Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 109–121

Are intellectual property rights compatible with Rawlsian principles of justice?

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10676-012-9288-8

Cite this article as:
Murphy, D.J. Ethics Inf Technol (2012) 14: 109. doi:10.1007/s10676-012-9288-8


This paper argues that intellectual property rights are incompatible with Rawls’s principles of justice. This conclusion is based upon an analysis of the social stratification that emerges as a result of the patent mechanism which defines a marginalized group and ensure that its members remain alienated from the rights, benefits, and freedoms afforded by the patent product. This stratification is further complicated, so I argue, by the copyright mechanism that restricts and redistributes those rights already distributed by means of the patent mechanism. I argue that the positions of privilege established through both the patent and the copyright mechanisms are positions that do not “allow the most extensive liberty compatible with a like liberty for all.” They do not “benefit the least advantaged.” Nor are they “open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.” In making this argument I critically assess the utilitarian defense of intellectual property rights and find it insufficient to respond to the injustices manifest in our current arrangement for the protection of intellectual property rights.


Intellectual property rights Rawls Principles of justice Patent Copyright 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IndependentThoroldCanada

Personalised recommendations