‘Intellectual property’ is a silly euphemism

As an antidote to the gloom about the Blackboard patent, read Cory Doctorow’s explanation in The Guardian last week (a couple of days before the verdict) of why ‘intellectual property’ is a silly euphemism:

Most of all, it [‘intellectual property’] is not inherently “exclusive”. If you trespass on my flat, I can throw you out (exclude you from my home). If you steal my car, I can take it back (exclude you from my car). But once you know my song, once you read my book, once you see my movie, it leaves my control. Short of a round of electroconvulsive therapy, I can’t get you to un-know the sentences you’ve just read here.

He concludes that

it’s time to set property aside, time to start recognising that knowledge – valuable, precious, expensive knowledge – isn’t owned. Can’t be owned. The state should regulate our relative interests in the ephemeral realm of thought, but that regulation must be about knowledge, not a clumsy remake of the property system.

I do hope we can get there sooner rather than later.  Academics – and in particular, academics engaged strongly with new technologies – can and should be in the vanguard here.


Author: dougclow

Academic in the Institute of Educational Technology, the Open University, UK. Interested in technology-enhanced learning and learning analytics.