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Economic

Hey, You Stole My Idea!

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Take this article; did you know it holds a copyright that belongs to me? How about the device you are reading it on, did you know it has a patent owned by a specific individual? What about the corporate logo on this said device, did you know it is protected by a Trademark? Intellectual Property is everywhere, permanently entwined within our everyday lives; it is almost impossible to avoid. Like all legal principles, Intellectual Property (IP) is used to protect individual rights and freedoms, it enables people to earn recognition or financial benefit from whatever they invent or create through giving them an economic monopoly of a certain section of the market. IP is in fact so sacrosanct to society it is enshrined within the UN Declaration of Human Rights under Article 27: Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he/she is the author.

At the beginning of the article I mentioned the three major tools used in IP; Copyright, Patents and Trademarks. Copyright is by far the most common branch of Intellectual Property, it is defined as any original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, sound recordings and films, and therefore any unique piece of expressionism is entitled to copyright protection which basically blocks anyone from reproducing the work without the owner’s permission. The main reason it is so frequently used is because it is automatically granted as soon as the creator of the piece deems it finished, the copyright also lasts until 50 years after the death of the owner at which point it becomes part of the public domain. Patents are basically the scientific version of a copyright, they are used to protect the inventions of the individual but are physically more complex to construct. To protect the new invention the owner must go to the Patent Office and apply for a patent, in exchange for the right to prevent others copying and commercially exploiting the work, the creator must sacrifice the precise details of how the device functions so it can be made available to the public after a disclosed amount of time. The final provision is Trademarks; they include anything from names, logos or symbols that distinguish one company’s products or services from other businesses competing in the same market, the owner applies to the Trademark Office, pays a small fee (£170 in the UK) and much like copyrights and patents they gain protection from unwarranted use of the mark.

Although the main concepts seem very linear and straightforward these Intellectual Property laws are regularly ignored or disputed. A prime example when looking at copyright law is that of A & M RECORDS, INC. v. NAPSTER, INC which saw the Hollywood music industry take down the pirate website Napster in 2002. The dispute arose after Napster was causing controversy by allowing the general public to download MP3s of already copyrighted music for free. Napster was in clear violation of copyright law as not only did they fail to gain permission from the music’s respective owners but were also robbing them of potential revenue, as the consumers were able to bypass paying money to the record companies who already had a monopoly of that portion of the market.

Sometimes the verdicts are less clear cut, the case LUCASFILM V. COMMITTEE FOR A STRONG AMERICA showed that the laws on copyright and trademarks are still up for interpretation. The situation started in the mid-1980s when the Reagan administration’s Strategic Defensive Initiative that planned to put anti-missile weapons in space was coined the “Star Wars” program during television and media campaigns; a law suit was subsequently filed by the Star Wars creator George Lucas who understandably did not want his branding associated with American party politics, it would seem like a clear victory for Lucas’ lawyers, but they lost. The judge ruling on the case stated that although the term Star Wars can have its brand safeguarded due to trademark laws the name lacked sufficient “originality” to warrant copyright protection. Unfortunately this is where IP can fall flat in a Common Law scenario, as it is up to the subjective opinion of the judiciary to decide whether stringing two words together is enough to fulfill copyright requirements. But what about the Trademark Protection, how were they defeated there? This came back to one of the key principles of Trademarks, as the phrase was not being used to sell and profit from products or services the Government could use it freely, clearly the judge did not see a potential increase in electoral votes as profiteering.

