No one has an ownership right — an intellectual
property right — to an idea, as such. If one makes a knowledge claim
and chooses to share that information with others, then anyone who
accepts the truth of that idea is free to use it. As Ayn Rand said, to
claim otherwise would be to insist that people cling to falsehoods
rather than operate according to reality.
As Rand also noted, no one can claim ownership to a discovery
an X that already exists in nature (compare this to the nonsense of
patenting the DNA sequence of X). A person can only claim ownership to
an invention, the creation
of an X that did not exist in nature
on its own before the person created it. The ownership is of a
particular formulation of an idea that has been given a
material/physical manifestation. (For example, no one can own “quantum
physics,” but a writer has ownership of his particularized and physical
presentation of that idea.) We are not ghosts. We exist in a physical
Intellectual property is just as much a type of property as is “real”
property because both share the same fundamental characteristics.
Without the input of a person's mind, no
property of any kind
would exist. The intellectual component involved in making “oil” into a
“value” (or in earning the money to purchase that oil) is no different
in kind that the intellectual component of an author who makes 100,000
words a “value” by placing those words in a particularized order and
publishing a book (electronic or physical) that contains his
individualized presentation of his ideas.
Also, remember that a fundamental “right” is primarily about the ability to choose how to use
a particular X and less about the X itself. As Rand said in, “Man’s Rights,” in The Virtue of Selfishness
“Bear in mind that the right to property is a right to action, like all
the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the
consequences of producing or earning that object. It is not a guarantee
that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will
own it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to
dispose of material values.”
Rand also pointed out that what is essential to the production of values is thought
— an idea — and not merely the physical effort required to produce a
particular object. Placing primacy on the physical rather than the
intellectual aspect of production would be to endorse the “labor theory
of value,” a theory incompatible with freedom.
As for how long a copyright or patent should be granted, that is a
matter for debate. But for the life of the creator and, perhaps, X
years after his death seems a reasonable place to start the discussion.
(from Don't Get Me Started!