Your Property Rights Should Extend to Social Media

Your Property Rights Should Extend to Social Media

Credit: Annie Spratt/ Unsplash

CoinDesk columnist Nic Carter is a partner at Castle Island Ventures, a venture fund based in Cambridge, Mass., that focuses on public blockchains. He is also the co-founder of Coin Metrics, a blockchain analytics startup.

There are, to put it reductively, two schools of thought on the topic of property rights on internet platforms. The first goes something like this:

While this is by far the most popular view expressed on the topic, very occasionally you might hear an alternative, dissenting opinion. It goes like this:

Under this alternative view, espoused by thinkers like , and , Facebook, Twitter, et al, did not really create all the content on their platforms, nor do they really own it. Instead, they define a namespace that users occupy, build upon, and in some cases commercialize. The users, not the administrators, create the vast majority of the value, and as such are the rightful owners of their digital property. 

You might think this is crazy. But in a sense squatters asserting their property rights against an authority that lays a blanket claim to them would be nothing new. That’s the legal struggle that defined the history of the American continent. (For a full treatment, see chapter five of Hernando De Soto’s “.”) Initially, large tracts of land were claimed primarily by the states and absentee landowners. Over time, squatters were able to argue persuasively they had put sufficient labor into their homesteads to legally ratify their informal claims. On the internet, asserting rights to property has proved more challenging, giving rise to our present reality where content creators are providers rather than owners. 

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