To conclude it is clear Intellectual property will be forced to continually evolve and adapt long into the future, the growth of the digital age and the internet has made it exponentially harder for copyright and trademark protection to be enforced, especially when vast amounts of illegally distributed material is just a mouse click away. The ways patents are granted will also have to be revolutionised as global industry becomes increasingly complex, with investment in things like nanotechnology, programming and pharmaceuticals the lines will become blurred between what constitutes a new invention or a slightly altered replica of the same formula. The philosophical and moral principles behind Intellectual Property will be subject to constant debate as the outlook of society changes; it needs to strike an optimal balance between the power of exclusive rights to stimulate the creation of inventions and works of art, while at the same time allowing widespread public enjoyment of those creations, therefore the judiciary will have to decide whether IP should promote maximum social welfare or maintain the foundations of a capitalist society. In order for an economy to remain competitive its population needs an incentive to innovate and invent, and as sufficient payment for their hard work a monopoly over their creation would be expected. However this would be leaving the welfare of society at the wayside, as placing monetary restrictions on these products will inevitably stop an element of the population from being able to access, and ultimately enjoy them.

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Economic

The Right To Our Own Body

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Historically, the law rejects people’s right to own their own body. Granted that this were the case, we as humans would possess the ability to auction our body in circumstances such as prostitution, slavery and organ trade. This would also provide us with the right to destroy our body; however this was prohibited and considered a violation of the law until the 1961 Suicide Act. We as humans, have the right to make decisions about our health, body, sexuality and reproductively. Nonetheless, throughout the world people are regularly restricted in this area of rights; being constantly thwarted by social attitudes, state and government agenda.

Medicine regularly challenges this concern regarding ownership. The consideration  of former parts of our body as our property, was evidenced in the Yearworth case. Here, the claimants deposited semen samples prior to undergoing chemotherapy (that may result in their infertility) suffered from psychiatric injury upon finding out that the hospital had misplaced or damaged their samples. In this case, the initial concern was that they would be unable to make a personal injury claim due to the fact that the semen was no longer a part of their body. A conclusion from the court, in this case led to the ability to make a personal injury claim; the claimants were in control of the semen, resulting in an ownership relationship. In the light of this case and particularly the recognition of ownership, it comes into question where the exceptions to the law’s attitude on ownership lies regarding former and present parts of our body.

Where do we draw the line when it comes to control over our bodies?  Where should courts draw the line on this prominent issue? This is concerning in regards to transplantations, control of one’s organs and to whom the cadaveric donations should go to.

We have no right to control what happens to our body after death; we merely have preferences made prior to death. Funeral wishes are not legally binding, therefore leaving us with no ownership of our body. In the case of transplants, the organs are required to go anonymously and impartially to the most compatible person at the top of the waiting list (regardless of any wishes  of the cadaveric donor). As a result of the Human Tissue Act of 2004, consent is obligatory before the removal, disposal or use of body parts, organs or any human tissue. Despite this act you are unable to insist upon being a donor for a particular person; transplant teams are legally unable to accept organs that come with conditions. Indeed, this is evidenced in the case of Laura Ashwood; after dying at age 21 her kidneys were given to complete strangers despite her specific wish to donate them to her mother suffering from kidney failure. Contrastingly, an owner’s wishes regarding property are absolute, there is no obligation to destroy such property if wishes are not made prior to the death of the owner. This is unlike that of the cadaveric organs- unless a distribution agreement is made beforehand. However, bodies are not legally considered to be property and therefore do not require ownership. Legal attitudes must be questioned nevertheless. Thus taking technological advancement into consideration, as the ability to donate specific body parts are increasing, so should the laws regarding our personal ownership and right to control such body parts.

Globally, the concerns regarding ownership of one’s body are dire. In the case of Burkina Faso, bodily rights including sexual and reproductive autonomy are disregarded on a huge scale; this imperative right of freedom is restricted and controlled by the state. These rights include the ability to make decisions concerning their health, body, sexual life and identity devoid of fear, coercion or criminalisation.  Here ownership is not necessary, but the right to control their body is integral. Free choice regarding women’s own bodies in Burkina Faso is not an option; a staggering 52% of girls in marry before age 18 whist 17% of women use contraceptives, this is one of the lowest rates in the world resulting in an average of 6 children per family. Burkina Faso’s circumstances are a product of a male dominant, patriarchal society, in which women’s rights are overruled by traditional and social attitudes of the state government. Rape survivors must pay for their own emergency care, women may be denied contraception if it is against their husband’s wishes. Hence making this case a direct defiance of not only ownership of one’s body, but their authoritative position. This therefore calls into question, the extent to which people’s ownership can be legally denied, in light of the awful of ongoing situations around the world.

