Information Cannot Be Owned: There is More of a Difference than Many Think
April 1, 2004
Apart from technology, the information age has up to now badly served its idol. It has failed sufficiently to recognize specific features of information. This is shown with respect to the question whether legal rights on information can take the form of ownership. The answer is negative considering that communication by its very nature is free and constitutes a basic value, and furthermore that law is itself information and cannot systematically dispose of information flows. Analyzing the phenomenon of information, the differences of its properties as compared with those of a physical object are illustrated and assessed as fundamental; ownership would therefore be for information a Procrustean bed leading to mere arbitrariness. Intellectual property, although granting exclusive rights concerning information is not by itself opposed to these findings. But the conflict arises, if its purpose of shaping competitive advantages is spoiled to the detriment of information flows by lack of neutrality in two senses: the lack of balance between the title holder’s value generation and the reward, and of neutrality towards the various kinds of communicative relationships.