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The Nature And Functions of Intellectual Property Law

Written by: Venkataramana B. Ramanathan Advocate, Bangalore
Copyright Law
Legal Service
  • The Principal object of intellectual property is to ensure consumers a varied variety of products at the lowest possible price. Intellectual property law ensures private property rights enabling individual and business to appropriate to themselves the value of the information they produce and encourage them to produce more.

    Copyright Law attracts investments to the production and distribution by promising authors and artists and their publisher's exclusive rights for a limited period.

    Patent Law uses property rights to stimulate private investment in new and useful and non-obvious technologies.

    Trademarks encourages business to invest in symbolize information signifying the source of their goods and service and prohibiting competition for using the same symbol.

    Information is Intangible and the need for private property rights is comparatively more pressing and equally important as private property rights for tangible objects such as land and cattle. In Tangible objects a owner can run a fence and keep his or her property secure, whereas it is unusual for a creator of information to be able to fence his/her product by keeping it secret and at the same time reap economic rewards from the information in the market place.

    Put somewhat differently investment in information suffers special problems of appropriability. The fact that information is intangible means that absent property rights, a producer of information will find it difficult to appropriate the information's value in the market place. While most information will have a little value to its producer unless he can sell it, sale will expose the information to competitors who with absent of property rights will be able freely replicate the information and sell it at a lower price than the first producer who must charge to recoup his investment in producing his information. The critical point is that unable to appropriate the value of his information, the producer will from the start be disinclined to invest in producing information.

    The problem of information as the object of Private property does not end with appropriability. The fact is intangible also means that it is indivisible; an unlimited number of users can consume a piece of information without depleting it. For example a a motion picture after been consumed by single person the same would be by a million but cant be the same with tangible products like loaf of bread. Once the information has been produced its use may benefit an indeterminate number of users without imposing any additional costs on the producer. Because information can be used endlessly and by unlimited number of people and because no ones use of the information will interfere with the owner's physical domain over it, legislatures and courts tend to tolerate more extensive inroads into intellectual property than they would If land or goods were in issue.

    This unique characteristic of informational goods that they are not a scarce resource that anyone can use them without diminishing their availability to anyone else leads to a powerful moral intuition against intellectual property law. Since intellectual property law enables information producers to charge for access to their information, It inescapably withholds information from people who cannot or will not pay the prices of admission, even though giving them free access would harm no one else. When a cable operator demands more rental fee, many subscribers who might gladly have paid a smaller sum will choose not to see the film. In the crisp calculus this is undesirable because it decreases the welfare of one class of consumers, the excluded viewers without increasing the welfare of another those willing and able to pay the asking price.

    It should by now be evident that the intellectual property solution to the problem of inappropriability property rights as private incentive inevitable conflicts with the social benefits of indivisibility unrestricted public access. Intellectual property as a solution to inapproriability implies that to recover its investment, an information producer will use its property rights to charge consumers for access to its work. Yet indivisibility implies that ones information has been produced, its use may confer a benefit on the consumer without imposing any additional cost on the producer. If the producer charges for access to the information, consumers who are unable or unwilling to pay the price will be deprived of the information leaving them worse of then they would be in the absence of property rights.

    The dilemma is that without a legal monopoly not enough information will be produced but with the legal monopoly too little of the information will be used.

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