Saturday, November 13, 2010

Are Intellectual Property Rights A Subspecies of Human Rights?

Damian Reece, Head of Business of The Telegraph was commenting David Cameron's trip to China. According to Mr Reece his timing to talk about human rights was wrong and therefore counterproductive. Instead, writes Mr Reece, he should have focused on intellectual property rights related problems in China. Read here.

Mr Reece is most certainly right that timing when talking about human rights can be of key importance. But this applies equally well for bringing up the subject of intellectual property rights. When, if ever, is it a good time to point with an accusatory finger to an official of another country in public about a sensitive issue, such as human rights or intellectual property rights? It is understandable that an politicians want to be transparent toward their consitituency about their critique in regard to another country. Mr Reece also suggests that human rights and intellectual property rights are completely separate issues. Are they? This is an interesting issue.

Professor Daniel Gervais wrote an interesting article about it. He describes the two schools of thought about the topic: cohabitation (conflict) model and compatibility model. In the cohabitation the negative impacts of IP on human rights are emphasised, such as the possible restrictions on the expression of free speech, problematic access to medicines etc. While the compatibility model stresses that the two go hand in hand.

Read Professor Gervais' article 'Intellectual Property and Human Rights: Learning to Live Together' (March 1, 2008) for the book with the same name, edited by Paul L. C. Torremans, published by Kluwer, here.

With Professor Gervais and also with Professor William Alford (who wrote in his famed 'To Steal a Book Is An Elegant Offense: Intellectual Property Law in Chinese Civilizatation' that the rule of law is a precondition for private rights, such as IP) I think the latter theory has most merit.

Are intellectual property rights a subspecies of human rights?
Professor Peter K. Yu advocates a human rights framework for intellectual property, read his research paper 'Reconceptualizing Intellectual Property Interests in A Human Rights Framework' (2007), here.

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