Ideas Are Fire, Not Rocks

Mt. San Miguel is on fire.  San Diego County wildfires




Iron Spring Creek

I’m greatly enjoying listening to James Boyle’s The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind read aloud on my way to work. He includes a fine quote from Thomas Jefferson, the relevant piece of which is:

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.

That ideas can be fire is an image I love. But when addressing the romantic conception of the author, and being a Californian, the metaphor of a spring is apt. The romantic conception of the author is a description of the genesis of a novel as accurate as “magic” is for a new mountain spring. Those who believe in authorial genius see water bursting forth and do not look back farther to see the water being squeezed up or pulled out from achingly cold and deep aquifers, which were themselves slowly filled by thousands of years of trickling water.

If the novel is the water, the spring the author, and the aquifer the public domain, I believe this is an effective metaphor.

But fire or water, intellectual property certainly is not rocks.

Inspirational Quote:

“I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.”–Emma Goldman


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