Intellectual Property Rights and software
Intellectual Property Rights and software
Moral theories such as utilitarianism are used to defend Intellectual Property Rights of software produced by companies such as the Microsoft. It is important to differentiate between physical property rights and intellectual property rights. The government needs to analyse pros and cons of protecting rights of companies such as the Microsoft. Intellectual Property Rights or IPR is generally defended based on the assumption that they are similar to physical property rights. The ethical argument is that legal experts have upheld the need to protect property rights of individuals.
Consequently, due to such rights individuals are able to protect their ownership rights, as they are allowed to approach court of law when their property is encroached. It is not possible to accept this argument in the context of intellectual property. This is due to basic differences that persist between physical property and intellectual property. Physical property allows purchaser to use property and alienate or dispose property at the later period. (Lea 2006) Software patent rights gives the right to use, but does not allow the user to either modify or alienate.
This is because software can be produced in large quantities with the assistance of modern technology. Property, on the other hand, cannot be produced in large quantities. Reproduction and duplication of software can affect profitability of a company like Microsoft or author of the program. (Lea 2006) IPR in the context of software cannot be justified on two counts. First, it cannot be compared with physical property. There is no moral justification to protect rights of the creator of software. It is true that it is important to protect rights of individuals who author a computer program.
But, at the same time, it is important to protect rights of consumers as well. Based on this reasoning, Wright brothers were not able to patent Airplane. Patents can sometimes discourage creativity. Consequently, modern scientists were able to produce airplane designs and contribute to enhanced facilities to people. The major purpose of patents and copy rights is to encourage people to contribute to scientific knowledge. (Lea 2006) Patents can be considered as recognition of talent of individual. Innovative products can inspire other individuals to produce similar or other products. As software is protected by IPR, it cannot be modified.
One needs to differentiate between copy right acts and software patents. Copy right acts protect interest of authors. Generally, mass production of a book involves huge expenditure as it requires investment in printing and machinery. Software production, on the other hand, does not involve such huge investment. This argument is used to defend software patents. But, this argument alone cannot be used to defend right of a person who authors computer programs. (Lea 2006) Utilitarianism believes in welfare principles. Property rights are essential to achieve general welfare. Lack of property rights can affect large numbers of individuals.
Non-software copy rights have encouraged producers to enhance production. They are able to obtain recognition for their contribution to their sector. On the other hand, software patent has affected large numbers of individuals, as they are not able to modify source code of a computer program. Duplication of software will affect income rights of a person or organization that produces software. The author will continue to enjoy the right to control the product. At the same time, additional features can be created by tweeting source code. This can benefit large numbers of people as they use free and modified software. Lea 2006) One needs to appreciate the fact that computer programs cannot replace essential goods required by large numbers of world population. In the 1990s, American population depended on computer revolution, which created employment opportunities for large numbers of individuals. At the same time, a country cannot solely depend on computer programs. This is because computer programs cannot replace other economic activities such as agricultural and industrial production. (Lea 2006) Protection of monopolistic companies such as Microsoft has created disparity between rich and poor nations.
It is not possible to defend high price charged by companies for their software. This is because companies do not invest heavily in R & D, unlike non software industry. From utilitarian perspective, it is not possible to defend IPR of software. This is because the aim of world leaders should be to reduce disparity between rich and poor. IPR in software, on the other hand, has enhanced gap between rich and poor. This is because countries such as the US depend heavily on software export. The US enhanced its software trade surplus which crossed $20 billion in 1999. (Lea 2006) Second, from libertarian perspective also one cannot defend IPR.
This is because IPR does not allow freedom to individuals as they are not able to modify and sell software. This can affect their creative abilities. IRP affects autonomy and freedom of individuals. In a free and democratic country such as the US it is not possible to justify protection of organizations such as Microsoft. Free software movement emerged in order to defend the right of individuals to freely distribute software. In the 1960s, computers had to install software as a distinct bundle. Aim of such measure was to avoid monopoly of a particular company. Microsoft believes in protection of its IPR.
In actuality, the main attempt of this organization is to protect its commercial interest. Lack of IPR rules in the context of software will erode profitability of this company. By the use of cyber laws, the company is able to reach a monopolistic position. This has contributed to inflated price of software produced by this company. It is interesting to note that the company hired services of professional detectives in Europe to identify people who used unlicensed company products. Microsoft has faced criticism from European countries due to its monopolistic position in the international software market.
Lawsuits are filed against this company for discouraging competition from other companies. (Lea 2006) Computer consumers are expected to purchase legal software from designated commercial areas. At the same time, one needs to note that absence of IPR in software would not affect company profitability. This is because it is not possible for individuals to use different free or licensed computer programs. Today, most users depend on Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer. Other products are not used due to compatibility issue as these programs are not compatible with Microsoft products.
This shows that even if Microsoft products are not protected by IPR, consumers will continue to use them as they are accustomed to this company product. In the year 2001, the government compromised with Microsoft by structuring IPR in such a way as to protect interest of this company. (Lea 2006) Data shows that 90 percent of computers use Microsoft products including Windows and Internet Explorer. (Lea 2006) This has affected competition in this sector. Consequently, large numbers of people are compelled to buy products from Microsoft. The solution for this problem is that Microsoft should be divided into two sections.
One section can deal with legal and licensed software, which can be sold at a particular price, while another section can concentrate on products such as video player, which can be freely downloaded. This implies that government is taking sufficient measures to protect interest of consumers who in the IPR regime tend to buy software at inflated price. Another alternative is to abolish IPR of software so that it becomes equivalent to mathematical formulae or a scientific law, which consumers can use and modify based on their subsequent research.
This can encourage creativity and innovation and achieve welfare of a large section of world population. (Lea 2006) Utilitarian and libertarian perspectives show that software patent rights do not achieve social welfare, as they aim to protect interest of companies such as Microsoft. Software patent rights have affected autonomy and freedom of individuals who are not legally allowed to modify computer programs. The government needs to introduce regulations restricting software prices. This can encourage companies to offer free software, which can be modified and redistributed for non commercial use.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 10 October 2016
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