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[An MP3 audio version of this essay, read by Floy Lilley, is available as a free download.]
The works of Leonard E. Read, who founded the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in 1946, are now online at the Mises Institute. It is probably not the complete collected works, but it is all that he collected in book form. These are books that shaped several generations of activists, donors, writers, and intellectuals. They are the books that kick-started the libertarian movement after World War II. The sons of FEE went on to do great good for the world, and FEE is often called the father of all libertarian think tanks — institutions that work outside official academia to advance radical ideas.
Read did more than merely sponsor lectures and publish. As a matter of fact, others were doing the same. So far as I know, no one has yet noticed that he used a secret weapon in his struggle, something that made him truly different and unusually effective. He eschewed the use of exclusive copyright. That is to say, he encouraged the widest possible distribution of his work and did not forbid others from copying his infinitely reproducible ideas.
Pick up any book or publication from FEE before the 1990s. You will see a remarkable and visionary sentence on the copyright page:
Permission to reprint granted without special request.
This one sentence is what made it happen. Any newspaper could print a column. Any publisher could include an essay. Indeed, he invited any publisher to take any FEE book and publish it and sell it, owing no royalties and asking no permissions.
The publisher was not even asked to acknowledge its source! So, in this sense, he was even more radical than the Creative Commons attribution license. A FEE book was copyrighted solely so that someone else couldn't copyright it, and then maximum permissions were granted. In effect, Read was putting all of the scholarship of FEE in the public domain as soon as it was published.
This saved on the grueling bureaucratic struggle involved in granting permissions and keeping up with the permissions granted. Asking no fees or royalties meant saving on accounting bureaucracy as well.
Read was no anarchist. He was a believer in "limited government," but regardless, this much is true: he hated the state beyond its most limited form. He saw it as the great e...
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