The merits of intellectual property rights

Eugene Volokh has a great post on why intellectual property is not so different from tangible property. One key point: The theory of intellectual property is… that giving people the right to exclude others from new works or inventions will give people an incentive to invest effort in creating and inventing. We would have less ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and the author of The Ideas Industry.

Eugene Volokh has a great post on why intellectual property is not so different from tangible property. One key point:

Eugene Volokh has a great post on why intellectual property is not so different from tangible property. One key point:

The theory of intellectual property is… that giving people the right to exclude others from new works or inventions will give people an incentive to invest effort in creating and inventing. We would have less legal freedom of action — you’ll be more limited in what you can do in your own office or garage — but we’d have more wealth, because there’ll be a lot more works and inventions, albeit ones that it may cost you money to use.

What Eugene failed to mention is what makes the conferral of intellectual property rights so difficult: the credible commitment problem. Before a concept comes into existence, the incentive created by intellectual property rights is very strong. After a concept is invented, critics are correct in saying that society would be better off if those rights were revoked. Hence the need for a credible commitment, in the form of legal protections, to assure innovators that their intellectual efforts will yield tangible rewards. Dynamically, society is better off protecting such rights, because that helps to ensure a constant stream of innovation. However, in times of crisis, when the future is heavily discounted, it’s very tempting to revoke this commitment. UPDATE: Larry Solum responds to Volokh, and Volokh returns the favor.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and the author of The Ideas Industry. Twitter: @dandrezner

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