Thomas C. Berg, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul/Minneapolis School of Law, has published Agape, Gift, and Intellectual Property as University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) Legal Studies Research Paper No. 15-19. Here is the abstract.
The scope of protection of intellectual property (IP) has become a social justice as well as a legal and business issue, especially in the international arena, where disputes continue over whether expanded IP rights help or harm people in developing nations. Scholars writing in the Christian tradition have begun to respond to these questions, analyzing IP-related issues in the light of Christian theological themes such as creation, stewardship, and solidarity with the poor. This paper, written for a Pepperdine Law School symposium on love and justice, explores potential implications for IP of another central Christian theme, agape: the form of love, independent of particularistic loyalties, that is most distinctive of Christian ethics. Agape in turns connects with the idea of “gift”: that creativity, among other human attributes, is a gift that humans receive (from a divine giver, Christians and other religious believers say). In Christian thought the sense of gift, and gratitude for the gift, connects to love of God and neighbor: the response of gratitude to God is to use the gift to benefit others. I connect these themes to those critics of IP rights, such as Lewis Hyde, who appeal to the virtues of a “gift economy” in which knowledge is shared rather than commoditized. Economies based on gift, and gratitude to the giver, have been thought to have a dark side: they can reinforce personal indebtedness and social hierarchies. But, following on the work of other Christian thinkers, I argue that the gift-giving economy can be universalized, and made more egalitarian, if we maintain, or recover, the sense that the human talents that produce goods are themselves gifts from a universal source (in Christian and other religious thought, from the God who gives all gifts in the first place). Creativity is thus a fundamental gift we receive, and IP law should encourage the response of gratitude: dissemination of that gift to others to benefit them, and empowerment of others to realize their own creative gifts. The paper concludes with suggested general implications for IP law and policy.