A Natural Right to Copy
25 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2019 Last revised: 7 Oct 2019
Date Written: August 17, 2019
In this symposium, we gather to celebrate the work of Wendy Gordon. In this essay, I revisit her article, A Property Right in Self-Expression: Equality and Individualism in the Natural Law of Intellectual Property. In the article, Professor Gordon first used the "no-harm" principle of John Locke to justify copyright as natural right and then used his “enough-and-as-good” proviso to limit that right. Her second step turned natural rights approaches to copyright on its head. Through it, she showed that even if we accept copyright as natural right, that acceptance does not necessarily lead to a copyright of undue breadth or perpetual duration. Rather, even a natural rights framework leads to a copyright regime shorter and narrower than we presently have.
While I agree that copyright should be shorter and narrower, I worry that Professor Gordon conceded too much in her first step. Neither Locke’s reasoning nor Professor Gordon’s reading of it can justify a right to prohibit copying as a matter of natural law. It is not the right to prohibit copying to which we have a natural entitlement. It is the right to copy.
Keywords: copyright, natural rights, Locke, efficiency
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