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Like air, ideas are incapable of being locked up and hoarded

An interesting summary of Thomas Jefferson’s views on intellectual property, written by a 17 year old Aaron Swartz, printed in The Boy Who Could Change The World, loc 370-380:

No one seriously disputes that property is a good idea, but it’s bizarre to suggest that ideas should be property. Nature clearly wants ideas to be free! While you can keep an idea to yourself, as soon as you share it anyone can have it. And once they do, it’s difficult for them to get rid of it, even if they wanted to. Like air, ideas are incapable of being locked up and hoarded. And no matter how many people share it, the idea is not diminished. When I hear your idea, I gain knowledge without diminishing anything of yours. In the same way, if you use your candle to light mine, I get light without darkening you. Like fire, ideas can encompass the globe without lessening their density. Thus, inventions cannot be property. Sure, we can give inventors an exclusive right to profit, perhaps to encourage them to invent new useful things, but this is our choice. If we decide not to, nobody can object. Accordingly, England was the only country with such a law until the United States copied her. In other countries, monopolies may be granted occasionally by special act, but there is no general system. And this doesn’t seem to have hurt them any—those countries seem just as inventive as ours.

Categories: Philosophy of Technology The Political Economy of Digital Capitalism

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