilitates individual liberty. While the economic justifications for copyrights and patents remain important, it is equally important not to lose sight of their strong moral underpinnings.

Professor Claeys discussed the moral case for injunctive relief against IP infringement. Starting from a traditional property law perspective, he explained that remedies (such as injunctive relief) are essential in reinforcing and vindicating property rights. Just as with traditional property, copyrights and patents confer exclusive control to their owners to secure to them the value of their productive labors. By protecting copyright and patent owners’ discretion over the deployment of their property, injunctions protect their moral rights in the fruits of their labors. Claeys further noted that this labor-based understanding of intellectual property could inform the balance of equities discussed in eBay v. MercExchange, filing significant gaps in the Supreme Court’s reasoning and likely leading to a different conclusion regarding licensing companies’ ability to obtain injunctions.

Anderson and Lowery addressed the role of IP in their respective fields. Dr. Anderson discussed how patents were crucial to his ability to obtain investors for his green tech company. He invented a new, environmentally-friendly technology to convert “coal, biomass and other organic solids into low molecular weight products.” Being able to protect the value of his work through patent protection (he filed multiple rounds of patents all over the world) has been essential to his company’s success and his ability to commercialize his invention.

Lowery discussed how the lack of copyright enforcement in the digital era has affected the music industry, leading to an environment where internet platforms thrive, but the artists and creators who fuel the value of those platforms struggle mightily to make ends meet. In many ways, musicians are worse off now than they were in the 1950s (an era that s well-known for the exploitation of musicians). Nonetheless, he expressed hope that the third decade of the Internet could embrace legal and technological innovations that make it a better place for artists.

In sum, the panelists illustrated the fundamental moral importance of intellectual property, which applies equally to inventors’ patent rights as it does to artists’ copyrights. Intellectual property isn’t just about economic incentives. IP also promotes progress by securing the individual liberty of inventors and creators.