The Human Rights Paradox: Intellectual Property Rights and Rights of Access to Science

Aurora Plomer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


The right of everyone to share in the benefits of science has been enshrined in human rights instruments since the last century, originally in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and subsequently in Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The right was generally perceived as "obscure" and its interpretation widely neglected until the expansion of the international intellectual property (IP) regime under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) prompted an upsurge of legal scholarship and reports from international organizations seeking to address the "human rights paradox." The paradox is claimed to arise from the juxtaposition in human rights instruments of individual rights over intellectual creations against the rights of everyone to "share in scientific advancement and its benefits." This article draws on archived documentation to show that the paradox rests on a conceptual obfuscation of human rights and IP rights and is at odds both with the historical record on the aims of the drafters of the UDHR and the philosophical and legal foundations of human rights and IP rights. The drafting history of Article 27 shows that delegations from South American socialist countries backed the French initiative to include rights of authors and inventors to the protection of their intellectual creations, while the US, UK, and former Anglo-Saxon colonies opposed the proposal to the very end. Yet, behind the paradoxical political alignments there are important areas of convergence on the underlying philosophies and moral rationales which led to the adoption of Article 27 of the UDHR.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-175
Number of pages33
JournalHuman Rights Quarterly
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013

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