Research Programs: Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Period of Performance

1/1/2008 - 8/31/2008

Funding Totals

$33,600.00 (approved)
$33,600.00 (awarded)

Intellectual Property and the Tension between Private Ownership and the Public Domain at the American Founding

FAIN: FB-53614-08

Lewis Hyde
Kenyon College (Gambier, OH 43022-5020)

Questions about the ownership of creative work are now usually approached in terms of property and thus of "theft" or "piracy." My work is an attempt to widen such discussions by rehearsing some of the other ways that creative work has been imagined. I am interested in particular in how the founding generation in the United States thought of what we now call intellectual property. Men like Franklin, Adams, Madison, and Jefferson approached copyright and patent as useful tools to "incite ingenuity" but also as a form of monopoly privilege to be carefully limited--limited so as to engender a "republic of letters," a commonwealth of ideas. Thus the book focuses on three other frameworks (in addition to property) within which the ownership of ideas has been approached: in terms of self-government, in terms of creative communities, and in terms of "public virtue," that is to say, in terms of the creative self imagined not as a private owner but as a collective or public being.

Media Coverage

A Republic of Letters (Review)
Author(s): Robert Darnton
Publication: New York Times Book Review
Date: 8/20/2010
Abstract: Review

Our shrinking commons (Review)
Author(s): Mark Kramer
Publication: Minneapolis Star Tribune
Date: 8/14/2010
Abstract: Review

List of Major Reviews (Review)
Author(s): Many
Publication: Lewis Hyde's Website
Date: 1/1/2011
Abstract: Website inventory of more reviews

Associated Products

Common as Air: Revolution, Art and Ownership (Book)
Title: Common as Air: Revolution, Art and Ownership
Author: Lewis Hyde
Abstract: Common as Air offers a stirring defense of our cultural commons, that vast store of art and ideas we have inherited from the past and continue to enrich in the present. Suspicious of the current idea that all creative work is "intellectual property," Lewis Hyde turns to America's founders – men like Adams, Madison, and Jefferson – in search of other ways to imagine the fruits of human wit and imagination. What he discovers is a rich tradition in which knowledge was assumed to be a commonwealth, not a private preserve. For the founders, democratic self-governance itself demanded open and easy access to ideas. So did the growth of creative communities like that of eighteenth-century science. And so did the flourishing of public persons, the very actors whose "civic virtue" brought the nation into being. In this lively, carefully argued, and well documented book, Hyde brings the past to bear on present matters, shedding fresh light on everything from the Human Genome Project to Bob Dylan's musical roots. Common as Air allows us to stand on the shoulders of America's revolutionary giants and thus to see beyond today's narrow debates over cultural ownership. What it reveals is nothing less than a vision of how to reclaim the Commonwealth of art and ideas that we were meant to inherit.
Year: 2010
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: In this lively, carefully argued, and well-documented book, Hyde brings the past to bear on present matters, shedding fresh light on everything from the Human Genome Project to Bob Dylan's musical root, revealing a vision of how to reclaim the commonwealth of art and ideas that we were meant to inherit.--Book jacket.
Access Model: Purchase. Some chapters online open access.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 0374223130


Julia Ward Howe award, best book of 2010 by a Boston author.
Date: 3/1/2011
Organization: Boston Authors Club
Abstract: The honored books must be published the year prior to the award, that is, in 2010 for 2011. The authors must live, have lived or attended college within 100 miles of Boston and resided here at some time within the past five years. Works of fiction, nonfiction, memoir, poetry, and biography were eligible; picture books, text books and self-published works are not. Winners, finalists and highly recommended authors also receive one year complimentary membership in the Club. Winners have included: James Carroll, Linda Davis, Anita Diamant, Dexter Filkins, Moying Li-Marcus, Igor Lukes, Michael Patrick MacDonald, Charles Mann, Thomas O'Connor, Nancy Rappaport, Sylvia Sellers-Garcia, Nicholas Tawa, Brenda Wineapple, Gordon S. Wood, and Lewis Hyde. The prizes were renamed for Julia Ward Howe in 2002.