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Copyright: A Practical Example

So far, I have discussed the definition and justification of ownership. I have discussed when taking is stealing and when it is not. All of these matters were discussed theoretically, without a detailed example. The controversial example of copyright law serves as an excellent way to demonstrate the nature and justifications for ownership. Copyright advocates have two arguments that they advance in order to support copyright law, while copyright deniers claim that it is either immoral or unwise to advance copyright.

The first argument claims that copyright is either the best, the only or the most practical way of ensuring that inventors, writers and artists are encouraged to do what they do for the good of humanity. This argument is only concerned about results. Therefore, there are three ways that the argument might go wrong. If copyright is immoral, then the results do not matter. This is the first and most common way of attacking this argument. The second way is by denying the copyright is the best, the only or the most practical way of encouraging these people to perform what they do. This is where the argument is strongest, and such attacks are hard. Finally, one might say that what encouraging artists, writers and inventors to do what they do is not a part of the common good. This is the third and final way to attack this argument. If even one of these attacks is successful, then this argument is defeated.

The second argument claims that creators have a right to what they create, and this right extends to those who make new things, works, patents and the like. This argument is purely a rights based argument and is considered to be the stronger of the two arguments. This argument has its origin in the writings of John Locke, a British philosopher. There are three ways to attack this argument. One way to argue that people do not have rights over what they create, or at least that they do not always have rights. This is not a helpful line of argument. Another way to argue is to claim that people do not have rights over a new type of thing, but only over the new thing. This is the most plausible line of argument. A final way to argue is to claim that the common good trumps these rights in some or all circumstances. Some take the argument, but I will not be discussing it. Like the first argument, any one of these objections is enough to defeat the argument.

If both of these arguments are defeated and there are no further arguments for copyright, then we know that copyright law is not morally justified. We could petition the government to repeal it and promote all further democratic measures to remove the law. Without further argument, it would be both unwise and immoral to do more than that – including violating copyright law. However, there may be arguments that show that copyright is not in the common good and that it is an instance of taking. If both of these are true, then copyright law is immoral. Enforcing an immoral law is itself immoral. Although we could do everything previously mentioned to remove the law, we are under no obligation to obey it. An immoral law is not a law at all. Proof of this final statement will have to await.

This is simply an outline of the arguments to follow. We must begin by discussing the first argument in detail.

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