Berry on IP

by Dennis Crouch

Just returned from a quick family spring break visit to Galveston.  Wendell Berry is probably my favorite poet. He focuses mainly on communities and their interaction with the land and conservation efforts, and writes in ways that easily resonate.  He does have some harsh words for intellectual property (as well as property law in general).

He writes:

“Intellectual property” names the deed by which the mind is bought and sold, the world enslaved.

Some Further Words

I have no “intellectual property,” and I think that all claimants to such property are thieves.

Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community: Eight Essays (1993).

I will note here that Berry has recorded his copyright to more than 100 works, including the Sex, Economy book (but seemingly has never asserted them in court).  My sense of Berry’s life is that he has attempted to live in ways align well with his written works, I would be interested to learn more about this little corner of his vision.




25 thoughts on “Berry on IP

  1. 11

    Are poets obligated to tell the “truth” ?? Perhaps the musings of some poets is fiction. To me, “intellectual property” implies control by its owner. Intellectual property also evidences man’s greed and covetousness. There is no property unless you enforceably fence it, or lock her in your basement, or in a shoe. The patent system’s greedy minions have essentially dispensed with enforceability of the fences – the best way to maintain “intellectual property” is to keep your mouth shut, work in a field that lends itself well to trade secrets. Otherwise, you invite a den of vipers. Example, the secrets of the blacksmith who forged Jim Bowie’s knife remain unknown today, because he kept his mouth shut and wasn’t a money grubber. The West at this point has become suicidal due to its greed, covetousness, and lust for totalitarian control. History has shown, it will destroy itself, it is unfolding right now !!

  2. 9

    I think that all too many people don’t realize that patents are one of the few way that the little guy and small startups can challenge major corporations and prevent them from stealing their IP and/or underpricing them out of the market. Although it is a package deal, I think that most people do not realize that stong IP rights with lower bars/expenses to getting patents likely benefits the little guy more so than the large coporations (because large coporations can always trample the smaller less well endowed mom and pop operations in the market place if they want to).

      1. 9.1.1

        Fashion – aided and abetted by the (necessary) unraveling of patent rights being removed from the bundle of property rights (and yes, Ned, this is indeed related to basic property law – sometimes there is an overlap, and if you ever want to be considered a true champion of “patents as property,” you will have to understand that overlap).

  3. 8

    Please forward me his collection of poems. I wish to publish them in my book, reaping the benefits of his intellectual labor for my own financial gain. Then let’s see if e still feels enslaved.

  4. 7

    “There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.

    There are not more than five primary colors, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.

    There are not more than five cardinal tastes, yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.”

    ~Sūn Wu

    I wonder how Berry feels about the products of Collective Intelligence?

    link to

    1. 7.1

      There are only three fundamental particles (the proton, neutron, and electron)…

      Tell me if you have heard this before (and better yet, tell me if you understand the thrust of the meme).

      Isn’t it lovely what the words “configurations of” does to those initial starting items?

    2. 7.2

      I’m pretty sure there are 7 musical notes, not counting sharps and flats ….and you know,… the next octave…

      1. 7.2.1

        Well… assuming the person quoted is Chinese, and most traditional Chinese music is in the pentatonic scale, I would say that his quote is reasonable.


          Assumption neither present, nor proper for music in general.

          Why try to support a mistake when the larger view presented is clearly more accurate?


            I don’t understand your comment. Sūn Wu was a sixth century BC Chinese general, an era when the music would have been played in the pentatonic scale. There are only (as the name suggests) 5 notes per octave in the pentatonic scale.

            But the general idea seems to support your philosophy. Out of a combination of the known and usual, you can get the extraordinary and novel.


              I posted that just for anon’s box of protons, and because he loves to quote Sūn Wu (although usually to the opposite of the intended effect).


                Now just imagine if you could invent some short of machine that took a box of protons and assembled them into some sort of useful article, such as a plate of hasperat.

  5. 4

    My Favorite Poet is Rickie Lee Jones. Especially when she uses automotive terminology: This snippet is from Last Chance Texaco:

    But you ran out of gas
    Down the road a piece
    Then the battery went dead
    And now the cable won’t reach…

    It’s your last chance
    To check under the hood
    Last chance
    She ain’t soundin’ too good,
    Your last chance
    To trust the man with the star
    You’ve found the last chance Texaco

    Well, he tried to be Standard
    He tried to be Mobil
    He tried living in a world
    And in a shell
    There was this block-busted blonde
    He loved her – free parts and labor
    But she broke down and died
    And threw all the rods he gave her…..

    link to

    My favorite line is from Danny’s All star Joint:

    “He knows all the under-riders on the boulevard
    They got to barefoot cruise when it’s forty-weight hard”

  6. 3

    Brother Berry’s point of view is perfectly correct for those who are independently wealthy. For those who need to support themselves by their intellectual efforts … not so much.

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