Royalty: a fee that is paid to the owner or creator of intellectual property when it is used again. Black’s Law dictionary
Intellectual property is a legal concept and like other legal concepts dependent on definition and open to political use and abuse.
The physical, geographical world has indeed been mapped extensively, some might say: exhaustingly, and to the extent that one may not walk this earth anymore without treading on another man’ or woman’s property.
As we are starting to protect that what we call intellectual property – with good reason, think compensation of artists, musicians, inventors who cannot work for free and live on nothing any more than any other trade could – we also have to think of what it means that we are willing to treat ideas very much the same way that we treat the surface of this planet.
As much as one – at the beginning of tis new century with its overwhelming environmental, cultural and economical problems – could question whether the concept of the exclusive private rights to use the land (property) and its resources has been beneficial one should now very carefully consider whether a similar approach of mapping the works of the mind through exclusive rights seems the path we should follow if we hope to address those problems that are not individual but communal problems, not problems of one country but of all people hoping to keep this earth a home for future generations.
“If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” Thomas Jefferson, letter to Isaac McPherson, August 13th, 1813
It only occurred to me some years after first meeting him that his brain had been on fire probably day and night, during waking moments and during sleep. He was, I could see that right away, back then, high wired, hyper intelligent, super sensitive, coy, cornered, cynical. In was apparent in the first conversation one would have with him that he was constantly computing any kind of informational offering of his environment for bits and pieces of useful knowledge, useful in his own sense, not ruling out the value of overheard conversations of strangers, visual clues of bill board advertisement, the color scheme of the dioxin polluted NJ marsh lands, conspiracy theories and their opposites, math, astronomy, information technology, Shakespeare, even the CNN news ticker. He was reading, forever reading, and then reading some more, his brain was speed feeding itself knowledge, and he could recover this knowledge with the casual speed of a trained illusionist. When I knew him better he showed me the encyclopedic if highly individual work he was dedicated to, a work in many volumes bound in blue linen as soon as a new one was considered completed. A friend who worked at a university library did this for him volume by volume, one for the shelf in his den, and a twin one that he archived openly secretely in said library, for everyone to see and no one to find in maybe another century. It was a work so biased and yet so beautiful that it was unquestionable that I had been admitted to a unique work of art though he preferred to call it a scientific study of random code.
And still, it was only years later when in the course of an increase of my English language skills I could not only read but also hear all the different voices merging in “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace that I realized I had actually met a man who is – if that is at all possible considered who Wallace was – the dark twin of David Foster Wallace, sharing his semantics, his obsession, his socioeconomic circumstances, his despair, his addiction, his near autistic ingenuity to gain access to ever deeper layers of information and information encoded within this information,and that he was the man who had to be expected to exist in the margins of literary history, never to be found, as we know that there is never just one genius at any given time, but often just one to emerge to public consciousness , maybe to his own destruction. so that, with other words, i know there to be one other living madman, or genius, or whatever you’d like to call a man with a brain on fire, to weave the net still, to still find the words, to write the chronic of what is and was and will be in all its Borgean implications, thereby freely accepting the responsibility of calling the world into existence.
It seems to me that where private properties exist, where all men measure all things in relation to money, it is hardly possible to establish, in public affairs, a regime at once just and prosperous, unless you esteem it just that the best things belong to the worst persons, or unless you judge it well that all goods be shared among the fewest people who even then are not entirely satisfied, whilst all others are in the direst poverty. This is why I reflect upon the Constitution of the Utopians, so wise, so morally irreproachable, among whom with the fewest possible laws all is regulated for the good of all, in such a way that merit is rewarded; and that, in a sharing from which no one is excluded, everyone has nonetheless a large part.
Sir Thomas More