Cory Doctorow, everyone’s favourite bespectacled mine-fighter, on the term “intellectual property”.
Does it matter what we call it? Property, after all, is a useful, well-understood concept in law and custom, the kind of thing that a punter can get his head around without too much thinking.
That’s entirely true – and it’s exactly why the phrase “intellectual property” is, at root, a dangerous euphemism that leads us to all sorts of faulty reasoning about knowledge. Faulty ideas about knowledge are troublesome at the best of times, but they’re deadly to any country trying to make a transition to a “knowledge economy”.
Fundamentally, the stuff we call “intellectual property” is just knowledge – ideas, words, tunes, blueprints, identifiers, secrets, databases. This stuff is similar to property in some ways: it can be valuable, and sometimes you need to invest a lot of money and labour into its development to realise that value.