SOPA and Three Ways to Think about Intellectual Property

The controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the United States and the attempts to shut down the peer-to-peer music-sharing website Pirate Bay in Europe have brought the debate over intellectual property to the fore. Professor Stephen Davies explains the three different ways people tend to understand intellectual property. Intellectual property:

– May be considered a natural right with the same qualities as physical property.

– May be considered a special type of property created by governments that is time limited.

– May be considered intellectually incoherent and dangerous.

Professor Davies holds the third view of intellectual property. He argues that it is dangerous because it limits the way people are able to use their physical property. He suggests that patents and copyrights may actually work to stop or hinder innovation in many areas. Whichever view you hold, the debate is complicated and divides people from all parts of the political spectrum. The argument over intellectual property has widespread implications, and we are going to see a lot more of it in the years to come.


  1. Matt Wavle

    The most powerful argument presented against IP is that in order to enforce it, you have to infringe on other more important rights.  A state-supported new "right" should never trample natural rights.

  2. Emerson Howard

    I can’t stop watching these videos you guys make! How long has Learn Liberty been around?

  3. agavin2342

    I think the irony of the situation is, regardless of your view on SOPA, the internet craze about such issues was many times misguided and didn’t actually understand the bill in the first place. Very good video to help us understand intellectual property!

  4. russellherbst

    awhile I think. I’ve been watching their videos for about 3 years. This classroom and points thing is new though.

  5. Danina Massey


  6. taschrant

    Love the explanation!

  7. Chocolate Thunder

    I think it’s interesting that governments used to, when desiring a new technology, would have a monetary reward for it (such as for the marine chronometer). It would seem that this would be better for competition (and therefore consumers) to have a monetary reward than a temporary grant of monopoly.

    But as I think about it more, it would seem that such a system couldn’t really be used as an alternative to IP, since it is doubtful that government bureaucrats (or any singular group) could think of all innovations to be made and then offer rewards for them.

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