The Nature of Intellectual Property in the Mid-twentieth Century

May 5, 2004 - 8:30am to 10:30am

Quad Club, Library Room

Presenter: Adrian Johns, Associate Professor of History, University of Chicago

View Adrian Johns' paper: "The Nature of Intellectual Property in the Mid-Twentieth Century"

In this workshop I aim to restore to view a debate about the nature of intellectual property that took place in the mid-twentieth century, coinciding with the invention of the information society. The participants in this debate included Norbert Wiener, inventor of cybernetics, the scientist-philosopher Michael Polanyi, and the economist Arnold Plant. Their arguments extended beyond the doctrines of intellectual property to embrace the consequences of those doctrines for the future of science, technology, and society. I hope to show that while the debate itself was soon forgotten, some of its arguments survived to shape the developing information age of the 1960s and after — and that others, if revived now, may suggest promising responses to the problems of intellectual property that now confront us.

ABOUT ADRIAN JOHNS: Adrian Johns is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Chicago, and chair of the University's Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science. He is the author of The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making(1998), and a number of papers on early modern science and print culture. He is currently working on a history of intellectual piracy from the invention of print to the present.