The two broad senses of the word 'property' shed light on the intellectual property debate.
I've had intellectual property rights on my editor's mind of late. When does a given quotation need "permission" from an author, or an author's estate, to be used in another work? At what point does something pass into the public domain? Does it ever?
Maybe not, I've begun to think, after hearing Duke University legal expert James Boyle interviewed on the National Public Radio program "On the Media."
The original idea behind copyright and patent law was a trade-off: a time-limited right to exclusivity in exchange for a requirement for free competition afterward, to encourage dissemination of knowledge. Congress, however, has extended the copyright term time and again, ostensibly to provide authors an incentive to continue to create.
"You give the limited right to the author to encourage production and distribution," Professor Boyle said, "and then you end the term and you have this world of free competition. Sadly, in the world of copyright, at least, we've given up on that and we have continued to lengthen the term to a point which is now utterly ridiculous. Copyright today lasts for your life, plus 70 years. It's very hard to incentivize dead people to produce new things, but Congress apparently believes that it can."