I haven't seen any information or thoroughly researched this idea or question. I'm not even sure it's an actual problem, but I'm wondering if certain replicated items infringe on copyright laws in the Star Trek universe?

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    Do you mean "replicate" as in make a copy of a book or artwork, or "replicate" as in make a physical copy? Aug 18, 2021 at 0:53
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    Considering that the Federation generally doesn't use money, it's not clear to me if/how copyright law exists there. The answer probably varies from planet to planet. Aug 18, 2021 at 1:06
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    @ApproachingDarknessFish You still have intellectual property rights in something you don't intend to sell for money. As the author it's your right to decide who may use it, who may duplicate or modify it, and what credit you want for any such thing.
    – Cadence
    Aug 18, 2021 at 1:48
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    Apparently there is a law against replicating the success of the first two series, does that count?
    – JohnHunt
    Aug 18, 2021 at 6:26
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    @JohnHunt you mean excluding Deep Space 9, which was the best of the Star Trek series.
    – DaveG
    Aug 19, 2021 at 0:09

4 Answers 4


Yes, there are Intellectual Property (IP) laws in the Federation.

In the ST:VOY episode Author Author the EMH Doctor writes a holonovel, which he submits to a publisher. The publisher steals the work. There is then a legal hearing to determine whether the Doctor has a right to control his own IP. The Doctor wins.

The publisher's legal argument is the the Doctor isn't a real person, so the IP rights do not apply. This demonstrates that the rights exist in the first place.

I don't know any source, canon or not, that describes whether copyright extends to replicator patterns, but I would expect it would.

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    I would add that aside from that one episode, IP is conspicuously absent from the Star Trek universe. I've never seen any other discussion of getting the rights or license to holodeck programs (or any software) or new technologies.
    – luther
    Aug 18, 2021 at 14:56
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    @luther That's because holodeck software requires a monthly subscription with premium lootboxes purchases periodically, or you're immediately dumped into a timeshare seminar where the holodeck hologram tries to sell you on a 2 hour share of a condo on a Risa. There's no need for copyright. They just lock up your favorite programs which are stored in the cloud and streamed.
    – John O
    Aug 18, 2021 at 16:32
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    I would add that IP rights could exist while still being rarely applied to everyday situations, if there was a large public domain, which there would be after hundreds of years (assuming rights expire).
    – jl6
    Aug 18, 2021 at 18:36
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    @JohnO - You're a monster for giving me that nightmare.
    – Fake Name
    Aug 19, 2021 at 8:29
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    This could be partly a matter of privacy laws rather than intellectual property per se--if someone writes something they don't want published (at least not in that form, as with a draft), and someone else gets their hands on it and makes it public, that may be embarrassing to the first person in a way that could be seen as a violation of privacy. If the Doctor had actually agreed to publish a draft, I don't think we can necessarily infer that in the moneyless world of the Federation it would be illegal for others to replicate copies without permission.
    – Hypnosifl
    Aug 19, 2021 at 13:51

Based on the TNG episode with the cryogenically frozen people that are thawed out, I'd be surprised if there were restrictions on replication (at least based on IP law).

Picard has to explain multiple times to one of the thawed folks who used to be rich that he is now in a post-scarcity society, and that money is a quaint idea they'd matured beyond.

Without money as a profit motivator, most of IP law doesn't make sense. There may be some sort of registry of who invented what, but without money there isn't really any reason to restrict who can replicate an item other than safety.

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    Let's not forget that IP also protects artistic integrity. I can't repurpose someone else's characters for my own work regardless of profit motive, and I'm sure authors with personal connections to their work would not want their characters being written into stories they don't like. I'd expect that TNG-Disney would still want to stamp out X-rated Mickey Mouse movies even without profit motive to do so, for example. Aug 18, 2021 at 16:53
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    Rich Guy: No more money - well my portfolio prepared for that too. Picard: Even bitcoin went to zero. Scarcity is not demand during an atomic war. Rich Guy: Noooo. Aug 18, 2021 at 19:13
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    @NuclearHoagie - "I can't repurpose someone else's characters for my own work regardless of profit motive, and I'm sure authors with personal connections to their work would not want their characters being written into stories they don't like" You can however do your own cover of someone else's song without their permission as long as you pay a certain legally set royalty rate. IP laws in their current form exist for the sake of the profits of IP holders and not to protect the feelings of creators, I doubt IP owners would be able to actively censor derivative works in the moneyless Federation.
    – Hypnosifl
    Aug 19, 2021 at 13:57
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    @Hypnosifl In the US, the stated purpose of copyright law is simply to "promote the progress of the sciences and useful arts". You'll note that copyright law applies even to unpublished works, for which there can be no possible profit motive for the IP holder. IP laws are not strictly about profits. Aug 19, 2021 at 14:29
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    @NuclearHoagie - That was the stated purpose when the constitution was written, but as IP has become a bigger part of the economy the law has become more purely motivated by profit (look at the extensions of copyright law far beyond what they were originally, and beyond the likely lifetime of most creators). Further if it was about protecting creators rather than businesses, there'd be limits on the degree to which actual creators could lose all ownership if doing work for hire (think of cases like Alan Moore or Siegel & Shuster).
    – Hypnosifl
    Aug 19, 2021 at 17:03

According to Memory Alpha there was a patented component seen in USS Discovery, and Harry Mudd made his living selling pirated technology to civilisations without paying any royalties.

