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Copyright is Morally Unjustified

This post is part of the series Ownership

Previously, I have discussed the two major arguments for copyright and have given arguments against them. Without a positive argument for copyright, the government is not morally justified in creating copyright. The lack of moral justification does not mean that we are permitted to violate copyright law. It simply means that we are morally justified in opposing all forms of copyright, speaking out against copyright and engaging in all legal methods against copyright law.

All of this depends on copyright law being morally unjustified. There were two original arguments for copyright law. The first argument was that copyright law is the best or most practical method of promoting innovation. However, governments must always act in the common good. Since copyright is not in the common good, governments may not enact it. Second, there is no good evidence that copyright actually promotes innovation. So the first argument does not work. The second argument for copyright is that creators have a right to what they create. But merely being the creator of something does not give any special rights to that thing. Neither does positive law allow for the creation of copyright because that would conflict with the property rights of individuals that they have naturally. Second, even if there were a right to what was created, it would only be a right to the token of that thing rather than a type of that thing. Therefore, the second argument fails as well. Since these are the only two arguments for copyright law, it is unjustified without them.

A short note here is necessary. All that this does is reject any special protection for ” intellectual property” . Whether or not we can protect ” intellectual property” though contract law without mentioning ” intellectual property” in any way is a separate issue. Since any such protection has more to do with contracts than so-called intellectual property, it would have to be dealt with elsewhere.

An illustration will show that morally unjustified commands must sometimes be obeyed. Consider a situation in which a person is told by the government that no one may paint cars white with red stripes because they may be confused with an ambulance. We might claim that the regulation is unnecessary because that similarity is not enough to confuse an ordinary person. Nonetheless, the balance of goods still favors obeying the government. The good of painting your car does not outweigh the bad acting against the rule of law. (Since neither are absolutely immoral or moral requirements, it is possible to weigh them in this manner.) As long as this is true, it is immoral to disobey the government even if the government is morally unjustified. Therefore, the mere lack of moral justification does not permit us to violate the law.

However, we may not claim that we must obey the law under all circumstances. There are exactly two circumstances under which the law may be violated. The first is when the law commands someone to do what is immoral or forbids someone to do what is morally required. In this case, the law in general has no moral force. It is a law in name only and not in reality. The second is when the balance of goods favors disobeying the law. Since the law does not act against morality, it may only be violated in some circumstances. An example includes speeding in order to save someone’ s life or stealing in order to protect someone’ s life.

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