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<nettime> basic terms in the IP discusssion
Keith Hart on Fri, 29 Aug 2003 00:30:22 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> basic terms in the IP discusssion


You have opened up a can of worms with these definitions which seem to
float between universal usage and specific application to information.

I have always found the introductory chapter of C.B. Macpherson ed
Property (U. of Toronto Press, 1978), "The meaning of property", useful
and enlightening. He distinguishes between common, private and state
property rights.

"Common property is created by the guarantee to each individual that he
will not be excluded from the use or benefit of something; private
property is created by the guarantee that an individual can exclude others
from th euse or benefit of something. Both kinds of property, being
guarantees to individual persons, are individual rights. In th ecase of
private property, the right may, of course be held by an artificial
person, that is, by a corporation or an unincorporated grouping created or
recognized by the state as having the same (or similar) property rights as
a natural individual....Corporate property is thus an extension of
individual private property....State property consists of rights which the
state has not only created but has kept for itself or has taken over from
private individuals or corporations....[These] rights are akin to private
property rights for they consist of th eright to the use and benefit, and
the right to exclude others from the use and benefit of something. In
effect, the state itself is taking and exercising the powers of a
corporation: it is acting as an artificial person....State property, then,
is to be classed as corporate property which is exclusive property, and
not as common property, which is non-exclusive property. State property is
an exclusive right of an artificial person."  (pp. 5-6)

We do not have to be bound by this discussion, which comes out of the
political realist tradition rather than that of idealist philosophy, But
it does point to the abiding confusion when a simple antinomy, public vs.
private is applied to property rights in western societies. Its historical
origin is in the second half of the nineteenth century when states where
formed to manage industrial capitalism. These then created the legal basis
for modern corporations, while granting them the common law rights of
ordinary citizens, thereby allowing both parties to hold on to the
rhetoric, but not the substance of the liberal revolutions.One can see how
problematic the property forms of state socialism might be under these
conditions and how misleading were the slogans that animated the Cold War.

It is also relevant that these words cannot easily be abstracted from
their own linguistic history. In the Anglo-Saxon tradition, the public is
taken to be an extension of relations between private persons.
Macpherson's interpretation reflects this. Whereas in most Continental
European languages state-made law is held to be separate from the law of
persons, giving rise to the use of two words (as in the Latin lex and ius)
for the English one, It would not be surprising then if the idea of a
public good would be different in these cultures. And so far we have not
even stepped out of Europe and North America. How will standard
definitions translate into Chinese, Arabic and Hindi?

It would be good to extricate ourselves from this mess somehow, but it
might take the talents of a Dr.Johnson to do so by means of a dictionary.


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