For example Maria aged 17 in Burkina Faso was a victim of forced marriage; married to a 70 year old man at the hands of her father’s violent threats; Maria is refused the right to own control her body. Despite this being a necessary human right, the inequality of the sexes results in a lack of women’s right to chose. Abuse is often a direct consequence of this discrimination, the girl’s rights to education and health care, most notably sexual and reproductive health care are compromised. This unlawful matter is a product of traditional social attitudes restricting women’s right to control or own the rights to their body.

Culturally all around the world, the issue of body ownership is pressing. The historic legal position refusing the ownership of one’s body, appears to be highly restrictive in today’s age of technology and medical advancement. Human control over property is a vital aspect of law; hence the meaning of property and where our body falls under this description is something that may be altered in the future. This human right to ownership relies on the monitorisation of illegal activities whilst not infringing upon our autonomy.

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Economic

Do We Own Ourselves?

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If you want to feel rich, just count all of the things you have that money can’t buy. But what can money not buy? Nowadays, I am able to get almost whatever I want as long as I have the money to buy it. As Professor Michael Sandel states in his book, ‘What Money Can’t Buy’, one is able to receive a prison cell upgrade in the US for $82 per night. Additionally, the right to immigrate to the United States is also up for sale. Foreigners who invest $500,000 and create at least ten job opportunities in an area of high unemployment are eligible for a green card that entitles them to a permanent residency. Although the price is not posted, top universities told the Wall Street Journal that even admission to a prestigious university can be bought. Universities admitted that they “accept less than stellar students whose parents are wealthy and likely to make substantial financial contributions”, meaning that if my parents kindly built a brand new library, worth millions, for the top university in the world, my chances of getting into the university are much more probable than a just as capable or even a student of higher academic abilities who does not have this financial advantage.

The trade of all goods and services is done via markets. A market is simply defined as a place, whether it is a physical place like a shop or a digital place such as the internet, where sellers are able to sell their goods to buyers who are able to purchase them. Through economic mechanisms of demand and supply, a price is finally found. One of the requirements in the Sale of Goods Act of 1979 is that I must “own” or have been given permission to sell the good that I am selling. This means that I am not allowed to stand outside a multi-million pound property that I have found on Oxford Street and auction it off on the market. But this requirement brings up a serious question for discussion; Are you allowed to sell whatever you own? After thinking hard, the majority would finally come to a conclusion that one is able to sell whatever they own. However, complications arise in certain circumstances.

If I own a house, I am allowed to sell my house. If I own a car, I am allowed to sell my car. If I own the ability to teach, I am allowed to sell my service of teaching. If I am allowed to sell all the physical things that I own, why am I not allowed to sell my organs? Whilst the act of selling my organs may sound very strange, I own my body, so I should be able to do whatever I want with it. And if the law prohibits me from doing so, perhaps the law is trying to imply that I don’t own it. But if I don’t own it, who does?

The law has historically refused to say that anyone owns their own body. If you own your body, you can sell it, including selling organs, prostitution or selling yourself into slavery. It also means that you can decide whether to destroy it, but until 1961 suicide was a crime. In the Yearworth v North Bristol NHS Trust case, claimants had deposited semen samples with a clinic before undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, having been told that the therapy could make them infertile. The hospital did not store the samples with enough care and they were damaged, resulting in the men suffering psychiatric injury when discovering they now could not have children. The problem was that the law did not consider the bodily fluids as personal property and so the men could not bring a claim for personal injury.

However, investigations have shown that more people are willing to trade their vital organs for “extra cash”. Advertising organs for sale is illegal in the UK and anyone caught attempting it can face a three-year jail term. However, regardless of what the law says, the World Health Organisation revealed 10,000 black market operations involving organs were taking place every year. Is it really worth selling life-fatal organs for money? As Ralph Waldo Emerson, a 19th century American lecturer said, “Money often costs too much”.

