For the past few years I’ve been questioning the justice of copyright and patent law. It seems to me that intellectual property is not actually property, because both you and I can use intellectual property at the same time, without diminishing the other. This is very different from actual property, like a loaf of bread, which either you have or I have, or else we must split it and we will each be left with less than a whole loaf of bread. And so it seems that patent protections unjustly prevent people from doing with their own possessions what they think best. I think this is unjust even if the people using someone else’s invention is making a profit out of doing so. In the same way, it seems to me that copyright law unjustly prevents people from doing with their own possessions (their paper, their computer) what they think best.
Because of that, it seems to me that intellectual property laws are unjust on principle (unjust in and of themselves). It seems to me that they also have negative social consequences. For example, big tech companies have the power to monopolize their inventions through patent law, so that the price of such technology is kept high and poor people are priced out of technology.
Now, Catholics are called to follow the law unless the law is unjust, in which case the law is not law at all. We are called to work through the political process to change unjust laws and engage in civil disobedience instead of violence. To fail to follow a just law is to commit sin of grave matter (potentially a mortal sin).
So I have three questions:
*]Assuming I’m right about intellectual property, is this the kind of unjust law that we are permitted (and perhaps called) to disobey?
*]Are there any Catholic/Christian concepts or declarations that I might be ignoring in my argument against intellectual property?
*]Is it a sin to break or cooperate in breaking a law that one strongly suspects to be unjust, but is not sure?
I do think I might be trying to justify my own actions by asking these questions, since I do feel that I might have done something wrong by breaking copyright law. At the same time, I do sincerely doubt the justice of intellectual property law, and these questions will help me get out of limbo and onto one side of the fence. It will either help me stop questioning myself when breaking copyright law would be useful, or it will help me stop myself when breaking copyright law would be useful.