An Intellectual Poverty Law

Upon my research on 18th and early 19th century England, I stumbled upon a process that was taking place from the 16th to the 19th century in rural England.

It’s enclosure.

Basically, the medieval system is, that a village has, in addition to the fields of the individual farmers, a large commons, where all the inhabitants of that village can gather wood, graze livestock and so on.

This commons was now more and more split up amongst the villagers, with wealthier people buying land of the less wealthy ones, making subsistence-farming more and more impossible, and finally leading to widespread poverty in the 19th century.

And this is exactly the same process that’s happening since about 250 years with our intellectual commons.

Copyright, which was initially just that, a “right to make copies” and sell them, and which lasted 14 years from the publication of a work, became extended to “70 years after the death of the author” and incorporated more and more provisions for the copyright-holder.

Other laws wrapped under “intellectual property” are also working in the same spirit, none more so than patents, which provides not a monopoly on “being allowed to do something” (as copyright does) but a right of “prohibiting others to do something”. Which is of course much more far-reaching.

Trademarks also play a part in this, disallowing references to trademarks not only on ground of competition (as initially meant), but with any spurious explanation the trademark-holder can come up with to quash criticism, satire, art, history and everything else related to that trademark.

The theory, and thus the title, is of course, that these intellectual property laws are the equivalent of enclosures, and will lead to very much the same outcome in another dimension: poverty of intellectual capital and depredation of culture.

And with rows and hedges (read “technical measures”) to keep the now-inclosed commons in private hands, this will only get worse as the century wears on.