Crawl Across the Ocean

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Tell 'Em Thomas

Sometimes I find it amusing how Americans put the 'founding fathers' up on a pedestal, but then I read some quote or piece of writing from one the 'fathers' and end up being really impressed by their insight.

Case in point, I was reading through this interesting post written last year by Matthew Iglesias on the topic of copyright. Iglesias makes a worthwhile point that unlimited file-sharing would likely impact the movie industry more severely than the music industry, although I think he underestimates the movie industry's ability to adapt.

In the comments to the post, commenter zach links to a letter written by Thomas Jefferson on the subject of intellectual property. The whole thing is not long and worth reading (no really, I mean it - go read it), but I'm going to excerpt most of the same key passages that zach did, because he chose well,

"It has been pretended by some, (and in England especially,) that inventors have a natural and exclusive right to their inventions, and not merely for their own lives, but inheritable to their heirs.


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.


Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property. Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody.


Considering the exclusive right to invention as given not of natural right, but for the benefit of society, I know well the difficulty of drawing a line between the things which are worth to the public the embarrassment of an exclusive patent, and those which are not."

It's handy because now any time anyone asks what I think about intellectual property (OK, this has never happened, but it could) I can just refer them to this letter.


  • "...but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody."

    Clever fellow.

    By Blogger KevinG, at 1:43 PM  

  • Can you imagine what he would have to say patent trolls or Yahoo's patent of "one-click" shopping?

    By Blogger KevinG, at 1:46 PM  

  • Yes, I dare say the patent board has changed a lot since the days Jefferson was on it - and not for the better.

    I don't know what he would say, but I bet it would be eloquent and right on the money.

    By Blogger Declan, at 5:18 PM  

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