A State owned hard drive contains intellectual property belonging to an individual. Can the State remove that hard drive from the premises of the individual without his consent?


  1. The property was proprietary data given to the researcher in the course of his research

  2. There may be other copies around, but I believe that is more or less immaterial to the question

  3. The individual was not given the opportunity to remove the IP from the drive, and even if he was, forensic tools are available to recover that material.

Followup Question:

Does this mean that the owner of the hard drive can walk off with the intellectual property of the user of that drive?

Does hardware ownership 'trump' the ownership of material on the hard drive?

Followup Question:

Does the State have the right to move an author's intellectual property from one medium to a different, possibly less secure, medium without the consent of the Author? Or, to put it another way, does the author have any rights with regard to the disposition of his intellectual property?

  • 5
    How did this individual's intellectual property get on to the state owned hard drive? Is this the only copy of the IP? has the individual been given the opportunity to copy and/or remove the IP from the drive? Use the 'edit' link below your question to add additional details.
    – brhans
    Jan 8, 2019 at 22:21
  • 1
    What jurisdiction is this (what State)? "Intellectual property" is sort of a misnomer and its protections are very different from those for tangible property. For instance, suppose the drive contains data to which Bob holds the copyright. Under US law, for instance, the state generally can't copy the data without Bob's consent, but copyright law does not prevent them from deleting it, nor would it require them to let Bob make a copy before they do so. Conceivably some other law might apply, but again, you'll have to specify the jurisdiction. Jan 9, 2019 at 3:11
  • This now seems reasonably clear and not too broad. It should not be closed, in my view. Jan 9, 2019 at 3:31
  • 1
    "Can the owner of the hard drive 'walk off' with the intellectual property" - What will the owner do? Destroy the data, copy and republish the data, etc. For example, if you use my computer and save some proprietary information there, as the owner of the computer I still have every right to wipe the hard drive, destroying that information. But I don't automatically have a right to republish the data, even if it is on "my" hard drive.
    – Brandin
    Jan 9, 2019 at 7:16
  • With regard to your followup question - did the author of the IP come to any agreement with the owner of the storage medium before making use of it to store this IP? Should the owner of the storage medium be bound to an unspecified set of rules which it may not have had the opportunity to agree to (or even review)?
    – brhans
    Jan 9, 2019 at 15:05

2 Answers 2


Assuming that the owner of the hard drive (irrespective of if that owner is a government or private person) is legally entitled to take possession of the hard drive then they can do so subject to the fact that they generally cannot commit a crime to do so (e.g. trespass or damage to property).

If the person in possession of the hard drive refuses to hand it over, the owner can seek a court order to seize it - this may allow trespass etc.

Any IP on the hard drive that doesn't belong to the owner of the drive is still protected by all relevant IP laws. For example, the owner of the drive cannot copy copyright material without permission unless it is in accordance with fair use/fair dealing rules.


A person who owns a physical copy of a copyrighted work, which was obtained lawfully, need not surrender the physical copy (or the artifact containing the copy) to the copyright-holder. I own many books, but I would not be required to give them up to the authors should the authors demand them.

If the data was provided under a NDA, or some other valid contract limiting access, then the other party can insist on that contract being honored. If that contract provides for deletion of the content on demand, or after a specified time, then those contract provisions must be honored or a suit for breach of contract would have merit. Exactly what would follow would depend on the specific wording of the contract, and to some extent on the jurisdiction where all this took place.

If there was no contract, and the copy of the content was given to the owner of the hard drive with the permission of the copyright-holder, or the holder's authorized agent, then the holder has no recourse as long as the hard drive is not used to make additional copies or otherwiuse infringe the copyright.

In a significant sense, ownership of the storage medium does trump "ownership" of the content. We often speak of someone "owning" a document, but what is really owned is the copyright on that document. That gives the copyright holder a number of rights, but not the right to control what the owner of a physical copy does with it as long as that owner does not make unauthorized copies, or violate any of the other exclusive rights that are part of copyright. Nor does the copyright-holder have the right to control who reads a lawful copy, as long as additional copies are not made. In the US the possessor of a copy will have additional rights under the "fair use' doctrine.


Moving a document to a different storage medium would involve making a copy. This would be copyright infringement unless permission had been granted, or it was permitted as fair use (in the US). Note that making a backup of a computer program or an electronic document is normally considered to be fair use. Note also that the only way in which this could be enforced would be through a lawsuit for copyright infringement, requesting an injunction from the court. If the document has little economic value, such a suit might not be successful. In any case bringing it would involve some costs, and would (in the US) require registration of the copyright before suit could be filed.

  • 1
    This answer does not seem to correlate with the question.
    – cnst
    Jan 9, 2019 at 5:23

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