“I do believe in intellectual property. I do believe you have a right to your property.”
So said Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in response to a question following his remarks during an event last week at the Heritage Foundation titled, “Will the Real Internet Freedom Please Stand Up?”
In Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, our nation’s Founders specifically provided for the protection of intellectual property (IP) in order “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” While the fundamental concept of providing artisans, authors and inventors exclusive right to their respective works and discoveries has remained relatively uncontroversial for most of the nation’s history, recent debates regarding what to do about widespread infringement over the Internet have caused some to diminish IP protection by setting it aside as merely some abstract, disposable ideal.
That mindset is dangerous, both in theory and in practice.
First and foremost, intellectual property is vital to free enterprise and drives economic growth. According to a recent study by the Global Intellectual Property Center, IP-intensive industries currently employ more than 55 million Americans and account for 74% of all U.S. exports and $5.8 trillion in GDP. Without strong IP protections, the incentive to innovate is removed, drying up investment, stalling growth and progress, and thus undercutting the entire economy.
Little if any incentive would exist for an author to write the next great novel, Hollywood to produce the next cinema blockbuster or a pharmaceutical company to develop a cure for cancer if none of them are able to benefit economically from their works.
Moreover, when the importance of IP is diminished or dismissed altogether, its protection is afforded different levels of enforcement not on par with that of physical property. But the concept of property should not be rooted in its physical existence. Owning property is a contract that provides the title-holder specific rights that lead to economic benefits, not simply a plot of land. In that way, intellectual property is no different than any other form of property.
Senator Paul gets it. In his remarks – previewed as “what could be the most significant talk on Internet freedom this year” by the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Bluey – Paul declared, “There are some libertarians who don’t believe in copyright. I am not one of them. I think you have to protect intellectual property.”
Senator Paul’s comments reveal that not only do some libertarians get IP wrong, but that all property needs protection and enforcement thereof. As evidenced by over 200 years of practice, patent, trademark and copyright protections promote the general welfare and lead to great economic advantages by driving innovation and developing capital. The end result comes in the form of countless benefits from millions of IP-intensive jobs, billions in exports and trillions in GDP spilling over to the rest of society.
Property, including intellectual property, is preeminent and deserves strong protections.