Is Information?

Professor Robert A. Heverly, Michigan State University College of Law

We live in the information age. Information is available in many forms, and is accessible in a variety of ways. Information might be secret, or confidential, or well known by many; it might be public or private; it might be legally protected or part of the public domain. Information has the potential to open new doors on creativity and autonomy, and at the same time has the power to close out competitors and lock out users and consumers. Information drives life today, both in terms of the rhetoric and perceptions of society, and in the reality of markets and businesses. We own information, and through its ownership, we exploit it for profit both monetary and individualistic. Yet, information ownership poses many questions, some of which are shared by tangible property, and others that are unique to the forms of ownership provided for information goods. Professor Heverly led his audience through these similarities and distinctions, identifying the complexities and paradoxes these comparative observations raise, considering for example whether information is a “thing” that can be owned, and will then consider the ways in which understanding the nature of information – and thereby defining it – might help us better grasp and solve some of the ownership dilemmas raised by the intangible, changeable and replicable nature of information and information goods.