This thesis is about the intellectual history of the modern debate on the public domain and the question about ownership of information and culture through intellectual property rights. The beginning of this debate is often said to be David Lange's 1981 article "Recognizing the Public Domain." What Lange called for was a recognition of individual rights in the public domain, also in cases where a recognition like this would offset new intellectual property rights. Lange did not provide a general theory on the public domain, and his article is perhaps better understood as a makeshift criticism of the conventional intellectual property doctrine. Nevertheless, over the next twenty years the debate can be said to have developed from a rudimentary critique of intellectual property to a positively defined social theory of the value of a strong public domain and of openness in society in general. It is this development --- this academic history --- I will try to trace, analyse and categorise in this thesis.
The substantive problem which provided the orientation for this study was therefore that of making intelligible what appeared to be a recurring pattern of attitudes toward public domain and the value of common access to knowledge and information on the part of American law scholars in the 1980s and 1990s, and how this pattern spread into other disciplines to form a social theory on public domain by the early to mid-2000s.
By tracing the development of this "modern debate on the public domain," the aim of this thesis is to interpret, analyse and categorise some of the foundational ideas of a field and a politics I believe might become the most important issue of the 21st century. The challenges related to information, knowledge, privacy and the internet are, in my opinion, likely to define this century as much as the French revolution defined the 18th, the industrial revolution defined the 19th, and what can perhaps be labelled the "battle of ideologies" defined the 20th. Phenomenons like Creative Commons, peer-to-peer file sharing, Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr, blogs, bioprospecting, and open source are only the beginning of this revolution.