Is IP property? An outline of the debate.

Is IP Property?

The debate about whether intellectual property is really property tends to proceed along the following lines.

Pro-property advocates observe that as a matter of definition exclusive and tradable rights should be thought of as property.

Anti-property advocates note that IP rights are limited in scope and duration and subject to a number of important public interest caveats.

Pro-property advocates respond with fascinating descriptions of the law relating to nuisance, easements, riparian rights and ancient Roman laws which hold the oceans and navigable waterways in public trust to show that, for every conceivable feature of IP rights that supposedly distinguishes them from property, there is in fact a property law antecedent.

Anti-property advocates respond by saying “but that is not what you mean when you say IP is property. You mean control that is absolute, unyielding and perpetual.”

Both sides then declare victory in the debate and revert to their initial positions.