The attribution ingredient in IP justification

NOTE HXA7241 2010-12-11T13:31Z

Mere claim of authorship is insufficient for ownership rights

“It is mine: I made it – I should have rights over my things.” That is an often heard expression of justification for IP. There seems to be an immediate plausibility and strength in this appeal to attribution. It distinguishes IP from all other commons, and it seems to rest on something undeniably essential.

But upon consideration it fails. Attribution is merely the ‘location’ of the act concerned, not the substance. It is the act itself that is important. An act is judged good or bad, or justified or not, not because of who does it, but because of what the act is. Nothing is judged purely by its relation to the participants: there must be something to judge.

If you win a race, you do not win it because you did, but because you ran fastest – the running gets the prize, the you-ness gets it to you. If you make a chair, your authorship itself does not then give you rights to prevent people sitting on it, or looking at it, or thinking of it – you are implicitly a subject of possible rights here, but no rights have been supplied or justified.

Rights require more than attribution.