The Ownership of Ideas

"The question of what can be the proper subject of ownership — what is property? — is an important theme of libertarianism. It arises in discussion of such diverse topics as slavery, pollution, animal rights and intellectual property. It is with intellectual property (by which is commonly meant, copyright and patent) that the question becomes unusually difficult, for what is being claimed is the ownership of intangibles, of ideas. The title of a recent book, Who Owns What Is In Your Mind?, concretizes a commonsense objection to intellectual property; most people would loudly declare: “no one owns what is in my mind!” Yet, if the information you have is a chemical formula which you accidentally glimpsed, do you have the right to market it as your own over the protests of the chemist who worked a lifetime to perfect it? Do you have the right to publish a book with characters named John Galt and Dagney Taggart? And if not, why not?

Intellectual property was the subject of intensive and unsurpassed debate within the pages of Benjamin Tucker’s libertarian periodical Liberty (1881-1908). Because of this, the best presentation of this question is an overview of the debate. The citations which appear directly after the questions refer to the appropriate issue and page of Liberty." - Wendy McElroy, read the rest.