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 6: The moral dimensions of law: Interpretation and aims

Steven Ang

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


The roles that previous chapters have ascribed to the moral dimensions of IPRs invite a series of ripostes. It has been suggested that moral terms and concepts provide, and are intended to provide, flexibility within the central rules of IPRs and that these are interpretative resources for adjusting the balance between property and participation rights in intellectual property. And it has been contended that the interpreters have to seek appropriate types of prescription for these moral terms and concepts, such as can be universalized consistently with the critical aspects of the institutions which we still want to uphold. The critical question is: Why should we not treat legal rules, even when they incorporate moral terms, as having purely legal meanings? That is, why shouldn’t they be given meanings by whatever method the law assigns them content? This does not mean that, if one wants to be able to refuse universalization of the norms used, one has then to abjure reliance on prescriptivity. Prescriptions may still be relied on and used in the various dimensions of the system. But they will not have the character, under Hare’s theory, of being moral prescriptions if their use is not subject to universalization. They would rather be more like imperatives – ‘shall’ commands rather than ‘ought’ prescriptions. It may be argued that this is possible because, though IPRs are creatures of a normative institution, they are the creation of legal rather than moral norms.

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