Copy-Right or Copy-Wrong: Would Locke Support Copyright?
From Communications to Sociology, this year I feel as if copyright is constantly brought up in the core curriculum in the majority of my classes. As I think about copyright and intellectual property, I immediately associate John Locke and his view on property rights. According to Locke, each individual is born with the natural right to protect his or her own life, liberty, and property. Locke also points out that each individual has a right to be compensated for wrongful injury to their own life, liberty, or property which has been caused by other individuals. If this were the case, if Locke were alive today, would he believe in copyright and intellectual property laws?
On one hand, it is important to take into consideration that Locke believes that property is derived from labor. After an artist or writer creates his or her work, they have put a lot of time and effort into their end product. Whether copyright is over a tangible or intangible good, if effort and time is put into its production, it technically is one’s “property” according to Locke. By just taking this into consideration, one would come to believe that Locke would be in favor of copyright. Authors and artists have a right to protect their property and be compensated if others wrongfully “steal” their property.
But I encourage you not to jump to conclusions. After researching a little more about Locke and his hypothetical take on copyright, I found that after the Stationers’ Company monopoly on printing was authorized, Locke was quoted to believe it was “a manifest…invasion of the trade, liberty, and property of the subject.” The legislation of the Stationers’ Company monopoly on printing was the closest thing to copyright Locke and the people of his time came upon—and it is obvious that he disagreed with it. Also, in an argument against Locke accepting copyright, one could argue that Locke is not explicit in his definition of whether his “right to property” meant tangible, or intangible, property; the majority of Locke’s examples on property are tangible. Although Locke highlights property protection on tangible property, do we have the right to infer the same goes for intangible property? Also, besides for property, Locke thought everyone was born with the right to liberty—in this case is one born with the liberty to copy portions of a text or copy work without suffering dire consequences? When should one draw the line?
It is hard to say what stance Locke would take on this complicated issue. Recent technology only makes this decision more difficult. Although we will never truly know the answer, it’s still interesting to speculate Locke’s stance on the issue of copyright.