Note: This question refers to liberal as in Liberalism, not as in American Liberalism!

As copyright is considered a state-guaranteed monopoly for the creators of works, could it be considered a true liberal economic policy?

I'm not interested in debating pro and cons, if so, the question would be too much of an invitation for debate, I'm only interested in a scholarly analysis of copyright as either being or not being a liberal policy. I would understand if you would see the question as to open ended, if so, please comment on it and I'll amend the question to accommodate your concerns.

  • I don't see how it could be, it is an arbitrary state restriction in the hope it will improve society over all, but what else could one say about the topic? – Fela Winkelmolen Dec 10 '12 at 22:12
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    I really would like to see a substantiated answer with at the best a lot of citations to back it up… – Sven Clement Dec 10 '12 at 22:14
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    Can you be more specific on your definition of copyright? There seems to be a significant difference between DMCA style copyright and original highly limited one; and certain strains of Liberalism/Libertarianism may be accepting of the latter while objecting to the former. – user4012 Dec 11 '12 at 4:25
  • This is an interesting question, though I'd frame it as "intellectual property rights" in general as opposed to copyright. Classical liberals are big on property rights, and so I've seen a lot of disagreement about this one. ;) – mootinator Dec 11 '12 at 5:13
  • I'm specifically talking about copyright as a state-guaranteed monopoly. It was important for me to leave patents, and everything else considered as "intellectual property" aside to not skew the answers. Besides that is copyright something that can be understood since the Statute of Anne while everything else is very specialized… – Sven Clement Dec 11 '12 at 9:26

Most classical liberals respect property rights as the foundation of a liberal economy. One definition of a property right is a state granted monopoly on the use of an object.

Many consider John Locke the founder of classical liberalism. In a Lockean state of nature (see chapter two), people gain property rights by taking the unimproved land and putting themselves into it through labor. Once they have done this, they have a right to the land. They can voluntarily decide who enters it.

Copyright law is very similar to this Lockean viewpoint. I took unused words and put my labor into it to create a story. I now have mastery over this story and may decide who uses it.

Copyright law, however, has many difficulties.

  • What if two people write the same book independently? What if someone else's book is just very similar?
  • How does copying your book harm you? What about my right to do whatever I want on my property?

But land ownership also has many unclear difficulties as well.

  • Can I play my music very loudly if it enters your land? Exactly how loud? What about my right to do whatever I want on my property?

  • What if I take the oil beneath your land while only drilling on my land?

  • Can I go on your land at night or if you're not there? What if I'm very quiet and respectfully leave as soon as I see you? How does that harm you?

Based on their similar origins and a broadly similar level of difficulty in defining and enforcing, it is reasonable that a classical liberal could find copyright law an acceptable form of property rights.


Copyright is a right-wing economic policy. Whether you can call it "liberal" depends on what you mean under "liberal". In the US "liberal" usually means a left-wing politician, in Europe, especially, in Eastern Europe "liberal" means a right-wing politician. Here in Russia, definitely it is the "liberals" who promote copyright and other US-imposed policy (privatization, collaboration with the NATO etc).

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