The Moral Dimensions of Intellectual Property Rights

The Moral Dimensions of Intellectual Property Rights

Steven Ang

This highly original and exploratory book analyses the role morality plays in Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs). Steven Ang builds his idea that the justification for IPRs is bound up with a simultaneous duty to share part of that intellectual resource through public rights of access and a public domain which is facilitated by the moral elements in the various dimensions of IPR. In a globalized world with globalizing IPRs where culturally assumed norms must be re-examined, this work has an urgent and important contribution to make because it takes the main features of internationally mandated IPRs as a starting point and explores the moral commitments they imply and rely on, to identify a framework for further development and reform of IP regimes.

Chapter 4: The dimension of design: National systems

Steven Ang

Subjects: law - academic, intellectual property law, legal philosophy


The language of ‘balance’ is often employed in discourse regarding IPRs: balance between private right and public interest, between incentivizing artistic and technological innovation and the public domain. This is captured in the UDHR reference to rights in intellectual property, Article 27, in its juxtaposition of a participatory right (in paragraph 1) with the proprietary right (paragraph 2) protecting the moral and material interests of creators: Article 271. Everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts, and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. Everyone has the right to protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary, or artistic production of which he is the author. Examples of this idea in IP legal instruments include: the provision of the TRIPS Agreement on objectives (Article 7) referring to ‘a balance of rights and obligations’; and the preamble of the WIPO Copyright Treaty 1996 (‘WCT’) which recites, ‘Recognising the need to maintain a balance between the rights of authors and the large public interest, particularly education, research and access to information, as reflected in the Berne Convention’. Part of its attractiveness must lie in the image of the balancing scales of justice: a metaphor that suggests that in distributing rights and obligations, rewards and burdens, we are guided by criteria that are carefully calculable. It is not a suggestion that withstands examination well, for even a cursory scrutiny yields more disturbing questions than clarity.

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