San Diego Law Review


Adam D. Moore

Document Type



The primary, and perhaps sole, function of government according to Locke was to secure and protect the lives, liberties, and property of individuals who consented, explicitly or tacitly, to a specific political union. The question that I will address in this Article, and one that I took up over fifteen years ago, is: should we consider intellectual works to be the proper subjects of Lockean property claims? My answer then and now is “yes,” with the acknowledgement that such a view may require substantial revisions to Anglo-American systems of intellectual property. I will argue that intellectual property rights are no different from rights to lives, liberties, and estates—that is, intellectual property rights should not be seen as state-created entities offered as an inducement to bring forth new knowledge.

The upshot of viewing intellectual property rights as state-created monopolies, far too often controlled by the powerful and well-connected, is the seemingly pervasive opinion that systems of intellectual property represent the mafia family on a global scale. In my view, to be justified and to warrant worldwide coercion, systems of intellectual property should be grounded in a Lockean theory of property—a theory that acknowledges and protects the natural rights of authors and inventors. Part II of this Article will present the main outlines of a Lockean theory of intellectual property. Part III will take up several specific objections that have been leveled against my preferred view. Finally, Part IV will consider several general objections to intellectual property.