I found this article interesting in a historical context since this was written before the internet really started creating havoc with its ease of sharing information. The debate has not ended though and I suppose some would say it’s just getting started.
To understand the issue of copyright, we have to understand how copyright relates to the idea of property and ownership of property. Wendy tells us that Benjamin Tucker put forth a great analysis:
Tucker addressed this question in fundamental terms. He asked why the concept of property originated in the first place. If ideas are viewed as problem-solving devices, as answers to questions, then what about the nature of reality and the nature of man gave rise to the idea of property. In a brilliant analysis. Tucker concluded that property arose as a means of solving conflicts caused by scarcity. Since all goods are scarce, there is competition for their use. Since the same chair cannot be used in the same manner at the same time by two individuals: it was necessary to determine who should use the chair. Property resolved this problem. The owner of the chair determined its use. "If it were possible," wrote Tucker, "and if it had always been possible, for an unlimited number of individuals to use to an unlimited extent and in an unlimited number of places the same concrete things at the same time, there would never have been any such thing as the institution of property." Since the same idea or pattern can be used by an unlimited number to an unlimited extent in unlimited locations, he concluded that copyright ran counter to the very purpose of property itself — which was to ascertain the correct allocation of a scarce good.
So, ideas and information are different, you can’t completely hand over an idea or information to someone else - you can only share it. I like the example she gave that came from Thomas Jefferson. He compared an idea to lighting a candle. The light is an idea. If I have a lit candle and I light your candle with mine, you now have a lit candle but so do I. I’ve passed it along by sharing it with you but I haven’t given up any property.
Wendy is a proponent of free market copyright and one point she clarifies early on is that the market can and does create standards spontaneously. It appears that this is holding true, at least as far as the online world is concerned. If I understand it all correctly, one solution being developed is Creative Commons, where it looks to me like people freely share ideas and information contingent on a variety of chosen market-based copyright claims.
I have to say the biggest thing this article did for me was make me realize I really don’t have a good handle on this issue. If anyone has any resources they’d like to pass on, please do so in the comments section because my candle is completely melted.