In a post-scarcity world there would be no point to patents. The reason for them is that invention is a public good, meaning it costs loads to invent something (time, education, experience, equipment, etc.) but once invented costs virtually nothing to copy it, so less resources are allocated to inventing stuff than we'd like. Same with books and music - lots of time, equipment, and talent needed to produce it, virtually none to copy it. But if resources are free and unlimited, this reasoning no longer applies. Everyone can have 100% leisure time, can get as much education as they want on any subject, and can replicate any item of equipment they might need, and have advanced software that can fill in for any lack of skill or practice - the limitation then is no longer resources but interest. People only do stuff because they want to. Like people write open source free software, and offer their expertise on question and answer sites for free, because they have all their other needs supplied. The only reason to assert ownership of an idea is vanity.

Of course, in practice the Star Trek universe was in many ways clearly not post-scarcity. It would make for a boring show if it was. It's like the technology. As a science fiction fantasy, they clearly have many future technologies that can do marvellous things and solve all our present-day problems. But that just means they have to invent new more difficult problems needing even more advanced technology that they haven't yet got, to create drama and conflict. In the same way, future economics might solve many of our present-day economic problems, but the future will just invent its own even more difficult ones to be solved. And if you ever did manage to solve them all, then the problem would be boredom, like the Q Continuum. Humans are problem-solvers - we'd just go out and find more problems to solve. So despite Picard's Utopian claims, the future is always going to have scarcity-driven economics, and money, and a need for intellectual property. I'd bet six bars of gold-pressed latinum on it!

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    I agree. ST:V was explicitly not post scarcity, with replicator rations and holodeck time being used as internal currency by the crew. Even in Federation space they relied on miners to produce the fuel for their reactors, without which the entire thing falls down. Although surely they could have used matter-energy conversion to turn their trash into power for their systems...
    – Corey
    Aug 19, 2021 at 3:43
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    You might be interested in Iain Banks's take on post-scarcity. In fact it's very similar to your description of the Star Trek universe. Most people have infinite leisure and the ability to do what they want within reasonable bounds. People that want to experience adversity can join the fringe groups like Star Fleet or the secret service in Banks's universe. Aug 19, 2021 at 21:54
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    @Corey. Fringe groups like miners and starfleet can exist even in a nearly post-scarcity society. Although I've always maintained that we can't have post-scarcity (and many other nice things) as long as we're the ones running things. Aug 19, 2021 at 23:26

I am almost certain the Ferengi would have a lot of copyright laws however IIRC there is nothing in canon about them.

The closest we come is either the fact that you need permission to replicate certain items such as weapons although this technically has nothing to do with copyright or the Voyager episode Author, Author which does not involve the replicator but does allude to certain aspects of copyright notably a creators rights to the use of their work.

It is likely that if a form of copyright to replicated items that The Federation would own all of them since to replicate an item you would have to use their replicator and it would be simple enough to require a transfer of the copyright in order to get permission to use the replicator. This is pure speculation as again there is nothing in canon that I can recall.

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    The closest thing I can think of to the gut feeling you have about Ferengi is Quark being overjoyed that his childhood action figures were saved by his mom - I recall mint in original packaging. Collectors items imply that replicators haven't flooded the ferengi version of the 80s toy market. Aug 18, 2021 at 5:41
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    @lucasbachmann Isn't replicated matter distinguishable from non-replicated? If so, collectors could easily identify and reject replicated copies of collector's items. Aug 18, 2021 at 8:19
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    @ApproachingDarknessFish that has scary consequences for everyone who's ever used a transporter, essentially a replicator where the pattern is sent in from elsewhere. :-o Aug 18, 2021 at 10:00
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    @ApproachingDarknessFish There are substances in the ST universe which can't be replicated, like for example Dilitihium or Latinum (which is why the Ferengi use it as a currency). It could be possible that collectors items contain unreplicable substances to distinguish them from replicated counterfeits.
    – Philipp
    Aug 18, 2021 at 13:32
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    Yeah, you can't replicate gold-pressed latinum, which is why they value it so much. Though it turns out they consider the gold to be worthless, it's only the liquid latinum encased within it which holds any value. Aug 18, 2021 at 16:38

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