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Carolyn Noelle Llige

Management Consultant, Tridel Technologies, Inc.

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To whom does an idea, a poem or design really belong to?

In the movie 'Il Postino' Pablo Neruda was scolding Mario Ruoppolo (his postman) for plagerizing his (Pablo's) poem so he (Mario) could woo the woman he was pursuing. Pablo said that Mario can't just use someone's work (in this case Pablo's poem) without owner's permission. Mario wanted to know why. Pablo said because it didn't belong to him. But Mario argued that poems don't belong to the writer, they belong to whomever needs it.

At first blush Pablo would seem to be right in his claim, but on deeper consideration, maybe Mario has an even more valid point. Writings, designs and ideas are never created in a vacuum. They always happen within a context of circumstance, of culture, of geography and of language. It could never be created without all these external input. Likewise any idea or creation would have no value except when released within that same context. So why then should the 'creator' claim exclusive ownership if his ability to create and the value or utility of his creation are contingent upon the context within which he creates?

Could anyone really be able to create anything without a language, without some form of education, without resources, all of which were made available to him (the creator) by entities other than himself. And even if he could, of what value would his creation be, if only he were to use it.

I am proposing therefore, that perhaps our concept of intellectual property rights are flawed. That since the creation and viability of the intellectual property require participation from a much larger base then ownership should likewise be shared with that base.


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    Nov 5 2011: I'd like to cite a quote that says it best. In a letter to Isaac McPherson, Tomas Jefferson writes:

    "...It would be curious then, if an idea, the fugitive fermentation of an individual brain, could, of natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable property.

    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.

    That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.

    Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

    ...In some other countries it is sometimes done, in a great case, and by a special and personal act, but, generally speaking, other nations have thought that these monopolies produce more embarrassment than advantage to society; and it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are as fruitful as England in new and useful devices."

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