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Intellectual Property as Socialistic "Human Rights"

I’ve noted before that the term “human rights” and, in particular, its usage in international law, has acquired a leftist, anti-property tinge–incompatible with the Rothbardian-libertarian conception of human rights as property rights. (See my Book Review of Patrick Burke, No Harm: Ethical Principles for a Free Market (1994), Reason Papers No. 20 (Fall 1995), at n. 13 and accompanying text; Murray N. Rothbard, “Human Rights” As Property Rights, in The Ethics of Liberty.)

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights [sic] is a veritable socialistic manifesto, providing for “rights” to social security (Art. 22); to protection against unemployment, equal pay for equal work, and to unionize (Art. 23); to vacation time (Art. 24); to food, housing, and medical care (Art. 25); and to an education (Art. 26). The International Covenants on Human Rights include the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which provides for similar welfare rights. They also make it clear that property rights and other rights are subject to the state’s pleasure: Art. 17 (“Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others … No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property”); Art. 29(2) (“In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society”).

So it should be no surprise that according to article 27(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.” Internationalist socialists think IP is a right. Damned by faint praise!


Stephan Kinsella

Stephan Kinsella is an attorney in Houston, director of the Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom, and editor of Libertarian Papers.

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