Intellectual Privilege

Copyright, Common Law, and the Common Good

Intellectual Privilege reveals copyright as a statutory privilege that threatens our natural and constitutional rights. From this fresh perspective comes fresh solutions to copyright’s problems.

A consensus has recently emerged among academics and policymakers that US copyright law has fallen out of balance. Lawmakers have responded by taking up proposals to reform the Copyright Act. But how should they proceed? This book offers a new and insightful view of copyright, marking the path toward a world less encumbered by legal restrictions and yet richer in art, music, and other expressive works.

Two opposing viewpoints have driven the debate over copyright policy. One side questions copyright for the same reasons it questions all restraints on freedoms of expression, and dismisses copyright, like other forms of property, as a mere plaything of political forces. The opposing side regards copyrights as property rights that deserve—like rights in houses, cars, and other forms of property—the fullest protection of the law.

Each of these viewpoints defends important truths. Both fail, however, to capture the essence of copyright. Intellectual Privilege reveals copyright as a statutory privilege that threatens our natural and constitutional rights. From this fresh perspective come fresh solutions to copyright’s problems.

About the Author

Tom W. Bell is a professor at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law and an adjunct fellow of the Cato Institute. His writings include Regulator’s Revenge: The Future of Telecommunications Deregulation (Cato Institute), which he edited with Solveig Singleton; “Five Reforms for Copyright” in Copyright Unbalanced: From Incentive to Excess, edited by Jerry Brito (Mercatus Center at George Mason University); and many papers and articles. After earning a JD from the University of Chicago, Bell practiced law in Silicon Valley and Washington, DC. He began teaching in 1995, took a year’s leave of absence to serve as the Cato Institute’s director of telecommunications and technology studies, and joined Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law in 1998. Bell and his family live in San Clemente, California.

Praise for the Book

"In this lucid and persuasive work, Tom W. Bell makes the case for copyright rules that are closer to what the Framers had in mind, and better suited to today's 'packet-switched society.' A must-read for anyone interested in (so-called) intellectual property."

—Prof. Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Tennessee College of Law

"A fascinating, highly readable, and original look at copyright—whether you agree with it or not, you’ll find a great deal to think about here."

—Eugene Volokh, Gary T. Schwartz Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law

"Bell has written a brisk and readable account of copyright policy, arguing that progress in this area depends on trimming authors' rights back to the level they had reached in 1790, under the first Copyright Act. His simple and compelling thesis is that intellectual property rights, being born of statute, are always in tension with individuals' natural rights to think and speak as they will—and thus must meet a high burden of proof before being included in the law. Bell's fresh perspective makes a distinctive contribution to a field in which fundamental political theory too often takes a back seat to more overt utilitarian calculations."

—Richard A. Epstein, Laurence A. Tisch Professor, New York University School of Law, and Senior Fellow, The Hoover Institution