The obvious question is whether the law should intervene to prevent us selling items that we own. Whilst I believe that we own our bodies, it is clear that the law limits our ability to do what we want with them. Perhaps this is what makes the question as to whether we own ourselves or not so controversial. This is also an issue of morality and an issue that will ultimately be decided by us through our elected representatives.

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Economic

Finders Keepers In The Law

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Imagine a situation where a person finds a substantial amount of money in an envelope on the floor of a shop. The finder hands the envelope over to the shopkeeper and makes an agreement with the shopkeeper that, if the original owner of the money does not collect it in one year then, the finder will come back and take possession of it. One year passes and the finder goes back to collect the money as no one has laid claim to it but the shopkeeper refuses to hand over the money. Who has rightful ownership to the money and who is in the wrong in this situation?

The Finder

One might argue that the finder has the right to the money due to them being the first to find and physically control the money in addition to the verbal contract they made with the shopkeeper. However, one could argue that the verbal agreement is not legally binding upon the two parties as there is no mutual consideration as there is no exchange, there is only a one-way transaction. While the agreement may not be seen as a contract, it can be seen as a promise which is also legally binding on the person who made it as the shopkeeper made a promise to the finder that they would give them the money after a year if no one claimed it. Therefore, it could be argued that the finder has rightful claim to the money but there are still the questions of: why should the finder determine the length of time the original owner has to reclaim the money and at what point is original ownership relinquished?

The Original Owner

From the previous question it can be seen that surely neither party of the shopkeeper or the finder have a rightful claim to the money as it still belongs to the original owner. The original owner has not abandoned the money if they simply lost it as in the legal definition of abandonment; the owner has to have the intention of relinquishing all ownership rights to the item. However, an ancient common law rule could be used to argue that the money no longer belonged to the original owner and rather, it belonged to the finder as the act of finding a chattel which has been lost and taking control of it gives the finder rights with respect to that chattel. The fact that the original owner did not lay claim to the money within a year, which is a reasonable amount of time, means that after that point another party could claim ownership of the money.

The Shopkeeper

While it can be said that another person apart from the original owner can claim the money after a year, the question still remains of whether it belongs to the finder or the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper can be said to have the right to the money as it was found on their land. The shopkeeper could also use ancient common law to argue their case as an occupier of land has such rights over all lost chattels which are on that land, whether or not the occupier knows of their existence. This would therefore mean that the shopkeeper, being the owner of the property of where the money was found, is the rightful owner.  It could also be argued that even if the finder claims the money; if the shopkeeper has paid money to try and find the original owner then should they be entitled to compensation?

Parker vs British Airways Board

This hypothetical scenario put out some complex legal questions however, it may seem unrealistic. However, a case of this ilk did happen in 1982 where a passenger (Parker) found a gold bracelet in the executive lounge of British Airways at Heathrow Airport.  Parker brought the bracelet to the board and made a deal that if the original owner did not claim the bracelet, then he would return and lay claim to it. The bracelet was not reclaimed but when Parker went to claim it, he found that British Airways (BA) had sold it for £850. The Court of Appeal heard the case and ruled in favour of Parker, making BA give him the £850 plus a £50 interest fee, as it was a matter of the primary school mantra “finders keepers”. By taking the bracelet into his control originally when he found it, Parker acquired the rights of possession except in the case if the original owner claimed which they did not. The judge ruled that BA could not have intention of gaining possession of the bracelet as they did not know that it was on their land and the common law rule could not be enacted as they had failed to provide a sufficient manifestation that they would claim any lost property on their land.

Therefore, in the case of the shopkeeper and the finder we can rule that the finder would have had the rightful ownership of the money as the shopkeeper did not offer sufficient manifestation of intention of ownership of lost property and after all-finders keepers.

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