Sunday, November 27, 2005

Atrios and Yglesias agree that something is obvious

Record companies and their movie studio allies have managed to convince a shockingly large swathe of opinion that the purpose of intellectual property law is to prevent copyright infringement. In fact, the purpose is to advance the general welfare of society.
I would guess the average guy in the street would conclude that economists and philosophers are equally weird (as noted by Yglesias). Atrios notes that the constitution explicitly endorses yglesias's view.

Being brilliant as usual Yglesias has noted that people have trouble imagining laws different from current laws and that they tend to perceivel long established laws as moral principles and not as instruments to some other aim.

The law as it is establishes intellectual property rights. People confuse rights under the law with human rights and think that taking Mickey Mouse royalties from Disney is like torture. I can only mention that the confusion is even worse in countries were the word for "law" and the word for "right" are identical.

Another view is that there are some natural or human rights which have always been rights and were recognised not created when they were codified being nato non fatto (born not made) and that there subject to these rights laws are written to achieve some desireable consequence. Thus it is always necessary to decide it is morally acceptable to eliminate a right established by an existing law if that elimination serves some useful purpose.

Yglesias is quite firm in his view that there is no natural or human right to intellectual property. I would strongly suspect that he feels that there are no natural property rights and that absolute restrictions on taking of property only exist if they are necessary to protect some natural right. That is, I would say he finds taxes in general permissable but doesn't hold for seizing the printing presses of a newspaper whose editorial line displeases the authorities.

The really interesting thing is not that people disagree about which rights are rights under the law and which rights are rights above the law, but that they don't even consider the distinction.
Now one can say that the distinction is useless because there are no rights above the law, that is no human rights, for example if one is Thomas Hobbes or for another if one is a utilitiarian who can think straight. It is quite another matter to not grasp that there could be such a distinction.

I don't want to be rude, but I see a connection between thinking "file sharing might be good for society but it is wrong" and thinking "Torture is wrong but it might be good for society." The absurd extension of the idea of natural rights weakens it. We won't decide everything on the basis of respect for rights and damn the consequences, so if we don't declare some legal rights to be mere instruments of policy, we will not consider other rights to be absolutes which we must respect.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've written some responses to your thoughts from an utilitarian perspective. Here's the link: