As this almost unearthly quote of J. Barlow suggests, cyberspace - or for many of us just the internet - is currently one of the most visible, accessible and far reaching vehicles of globalisation. And globalisation is not just happening on the internet, it is also well under way in the spheres of economy and law. In addition, with the increasing importance of innovations and information, our society is also transforming into what has been called the Information Society: in which information and other intellectual produce are becoming the primary source of wealth. This, in turn, has - together with, and against increased file-sharing and recombination of existing works on-line - made more parties interested in enclosing these riches by stricter Intellectual Property (IP) Laws, resulting in what some have called a virtual land-grab. It is at these increasingly relevant crossroads of information technology, globalisation, and IP-law that this paper finds its subject.
The main question asked is whether IP and IP-laws can still, or no longer, be justified from a historic and global perspective. While answering this question we don't just look at the contemporary ethical issues, but take historic developments as our basis and starting-point. This because historic analysis can unearth not just the history of IP-law itself, but also - and especially relevant for our question - how it functions in the world as the times change, changing the ways and degrees to which these laws apply and function, similar to how not just modifications to a text, but also the further evolution of the language it is written in, can change its readings.
We will start with a short history of IP in early, modern, and contemporary history, to provide the necessary background. Then we will attempt to clear the conceptual muddle that is currently swamping much of the day to day debate about IP. It starts with an explication of the central concepts: property, intellectual and intellectual property. Followingly all stakeholders and interests involved in IP are identified; authors, publishers, the public and society. The introductory explication of concepts ends with a listing and discussion of the most important fields of power in which these interests are opposing and balancing against each other.
Then we will go into the two main classical theories of justification for Intellectual Property: the utilitarian stimulation of creation theory and the Lockean labor desert theory. In the sixth section an outline will be given of the long term structural changes that are of relevance for our understanding of IP in relation to the theories of justification; the rise of the information society, the second enclosures movement, globalisation, decentralized (re-)production, and creation by globally dispersed communities.
In the last part the findings will be presented. First of all it will be argued that because of the problems that IP now runs into and creates due to historical and technological developments, IP is no longer justified. Then some alternatives will be briefly discussed, such as the emergence of a second, parallel, market for virtual goods in which usage or popularity is rewarded, not the piece-wise sale that works well for physical goods only. Finally we will criticise the reification that is central to the debate in the form of both talk of 'natural' rights and the blind acceptance of the need to impose artificial scarcity on works of the intellect in order to extract a fair profit from the first market. We will conclude with a short answer to the question of the justifiability of copyrights and a sketch of recent developments.