The Advantages & Disadvantages of Intellectual Property Rights

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The concept of intellectual property is not an entirely new one, but it has become increasingly more important as the economy worldwide has begun to shift into what is known as an information economy. This shift has started to change what is considered valuable in private exchange. Instead of physical objects, or land, the most important form of property in this new world is intellectual, the creative products of the human mind.


Defining what is and what isn't intellectual property has proven to be a tricky business. Critics charge that the distinctions are at best arbitrary. Unlike traditional property, where the ownership of a physical thing could be clear, who owns the right to an idea can be very hard to decide. It is in the nature of intellectual products that they are constantly evolving and borrowing from each other. Sorting out who owns what is difficult.

"Information Wants To Be Free"

A common catchphrase among critics of intellectual property is that "information wants to be free." The argument being made is that intellectual products naturally seek out the widest possible audience and diffusion. As has been shown by unsuccessful attempts to stop pirating, it is very difficult to stop consumers from taking intellectual property if there is a very high demand. The attempt to enforce intellectual property rights may be alienating consumers.


Critics of intellectual property make a further distinction between it and older forms of property because it is not in limited supply. Unlike physical objects, there is no limit to how many people can hold a single piece of intellectual property. This potentially creates what is called a nonzero-sum economy where growth is unlimited and there is no trade-off between some owning something and others owning nothing.

Payment of Creators

Defenders of intellectual property argue that the only way the creators of intellectual goods can maintain a living is through the continued existence of intellectual property rights. Many famous artists and writers have argued for this stance. Another argument is that as intellectual property rights decrease so will the quality of creative goods as the creators themselves will have much less incentive to continue to devote their time and energy to their intellectual work.

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