Copyright as Intellectual Property Privilege

24 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2007 Last revised: 6 Sep 2012

See all articles by Tom W. Bell

Tom W. Bell

Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law


We often call copyright a species of intellectual property, abbreviating it, "IP." This brief paper suggests that we consider copyright as another sort of IP: an intellectual privilege. Though copyright doubtless has some property-like attributes, it more closely resembles a special statutory benefit than it does a right, general in nature and grounded in common law, deserving the title of property. To call copyright a privilege accurately reflects legal and popular usage, past and present. It moreover offers salutary policy results, protecting property's good name and rebalancing the public choice pressures that drive copyright policy. We face a choice between two ways of thinking about, and talking about, copyright: As an intellectual property that authors and their assigns own, or as an intellectual privilege that they merely hold. Perhaps no label can fully capture the unique and protean nature of copyright. Recognizing it as form of intellectual privilege would, however, help to keep copyright within its proper legal limits.

Keywords: copyright, property theory, privilege theory

JEL Classification: O34

Suggested Citation

Bell, Tom W., Copyright as Intellectual Property Privilege. Syracuse Law Review, Vol. 58, 2007, Chapman University Law Research Paper No. 08-37, Available at SSRN:

Tom W. Bell (Contact Author)

Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law ( email )

One University Drive
Orange, CA 92866-1099
United States
714-628-2503 (Phone)
714-628-2576 (Fax)


Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics